Thrown for a Loop

It’s been that kind of year. Everything was going well until boom – well, you know. A lot of things fell apart. Not because of anything you or I did. We were all doing just fine – fantastic, in fact.

The family was great. Healthy, happy, doing well in school and in their careers. Our jobs had really taken off too. We were getting ahead, paying down debt, and padding our savings and retirement funds. And our health – well, we were working out every day, at the gym and on the trail. Eating right, too. Why, back in February, I was getting into position to reach around and give myself a big old pat on the back for doing everything right. It had taken me long enough, but all that hard work and common sense had finally paid off and life was brilliant.

Then March happened, and April, and it was all downhill from there. Lots of bumps on that path to paradise I thought I had built. But I just kept chugging along, worked it out. Realized things were going to be different, but they didn’t have to be awful.

A couple of Fridays ago I was on a different path. I took the day off to hike the Venable-Comanche Loop down in the Sangre de Cristo Range near Westcliffe. There’s a waterfall and lots of lakes, and the trees down there are just stunning right now. It’s a hefty hike – nearly thirteen miles and well over 4,000 feet of elevation with all the side trips to the lakes and falls.

I like midweek hikes because I usually have the trails to myself. I like the peace and quiet. Of course, I spend a lot of time planning and figuring everything out so I don’t get off track. I make a map of the area and mark every trail junction and stream crossing. And I carry a compass, GPS, headlamps, and lots of spare batteries. Then I pack up my cameras, sandwiches, snacks, and drinks and head out at the crack of dawn for an early start.

As usual, the hike went as planned. I stayed on track and made it to Venable Falls and Venable Lakes. Turned onto the Comanche Trail southeast of Venable Pass and carefully made my way across Phantom Terrace, a section of trail high above Venable Basin that gets your attention with its narrow, rocky path and extreme exposure. The 35 mph winds were a terror, but soon enough, I rounded the saddle between Spring Mountain and Comanche Peak and was on the descent. At 12,700 feet up, I had 3,660 feet and less than six miles to go, and it was all downhill. My last destination before the trailhead, Comanche Lakes, glistened ahead in the afternoon sun. Worst case, I calculated, I’d be out in three hours. Plenty of daylight – no problem. All my planning, plus the hard work and common sense, was paying off.

Then I was rolling. I forced myself to stop and sit up. Something was horribly wrong. Pain in my side, my arm. My butt. What happened? Deep breaths, in and out, as I cleared my head, calmed myself down. Assessed the damage. I’d landed hard on the camera I had slung over my shoulder, probably bruised some ribs. My arm was worse, though. Broken, probably. The pain in my left butt cheek made no sense because I’d fallen to the right. But I couldn’t remember a thing – not tripping, not falling, not even hitting the ground. I still had my pack on and looked around for my trekking poles. Nowhere. Turned my head and saw the trail eighteen feet above me. And my poles.

The descent took a lot longer than I’d planned. Hiking down that rocky trail with just one trekking pole was slow. Worrying about my arm, which I’d tucked into my camera strap, a makeshift sling, slowed me down too. The last couple hours, I was in pitch dark, but I chugged along, got out, and drove home.

The arm’s broken – two bones, the radius and the ulna. Not sure about the ribs. The urgent care people took X-rays and gave me a splint and a real sling. And I’m on the orthopedic doc’s waiting list.

I put two and two together and figured I must have been hit with something, probably a rock off the east side of Spring Mountain. Falling fast, it hit me hard enough to knock the poles out of my hands, send me down that slope, and leave a baseball-size bruise on my left side.

And once again, I’m having to adjust. I miss the use of my dominant right hand, but I’m teaching my left hand to do all sorts of things. Like work a mouse, unscrew a cap, and butter a piece of toast. Small bottles like eye drops can be opened with my teeth, and larger ones like spices and condiments get squeezed between my knees, their caps untwisted with my healthy, yet uncoordinated left hand. And just as soon as the splint comes off (I’m not counting on a cast, with an average two-and-a-half-week wait for the doctor), I’m going to reach around and pat myself on the back for surviving yet another rock on this crazy 2020 road to paradise.

I’m still smiling, and even though it hurts to laugh, I do it anyway. The universe has an odd sense of humor, a strange way of testing me, of testing all of us. But no matter how many rocks it throws our way, if we keep chugging along, we’ll come out fine. In the meantime, I’m focused on what’s going right. Like my amazing left hand and all it can do. And the fact that my butt took that rock, and not my head. And how typing is still possible in a splint with a little practice. It’s going to be different, but it doesn’t have to be awful.

This blog first appeared as a column in the October 28, 2020 Gazette Woodmen Edition.

The Venable-Comanche Loop at 12,740′. Not a bad place to break your arm as far as views go, but a long way from the car.

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