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Begin again.

Begin again.

Those were the last words — or at least, in the haziness of time, the gist of the actual last words — of a novel I read in my early 20s, a year or so after I graduated from college. The title I have long forgotten, the plot details have faded into the ether. What stands out clearly though, is that as I closed the book, about an overweight, milkshake-swilling young man, a slacker before the term was invented, still living at home while musing about romance and career and life in general, I thought to myself about the ending, “What a crock! What a waste of my time! The plot didn’t go anywhere.”

The book went back to the tiny library in Stanhope where I was living at the time, and I went on to other, more riveting writing (and, from the vantage point of almost three decades later, what a luxury that is: having the leisure time to read at will). Funny thing, though, about that at-the-time unsatisfying novel: The ending has stayed with me.

“Begin again” has echoed in my mind, resonated throughout my life as I have rejiggered projects that have been cast aside, revitalized ideas that have been mulled at length, started from scratch when life has thrown me a curveball that has halted me in my tracks. Rebounding from a 2006 massage business slump by offering daytime massages during my daytime-job vacation days is one such example of, to paraphrasing the 1936 Jerome Kern/Dorothy Fields song, picking myself up, dusting myself off and starting all over again.

And, certainly, I’ve spent a fair amount of time in my life recuperating from injuries and getting back in workout shape. In fact, it’s happening once again, with the recent revelation that pain I thought was an injured hamstring or adductor muscle is instead an inguinal hernia. The condition, which I’ve elected to have corrected surgically, won’t keep me from doing massage; however, it will keep me from my nascent reborn running career for at least two more months while I heal. Then it’s back to running (or running and walking) two miles on the Brookdale Park track to get my stamina back.

While all this is going on, I received an e-mail from my longtime friend Bob Nelson, who wrote of a slew of triathlons and cycle trips he has planned for the rest of the year. I’m jealous, I playfully e-mailed to him in reply. And, in truth, I am a bit nostalgic for the days when a 10-mile run was an exercise in playful exploration — particularly on a recent Saturday when I drove around Lake Hopatcong for the first time in many years and recognized some of the places I used to pass during long-distance runs in my days when I lived in nearby Stanhope.

Life has taken me far from that time in my life, in years and experience and different pursuits. Yet, like the novelist’s words that have reverberated through the years, it’s nice to know that I still have that option — to begin again, reclaim a bit of glories past and let them buoy me in my life as it is today.

O say can you hear…

A note to friends, family, clients and readers of this newsletter:

Thank you for your good thoughts as I made my stadium national anthem debut May 15 at the Newark Bears stadium. The positive energy carried me through a perfect performance.

After a somewhat hectic day at home — running 3 miles nearby, stretching, doing massage for 5 1/2 hours, warming up my voice for a half-hour, showering, dressing in my suit, driving to Newark and singing all the way — I arrived at the stadium on time; one less thing to be nervous about. I was met by a Newark Bears official, who told me where I was going to stand (in front of a microphone between home plate and the backstop) and told me to hang out for 20 minutes.

Hanging out meant a few nervous trips to the men’s room and retreating to the parking garage where I could hear myself practice away from the constant pop-song hit parade over the stadium public address system.

Outside the stadium, I connected with my extended family — mother Jeannette; sister Micky and her son, Patrick; brother Mike and his wife, Joyce; cousin Marie, a retired music teacher; and friend Nancy — and we all discovered that the Bears had gifted us with free tickets for the game — a classy gesture.

With 35 minutes to go, I was shepherded to the field level behind the backstop where I hung out some more, chatted with my family in the seats right above and behind me, smiled at the interaction between Ruppert the team mascot and some visiting Little Leaguers, and hummed and sang to keep my singing voice warm even as the 85-degree day had me perspiring in my blue suit and shirt and gold tie.

Then came the announcement of the players, and as that wound down, I opened the backstop door and strode onto the field to place myself in front of the microphone. The announcer asked everyone to rise — no more than 200 attendees in the 6,200-seat stadium for the 5:05 commuter special start of the early-season game (I am told the stadium can sell out in the summer when school is out) and introduced me as the singer of the evening as a Bears official came up and turned on the microphone. I took a deep breath, imagined myself grounded from the field up through my legs and torso into my neck and head, and began to sing.

Unlike my audition, when I started a bit too high and lyrical, my initial words came out nice and low, baritone bass reverberating in the stadium echo. I looked up and saw the sun setting over the rim of the upper stadium, almost blinding me. No matter. I looked below it, continuing to sing rich and clear the rangy song that I had practiced hundreds of time since February when I had seen the online audition notice to be a Newark Bears national anthem singer.

It was not quite automatic pilot, not with the difficult “The rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air,” but my support was locked in and the words rang out full and vibrant. I clipped the last word of “The land of the free” and was silent for a second, as I had heard so many other good singers do all my life, before I launched into “And the home of the brave.”

And then it was over. I strode off the field to some cheers, thumbs up from Ruppert the mascot, and, unlike the nervous hyperventilating of the audition, confident with the satisfaction that I had nailed it and would like to do it again and again.

Growth of massage in 10 years

(From the True Health Newsletter from ARE,

The American Massage Therapy Association completed its 10th annual Massage Therapy Consumer Survey, as reported in “Hands On” (November/December 2006), AMTA’s membership newsletter. In the survey, consumers answer questions on their use and views of massage therapy, helping the organization track the growth of massage as part of one’s regular health maintenance.

In 1997 when the AMTA began conducting the surveys, only 8 percent of adults said that they had received a massage in the past year, but in 2006 18 percent had had a massage — 25 million more Americans than 10 years ago. The main motivator for receiving past massages was relaxation, but in this last survey 40 percent stated it was for pain relief. Other reasons cited included recovery from injuries and headache control, as well as for overall health and well-being. Quite surprisingly, 53 percent of those who discussed massage with their personal health care professional mentioned that their doctor recommended massage therapy.

Annual use of massage by older Americans is also on the increase, having tripled over the past 10 years from those between 55 and 64 years, from 7 percent in 1997 to 21 percent in 2006. For those age 65 and older, the increase is from 4 to 12 percent. Younger people, too, consider massage valuable for personal health: 72 percent of those 18-24 years old disagreed with the statement that massage is just a luxury, while 48 percent of them had already received a massage to relieve pain.

“Ten years of data show not only that the general use of massage has increased, but also that public understanding of its benefits has grown,” the article concluded. Americans of all ages seem to be choosing massage therapy as a routine part of their health care maintenance.

Kick the bottle habit with a better hydration system

Courtesy of the Appalachian Mountain Club

There are certain immutable truths about the outdoors, among them: If you don’t ask a first-time tentmate prior to a trip whether he snores, he will… loudly. If you decide to cut pack weight by bringing a lighter bag or insulating layer, it will be freezing. And add this contemporary truth: If you don’t use a pack with a convenient hydration system, you’ll drink less water, less frequently, than you should.

And, leaving aside the hyperbolic marketing phrase “hydrate or die,” we all know that staying hydrated is a good thing.

Going with the flow

Today’s hydration systems are composed of two very simple parts: a tough, flexible sack-like bladder for containing water, and a drinking tube that connects it to your parched lips. The bladder is usually placed inside your backpack, with the tube clipped to a shoulder strap or other convenient point for ready one-hand access. A valve on the end of the tube prevents water from dribbling out when not in use.

This bladder-and-hose system has a distinct advantage over water bottles. Having a drinking tube ever at the ready means that you no longer have to stop and open a bottle every time you want to drink. No more fumbling reach-around while wearing your pack to grab a water bottle that always seems to be just out of reach. No more asking your friends to replace it once you’re done. And no more worries about the bottle falling out of a loose pocket.

Plus, water is heavy, and a bladder rides against the middle of your spine, exactly where you want weight in a pack.

Down the tubes?

But a full bladder is not the hydration panacea it may seem. Overall, I’ve logged thousands of miles with hydration packs and experienced few failures, but there are some drawbacks to consider:

Flexible bladders are more susceptible to breaking than a sturdy, Nalgene-type plastic bottle. Refilling a floppy container is a challenge at times, and retrieving it from inside your pack in the first place can be a hassle. In sub-freezing conditions, a hose and valve are more likely to ice up than a wide-mouth water bottle. And bladders are more complicated to clean than bottles (see sidebar).

However, most of these are minor, and easily addressable, concerns. While I’ve sat on a pack and burst the bladder inside by pressing something sharp and hard against it, careful loading of the pack readily negates this risk.

Fast-moving streams and shallow ponds can make refilling a bladder difficult. On multi-day trips, I like having both in-pack hydration and a bottle; the latter may be empty on the trail, but can be used to refill a bladder, and is more convenient in camp.

In many packs the bladder rests inside a sleeve deep in the main compartment, requiring you to unload some contents to access it. Some styles keep the bladder in a separate pocket, usually between the back pad and frame, where it’s easily removed and replaced — a nice feature.

In cold temperatures, small amounts of water in the hose can quickly freeze up. To prevent this, blow the water out of the hose and into the bladder, which is less likely to freeze because it’s close to your body, and tuck the tube inside your jacket. Using this technique, I’ve rarely had problems with temperatures in the 20s.

Many packs designed for winter activities often feature a hose insulated with neoprene, which sometimes zips into a shoulder strap. I’ve used such packs in temps near zero degrees without the hose freezing as long as the pack’s on my body.

Packing it in

As you start shopping for a hydration system, beware more slippery marketing speak: “Hydration pack” are those that come with a bladder and hose, whereas “hydration-compatible” packs have an inside sleeve for a bladder and a “port,” or hole, for the hose to exit the pack — but you have to supply the bladder.

Bladders come in a variety of sizes, with most ranging in volume from one to three liters. Many styles can be swapped between packs, though some sleeves won’t accommodate bladders larger than two liters. Packs fall into one of three categories, with dozens of models in each:

  • Hydration packs for aerobic sports.
    Designed for activities such as trail running and mountain biking, they give priority to low weight and bulk, and sleek, unobtrusive design. They have little cargo capacity, and generally fit no more than water, snack food, and a light jacket — good for mild-weather outings of less than a full day.
  • Packs for full-day outings.
    Intended for trips with potentially variable weather, or that demand extra clothing and gear, these pack styles vary greatly in price, cargo capacity, weight, design, and specialized features for activities like rock climbing, mountaineering, or backcountry snow sports. Leaner, lighter models weigh about two pounds or less empty, with enough support to handle loads of up to approximately 20 pounds. More supportive packs typically weigh in around three to four pounds, can comfortably haul 25 to 30 pounds or more, and have the stiffness to carry heavy, awkward gear like skis or snowshoes.
  • Multi-day backpacks.
    Most packs designed for extended adventuring are usually hydration-compatible only. As with daypacks, these vary greatly in price, capacity, organization, how much weight they can handle, and features.
    As with any pack, the most important feature to consider is the one that’s least visible: carrying comfort. Begin by finding a pack that fits your torso length, and allows you to carry the majority of weight on your hips rather than your shoulders. Most smaller packs aren’t adjustable, but some come in two or three sizes. Next consider how much weight you’ll carry, load up the pack, and walk around the store wearing different models to compare comfort and fit.

Overall, pack users and designers have gotten a lot smarter about hydration. I’ll drink to that.

Until next time … stay in Heartful Touch.

Dennis Sprick
The Heartful Touch
Massage and CranioSacral Therapy