What is it that keeps us going when stopping might be the wiser choice? I was in Washington DC a while back and had some free time and I was excited that my hotel was relatively close to the National Zoo – you know that place with the pandas and other wild things? I asked and was told the zoo was an easy 4/10th of a mile away – just three blocks up Connecticut Avenue. That is less than a half-mile, which I should be able to walk in about 15 minutes on a good day.
It was my fault that I didn’t translate what I was told so well, because I know a city block in a big city is MUCH larger than a city block in my hometown. If fact in my town we don’t even have blocks. And there was that little two letter word, UP, that should have also registered.
But no, it didn’t connect in my MS muddled brain, and in my enthusiasm to be more active – remember everyone keeps telling us that we need to get up and move and our multiple sclerosis will be better controlled? – I decided to go to the zoo on foot.
I came out of the hotel and there was a gentle slope down the walk to get to street level. No problem, I thought. This is easy. Then I did my left turn onto Connecticut Avenue, anticipating the good time I would have at the zoo. This doesn’t look too bad but I definitely don’t see the zoo in the distance. I don’t even see the end of the first block. Undeterred, I thought, you’ve committed to this now get moving. I was determined to make it to the zoo.
True grit or stupidity?
Back to the route – remember the zoo was three blocks UP Connecticut Avenue? I would like to say it was no big deal, when in fact when I finally reached the end of block one, I realized the entire distance to arrive at the front gate of the zoo would be up hill, which wasn’t exactly a hill but one continuous slope. Now Connecticut Avenue in DC is a very busy street and there were plenty of pedestrians outpacing me up the hill, but that didn’t bother me. I was determined to make it. There were also plenty of taxis for hire driving past me coming down Connecticut Avenue and I soon recognized hailing one of them could be my escape route if I needed to give up my trek. Perhaps stupidly, I figured I could just keep going and if I needed to bail on my plan, it would be simply a matter of hailing a cab.
Now I should mention the temperature when I left the hotel was just in the upper 70’s but the humidity began to rise as I was climbing Connecticut Avenue. I could feel my body temperature rising as well and my right leg began to drag closer to the ground with each step. I was determined to not give in– the opportunity to see the pandas was too close to be denied and I was not about to let my MS win, so I pushed on.
What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, right?
Realistically I knew the final block to the zoo was not going to kill me but I also knew I was reaching my limit. I began to consider my options, and with each passing taxi cab, the temptation to get into one to finish my ascent grew stronger. About the point I thought I would not be able to make any more progress up Connecticut Avenue, I realized the zoo entrance was in sight – a mere ½ block away. But making a few steps more dragging my right leg left me looking at the passing taxis and contemplating hailing one. Would that not be the ultimate surrender at such a close distance? I actually said aloud – ‘this isn’t going to kill you- just suck it up and push on,’ but I was tempted.
About 45 minutes from when I began my 10 minute trip from the hotel, I arrived at the front zoo entrance. Hurrah for me, I thought. I’ve made it – now which way to those pandas? Unbeknownst to me, the zoo has its own share of even steeper hills and it was a trek downhill to get to the viewing area – but I made it. Of course the pandas were resting – obviously it was also hot for them. After I was done watching them lounge around, I had to make a decision – should I descend further into the zoo or turn back, and walk up the path, out of the zoo directly Connecticut Avenue.
As much as I would have liked to view more, my main objective was completed and I chose to return to my hotel. Standing on Connecticut Avenue looking down to where I needed to go, there was a moment when I thought, you could do this! Instead, I stood and waited until a ‘for hire’ taxi slowed and I hopped in for the quick 3 minute return trip.
As I sat for the next two hours in the air conditioned comfort of the hotel lobby lowering my core temperature, recovering the use of my leg and waiting for the time to depart to the airport, I reflected that I expended a lot and perhaps it wasn’t the best use of my energy. After all I can view the pandas on the Zoo’s live Panda Cam. I also thought I created my own challenge, allowed my stubbornness to determine the outcome and it didn’t kill me. But next time, I think I’ll take a cab.
Wishing you well,
Postscript – the week after I was at the zoo waiting to see some action from the pandas, it was announced that Mei Xiang, one of the giant pandas had given birth to twins. From reading more, I have since learned that it is often not known that a giant panda is pregnant until after the birth. You can read more on the National Zoo’s Giant Panda updates blog.