I recently joined a club that I hadn’t realized existed. I got a cane.

Don’t cry for me: it’s for an injury that I got hiking in New Zealand.

**

Throughout our long life together, Paul has tended to put my carefully-selected birthday, Christmas and anniversary gifts into a drawer and forget about them. This used to make me crazy. Then, about fifteen years ago, I discovered that he couldn’t stick a trip in the dresser, and I decided to send him off to exotic places in lieu of sweaters and briefcases. As a special bonus for my wisdom, I send myself off with him.

And so, last year, I began arranging a special gift for Paul’s 65th birthday: a trip to Melbourne to see the Australian Open tennis matches. Paul’s a mad tennis player, and we’re both avid fans; it would be the perfect celebration.

I’d bought grounds passes on-line and was looking into airfare when Paul found an ad from Backroads adventure travel in his email inbox. It seemed they offered a hiking trip on New Zealand’s South Island that timed nicely with the Melbourne tournament, and he suggested we add it to our itinerary.

We’d biked with Backroads before, several years ago, when we were younger and fitter. The biking was great, but not easy; I don’t know if I could do that sort of thing now–the distance, the intensity. But hiking… How hard could that be? We’d never been to New Zealand, and it was near Australia. Hiking would be a great way to see the countryside.

I signed us up.

**

We met up with our excursion in Christchurch in early January. There were four of us hikers–a somewhat younger couple and us–led by two astute and amiable guides whose ages, combined, fell more than ten years short of mine.

The first day was fun and easy, a leisurely hike on a dirt trail up, around and down a smallish hill.

The second day featured a trek of roughly ten miles, up a mountain and back.

I straggled up, up, up, behind Paul and our fellow hikers, over narrow, rocky paths through jaw-dropping vistas: piney hills backed by the snow-capped Southern Alps, sheer drops to rivers tangled in broad, stony beds. The exercise was exhilarating–especially since the highest mountain I’d scaled in the past four years was the staircase up from the Atlantic Avenue subway.

We stopped for a picnic lunch about two-thirds of the way up. Our guides advised us to hike at our own pace. Don’t kill ourselves. The rest of the way was tough. We could certainly stop here and enjoy the scenery if we wished, rather than dragging ourselves to the top. “It’s all good,” said Erica, one of the guides.

I didn’t stop there.

I should’ve.

By the time I flopped onto the summit, my knees were crying for mercy. Erica dispensed it in the form of a pair of hiking poles that she’d been carrying on her backpack.

Those poles became my new best friends—as did Advil, the consumption of fine New Zealand wine, and applications of an ointment Erica had bought on a trek in Peru (the Spanish instructions translated: “For cows, horses…”).

Even so, my knees let me know I had seriously insulted them. It took a lot of elevation, rest and yoga exercises (and yes, the poles, wine therapy and Peruvian horse liniment) to urge them through the rest of the trip, and on to the second phase of our South Island adventure: a four-day bike tour of the Otago Railway trail that I’d arranged with a different, local company.

Yes, after we hiked, we biked. To my joy and relief, the trail was flat, as old railroad beds tend to be, and the scenery was well worth the peddling. My knees seemed to tolerate it very well.

We left New Zealand after the bike trip and flew to Melbourne, Sydney and Port Nelson. We walked quite a bit, but it was all on city streets and beach sand–nothing as strenuous as that second Backroads hike had been.

**

We returned to New York City in February, after five weeks on the road. My knees felt almost normal, and I resumed my standard home exercise routine: Yoga, a lot of brisk walking on hard pavement, and climbing stairs instead of taking escalators and elevators.

Then, two weeks ago, Paul and I were rushing to make a movie in Manhattan. I poured on the speed, power-walked through Times Square. I stepped off a curb–and my left knee simply gave up.

I limped into a nearby Walgreens and bought an over-the-counter top-of-the-line Velcro and aluminum knee-stabilizing brace. Which I wore the next morning to the VA emergency room.

The doctor, a lovely young woman from Africa, asked what had happened to me. I told her about my hike in New Zealand, and how, after a month and a half, my body had taken its revenge. She examined my knee.

She moved it to the right. No problem.

To the left. No problem.

She bent the knee.

When I climbed back down from the ceiling, the doctor shook her head. “You should stop trying to act as if you’re 19,” she suggested.

The x-rays were painful but negative. “Now you must make an appointment for an MRI as soon as possible,” the doctor said.

“I’m going to California tomorrow for a week, but right after that, I most certainly will.”

She frowned. “What are you doing in California? You need to rest this. You should not go.”

I explained that we went to California, to the BNP Paribas tennis tournament in Indian Wells, every year. We had already paid our part of a house rental with three other couples. We had our grounds passes and our plane tickets. “I can’t afford not to go,” I said.

“Then you must put your knee up and rest it when you are there.”

“I’ll be sitting a lot,” I assured her. “But I have to walk to get to the seats, so maybe I should get crutches or something.”

She sighed and ordered me a cane. “But you must stay off the knee. Rest it. Let the others go to the tournament.”

I made noncommittal noises and promised I’d use the cane. Then I went to the fifth floor to pick up it up.

**

And so I became a member of the Cane Club.

Its membership is large and varied: old people, young people, men, women, veterans and non-veterans. People with obvious disabilities; people with braces; people who look like they could use their canes in tap-dance routines. I even saw some other people using them on the grounds of the tennis tournament, while I stumped from stadium to stadium to watch a variety of excellent matches last week.

I’d never really seen canes before. It’s kind of like when you go shopping for cars: you suddenly start to notice everybody else’s.

I suppose I should feel like a little old lady. A crone.

But… Seriously, life is short. New Zealand is gorgeous. Tennis is a fine sport. I am not a great athlete, nor am I beautiful, nor am I rich–but I am an incredibly fortunate person to witness all this.

Tomorrow, when I go to my MRI, I will stand tall even as I lean on my cane.

I have no regrets.