When last we met here, I showed you a little of my town. I gave you a taste of its character, and a glimpse of some of the things you can see here if you can walk on two feet, or even if you can't. I also showed you a couple of things it would be difficult to experience on your own unless you were walking, and unless you were very good at it. These are among things I like to call "Reasons to Bother."
Now, there are reasons like the ones I showed you, and there are reasons like this:
Yes. Old graveyards are often pretty, sometimes deeply moving, and always fascinating on some level, yet not always easy to traverse. But also, none of us topside at this time will be living forever as far as I'm aware. I'm speaking most concretely. As far as we can determine -- and of course it might just all be someone else's dream, true -- we've only got this one shot to go around and see all the sights. So let's get to it!
That said, there are three things you must remember if you want to come on this walk or take others like it -- or even more challenging ones -- with me, with others, or all on your own:
- Be smart.
- Be careful.
- Take your time.
Yes, you might already be dying of some stinker of a disease, or you might get hit by a bus later today. It's true. So you're absolutely right: There is no time like the present to try something new or push the limits of your own abilities. Just don't push so hard you break your neck, okay? If you've got to rest, rest. If you need to take someone with you at all times for awhile, do it. Use a cane, a crutch or two, a walker, whatever, until you really are strong and skilled enough to go without, and of course, make sure you know how to fall safely. In short, leave yourself open to the possibility of improvement, and work toward it actively, but don't be stupid. Please.
Right. On to today's lesson, and adventure.
Today, in keeping with our themes of history, fleeting time, Concord's quaintness, and all that, I am going to take you on a little walk I like, up to the very tippy top of the brilliantly named Hill Burying Ground right next to Monument Square.
I feel a little idiotic at this moment. I have just realized that although I took about 170 photos on July 26 with the express purpose of creating this post, I never took a photo of what the Hill Burying Ground looks like from the street. This is as close as I came, a shot of some history elves doing headstone conservation that day (click to enlarge):
Of course, there's a plaque (click to enlarge):
This is the path up
This is one of the views from the top (click to enlarge).
Before I take you up there, let's review some basics.
If you are as old as I am, maybe you remember "Truckin'." As in "Keep on truckin'." That's what this hippie is doing. You know what else he's doing? Wildly exaggerated, of course, he is fairly well demonstrating the way one walks on a transfemoral prosthetic, Jesus toes and all. Okay, there's no need to poink one knee out to the side like that, and it's not even a good idea unless you are very strong and skilled. But as I described in my post on descending stairs, the way one takes a step on a transfemoral prosthetic is to first kick the fake foot forward until the knee snaps rigid. Then smack the heel down solidly onto the ground ahead. Then transfer weight onto the prosthetic leg, rock forward onto the pole the prosthetic leg has become, forward and over, and then land on the organic foot on the other side, just as or after the forward-moving weight of the body forces the prosthetic knee to bend.
Uphill, downhill, flat land, down stairs -- it doesn't matter. The basic mechanism is the same. So let's try it on a hill.
In keeping with my being careful and not breaking your neck thoughts, I'm first going to demonstrate using the ramps out back of the Middlesex Bank branch on Main Street. You remember these from my previous post.
This is a good place to practice a skill like slope- and hill-walking because it's nice and wide (so people who actually have business here can get by you), there are handrails, and the slope provided is relatively gentle. (Not every handicapped access ramp is so nice, but again, that's another rant for another day.)
Here's what the slope looks like to someone preparing to mount it:
Not too bad, right? So let's do it! Let's get truckin'!
(Huh. I guess the organic knee does kind of poink out to the side. Never noticed before. Huh. Oh, well. Moving right along...)
Uphill walking is very much easier than downhill walking. For one thing, you can take much larger steps. In the photo above, I am "truckin'" up. The length of my stride is limited only by how far forward I can kick my fake foot, how far I can stretch before my suction socket starts digging uncomfortably into my groin (pretty darn far, actually, at least in this direction), and how strong I am, how much power I can push off with from my stretched out organic limb.
Though their relationship might not be immediately obvious, this last factor is partly determined by the length of my residual limb. I still have a third of my right leg, a good two thirds of my right thigh. That's a lot more leverage to use for swinging the body forward than is available to someone with maybe a quarter of a thigh left. The more you have left, the better able you are to control your prosthetic, but also the more stable you will be and the more power you can actively exert from within your socket. This means your organic leg doesn't have to do so much of the work of walking all by itself.
Below you can see me "truckin'" down.
The length of my stride here is limited to how far I can lean forward on my prosthetic leg before the mechanical hinge that is my prosthetic knee buckles. Remember, weight on the heel is what keeps the prosthetic leg snapped rigid, the knee all the way open. Removing weight from the heel, specifically rolling forward onto the toes, is what bends the knee while propelling me forward onto, hopefully, my readily placed organic foot. And if said foot is not readily placed, it propels me onto my now well bent fake knee, or even my face, which is undignified, of course, and sometimes painful.
Figuring this out, figuring out how long a step to take down a hill, is a matter of experience, and it changes as skill and strength build. I know how quickly I can reflexively catch myself falling, basically, and at what level of bodily acceleration downward, and I know how long a step creates an interval that size. I can't tell you numbers, of course; it's a feel thing. You will only learn -- and change -- your own limits by getting out and doing this over and over again in as many ever more challenging situations as you can safely offer yourself.
For purposes of clarity and realistic goal-setting, let's look at this a slightly different way.
Going uphill, the weight is almost always on the heel, even right before weight is transferred to the organic foot. Even when I roll forward onto my rubber toes, the weight of my body is working against the natural bend of my prosthetic knee, so even when the rubber foot flexes, the mechanical joint still submits to pressure from above and stays open. Using shoes with excellent traction helps my fake foot anchor this line of tension until I am able to fully take my weight off the prosthetic. All these factors make the potential stride length uphill from prosthetic to living foot much longer.
Going downhill, the weight does not stay on the prosthetic heel for very long at all. Also, the weight of the body is traveling in the same direction as the bend of the mechanical knee. Going downhill, the weight of the body helps bend the knee, not keep it straight. Therefore the living foot must be placed quickly enough, and the living leg must be strong enough, and ready to catch the body traveling downward onto it with, not against, gravity. The living foot does not have to actually be on the ground when the prosthetic knee starts bending, but it must be positioned to promptly accept the weight of the whole body before it falls. This makes the potential safe downhill stride length from prosthetic to living foot much shorter.
You see the difference?
Okay, those are the basics. Everything else I am going to show you -- besides more pretty pictures of Concord, of course, a.k.a. the aforementioned "Reasons to Bother" -- is going to be some variation of these steps and this logic. I'm going to show them to you, though, applied to some rather more challenging situations. Practice well, and when you're ready, meet me back here for part three.
(Of course, I hope part three will actually be done and posted by the time you're ready. My life is sort of full right now, and it's taking me awhile to get this all together. Thank you for your continued patience.)