Jacking up the tire was worth a try. It was too late to have a mechanic fix the leak, and if I took pressure off the wheel, perhaps enough air would remain by morning to allow me to drive to a tire shop instead of mounting the spare myself. Unfortunately, the wheel gave out a persistent hiss all evening, and by the next morning the tire was as soft as a marshmellow. Postponing labor this time hadnít paid off, but after getting the spare in place, I realized I might as well resume plans to backpack North Cascade National Parkís Copper Ridge and worry about patching the punctured tire later. I felt guilty about leaving my Jeep sitting wounded in northern Washington for three days, but sometimes the itch to hit the trail overrides my sense of empathy.
My concerns about the Jeep mirror those that I have about my own aging body. For countless summers I have thrown myself into rough environments and precarious situations, and so far Iíve managed to avoid major injuries Ö no broken bones, scars or heavy bleeding. I have also miraculously kept the Jeep free of dents despite a decade of maneuvering down boulder-strewn mountain roads and through densely forested campsites. Both our physiques are dusty, but in stellar condition. Itís the internal parts that are wearing out.
The ligaments and tendons holding my joints together have torn and frayed over the years from overuse, and those connective tissues donít heal very easily. As I ascended 2,500 feet with a heavy pack to Copper Ridge, a triple-layered knee brace and hiking poles helped keep the strain from further damaging my dodgy right knee. But these protective measures continued to have debilitating side-effects. The braces chafed my skin enough to leave raw and bloody lines across the back of my knee, and the hiking poles worsened a chronic case of ďtennis elbow,Ē leaving my right arm weak and painfully sore. And I donít even play tennis.