Seriously, didn’t we tell you it was dangerous out there?
Yourself, and society – again
So yeah, it happened.
My friend Inga and I, both aiming for a grand total of at least 52 hikes by 12/31/18, decided to go on a quick hike one Saturday in February. The sky was a bit overcast. Gray skies on our valley floor, a mere 1000 ft. in elevation, often mean snow storms at 4000 ft. We opted, then, to avoid a mountain trail. Instead, we decided to hike at lower elevation, closer to home.
The trail started off damp and drizzly, but easily navigated. As we went higher in elevation, the rain got heavier, and by the time we reached our destination – a viewpoint at the summit of a foothill, maybe only 2000 feet in elevation – it was actively snowing.
We tried to relax a bit and enjoy our accomplishment, but the skies were angry, and the snow was freezing. “We thought we were going to avoid this,” Inga reminded me, and after rolling our eyes and muttering a few choice curse words, we headed back.
At some point during the hike, I told Inga the story of the first and only previous time I’d hiked this trail. On the descent, I stumbled on gravel and fell into a split, sliding a few yards down the trail and scraping up my legs. Luckily I was able to get up and dust myself off. Other than a couple sore spots and a few scratches on my shins, only my ego was bruised, and even that was minor; the only witness was my then-husband. “I learned my lesson,” I said, nodding to the fancy trekking poles I brought with me this time.
As we lost elevation, we navigated icy spots and chunks of accumulating snow. The faster we hiked downhill, the faster the snow turned to rain, and eventually we were walking between drizzle-drops on a muddy, soggy trail.
This is when it happened.
I was speaking, or maybe Inga was, but before I knew what was happening, I was in the air. I felt my right hand let go of one trekking pole, and as I noted the other still in my left hand, I heard the sound of a thin branch snapping. An explosion of pain shot up my left arm, and suddenly, the second trekking pole was gone. I was on the ground, right arm wrapped around the left, and I was sobbing.
It wasn’t a branch that snapped; it was some part of my left arm.
I tried to explain to Inga what happened, and though I was achingly inarticulate, she was right there, grabbing naproxen from my backpack. “The damn bottle won’t open!” she muttered, and as though possessed by Bear Grylls, I grabbed it with my teeth and opened it also with my teeth. As soon as the pill hit my tongue, Inga was tilting my canteen into my mouth, and I was back on my feet – still crying.
She took my trekking poles – one had flown six feet away, while the other had landed just next to where I had. She slowed her pace. I held my left forearm with my right hand, and we walked. Within minutes, it became clear that my wrist was broken; it looked like a pale, rubber prosthetic topped with a swollen hand-shaped water balloon that was tilted at a sick, unnatural angle. Around this time, the trail crossed a forest service road, and we were able to bypass the trail and walk instead on more stable ground. A few miles later, we were back at the car, where Inga fashioned me a sling out of a blanket and began the drive to the hospital.
I waited a few hours in the emergency department with Inga, and our friend Jessica brought me snacks and additional moral support. Eventually I left with painkillers, a splint and a sling, and x-ray confirmation that I had broken my wrist in two places. Several splints and casts, two surgeries, and multiple medical appointments later, and my left wrist and forearm are internally reinforced with small steel plates and screws. Externally, they have the support of a splint and a heavy wrap.
If I hadn’t been hiking, this wouldn’t have happened.
For a few days, I was despondent about this. “Now I have to exercise in gyms,” I thought bitterly, screwing up my face at the thought of spandex and treadmills. “Now I’ll be scared to go up mountains,” I told myself, tears trailing down my cheeks at the thought of boring, flat, developed cityscapes. “Now I can’t hike alone,” I said, and that’s when I got angry with myself.
The fact is, my outcome would have been the same if I were solo. Yes, my friends offered me much-appreciated help and support – but if they hadn’t been there, I still would have ended up getting medical care. I still would have walked back to the car; after all, Inga didn’t carry me. I would have driven myself to the hospital, which, while painful and challenging, would not have been anywhere near impossible.
Another fact is that I’m also capable of getting injured at home alone, or shopping with friends, or running around the seven miles of hallways at my daily job. There’s a legitimate argument that hiking is more dangerous than regular ol’ walking, but I would argue it’s safer than driving an automobile – something I do much more frequently.
I have fear that my injury – which is the most common bone break, statistically – will lend credence to the myth that outdoor adventure is an inherently super-dangerous activity, and certainly not a hobby one should pursue alone. Despite my initial tearful-fearfulness, I feel the same about walking in the woods as I did before.
In fact, I am moved to get outside even more. This injury has opened me up wider to the kindness and generosity people freely offer. My friends took shifts to care for me after surgery. My youngest brother re-routed his air travel to stay with me. My coworkers collected a generous sum of money to make sure I could order all the Thai take-out I wanted and would not need to cook while convalescing. They also signed two greeting cards with messages that entertained me for days. The computer gurus at my job fast-tracked dictation software for me, saving me from the time consuming task of typing with only my right hand. My friend brought by elastic, thread, and her seamstress skills to make my button-up pants easier to slide into. One of the psychiatrists at work even offered me his shoulder when I was required to elevate my cast.
When I am reminded of the goodness humanity has to offer, I yearn more strongly for the beautiful, pristine places where I feel most connected to that goodness. If that means slipping my rain jacket over my cast so I can hike to those places, so be it.
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