Pain Is Not A Way of Life: On The Pleasures of Whiskey

One of the reasons I am drawn to the Wainwright Coast to Coast is that each day’s path culminates with an overnight stay at a Bed and Breakfast and a night cap at the pub. I have never known a life outside of pain, having lived with a chronically painful skin condition for all of my life.   Not many of my girlfriends enjoy a shot of Jameson’s or Jack Daniel’s, but for me, it is exalting because, in moderation, it restores warmth to my poorly insulated body, allows me to negotiate the pain and press on.

On our first snowfall of the new year, I hobbled down to the post office, a short half mile walk, in the fresh early morning snow, to send Packhorse our travel itinerary and deposit.  On my way through the neighborhood, I passed a Physical Therapist’s office, one that I walk past almost every day, but never quite noticed. In their window they host a huge sign that reads: Pain Is Not A Way of Life.

I’ve long given up on scientific, commercial, religious and magical cures. I have not grown comfortable in my body, because pain by its very nature is constantly fleeting and fluctuating, allowing you to experience all of its rage. Rather I have come to an understanding and an acceptance of my body’s limitations and extraordinary capabilities.  Pain may not be a way of life, but rather it is a challenge with which to consistently negotiate, a perpetual reminder that we are alive: to keep fighting.

Although we plan to hike the Wainwright path in the summer, our quick burst of winter wind has me a bit nervous about the unpredictable weather we may encounter on the trail. Having spent my early twenties living in upstate NY, I am accustomed to lake effect snow and the rigors of winter storms, but it has been several years since I lived that life. This trail, for me, is also a trial of endurance.

The pleasures of walking and whiskey became clear to me during my first trip abroad. I spent a long weekend in February hiking southwest Ireland (the Ring of Kerry, the Dingle Peninsula, etc) with my college roommates and traveling companions. This was not the Ireland of a Joyce novel.  Ireland, so latitudinally close to the North Pole, has temperatures constantly on the rise; it no longer snows. That being said, despite the palm trees and amiable dolphins: it was a f*cking freezing.

We were all city girls, accompanied by some adventurous, but nonetheless, city boys and a few local Irish guides, with whom we had difficulty keeping pace. Each minute of the first day felt colder and more brittle than the one before, but we pressed on, eventually arriving at a pub. I have always detested beer and have some type of aversion to bitter beverages: red wine, dark chocolate liquors, coffee. As a young adult, all the beer I ever sampled was cheap contraband; I still don’t have a palate for distinguishing the subtitles of microbrews. After walking for several hours in the frigid Irish air, the last thing I wanted was a pint of Guinness.

Lingering away from the bar, shivering in my poorly chosen not-water-wicking cotton and denim, our Irish guide suggested an Irish coffee to warm my senses. When she learned of my resistance to bitters she suggested a shot of Jameson’s, because, “that’s the part that actually warms your senses.”

Skeptical, but desperate to regain full range of motion in my limbs, I ordered my first shot of Jameson’s. This began what has become a lifetime comfort in whiskey. Of course out of context this statement appears to sound like part of an AA confessional. Rather, I was amazed to learn that my seemingly weak body had a high tolerance for whiskey, for the warmth settling in my stomach and radiating from my torso to my extremities. The pub became a site of rejuvenation throughout our journey.

Wainwright, when he was alive, kept an open bar tab at the end of the Pennine Way (the walking path for which he is most famous) to treat each of his followers to a pint. There are moments of deep fear that perhaps I will not be able to finish the entire path on foot. In the epilogue to his A Coast to Coast Walk he has written that, “a life without challenge is tedious.”  This walk is in so many ways an attempt to resist monotony and to revive my spirits, something I hope to toast, each night, with a glass of whiskey for however many nights I can fully endure.

 

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About 30 Ways of Walking

Gina Liotta's writing has appeared in or is forthcoming in The New York Quarterly, Slate, The Paterson Literary Review, LIPS, and The Healing Muse, among others. She lives, writes and teaches in New York.
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