Monday, January 19, 2015

When Adventures End Badly

Sunday River, Maine
December, 2014

Great snow-making, but this turned out to
be foreshadowing of problems to come!
Great! Sara and I are on the morning of Day 2 of our ski vacation, we’ve dusted off the cobwebs during our first day of skiing, lift lines aren’t bad, and we’ve got a lot of runs in front of us over the next few days, capped off by the outdoor hot tub and some great apr├Ęs ski food, drink, and live music. We come across a black diamond trail and decide to tackle it. Let’s roll!

I now queue the high energy music and start attacking the trail. A couple of minutes later, Sara’s foot slides out trying to turn in her tele skis on a steep, icy section, and she has what appears to be an innocuous fall. And, in an instant, our vacation’s basically over.
Great view from American Express, right before our vacation ended prematurely!
While the fall seemed harmless, it left Sara barely able to walk. She’s tough: no one who’s a baby can complete a marathon, spend a week on a solo backpack, or go over the handlebars mountain biking and sport the most enormous bruise I’ve ever seen in my life. So when I kick stopped beside her I had a pretty good idea that our vacation had just taken as bad of a turn as she just did. It didn’t seem possible that an hour later we’d be tackling black diamond trails again on our way to eight hours of skiing, followed by another couple days of it. The vacation I’d hoped and planned for was no longer going to happen. So now it was a matter of waiting to see what this turned into.

Taking a step back for a moment, the reality is that Sara and I routinely put ourselves in harm’s way. We live a life that involves pushing mental and physical boundaries, and taking real risks. Some of the things we do require signing waivers, letting people know our plans in case we don’t return, and investing in protective gear – never the kind of thing couch potatoes are asked to do. There is a rush of adrenaline when I’m clipping into the bike on the high end of a rock garden, or planting my ski poles on a headwall, or taking off my backpack to throw it across a divide before leaping across myself. That rush partly stems from having fun in the woods. But it’s also very connected to knowing that I can get hurt. Most times I’ll be OK. Sometimes I’ll get dented up a little. A few times I’ll get laid out and be gimpy for a bit. And every once in a while I’ll need to go to the ER. But even though we are very calculated in the risks we take, that danger is a reality of this life and part of the thrill, and sometimes it means events won’t end well.

Nice view, but we were focused on making it down
the mountain in one (damaged) piece.
In this case, Sara and I were able to eventually work our way over to a summit lodge, where she tried unsuccessfully to stretch things out before doggedly skiing out under her own power, despite accidentally turning off a mild, green cruiser into a stunt park. Two hours after her fall, she finally could sit down in our hotel room, albeit gingerly and with assistance.

Now that the immediacy of being stuck halfway down an icy, steep trail with an injury had passed, the question arose of how to proceed. The resulting couple of days clarified a lot for me on two fronts.

Despite Sara’s encouragement for me to still ski without her and avoid a total waste of a vacation, I was done, too. For any bigger adventure, my reality is that I don’t want to do it alone. I want someone who can share the experience, enrich it, and relive it with me later. So, if my partner’s knocked out of commission, especially in this case if it’s my best friend and lifelong partner, the party’s over. My focus shifted to helping her, trying to ease her pain and help her acclimate to the reality that she’d really hurt herself. It led to a trip to the on-mountain clinic and then to the emergency room, where they luckily ruled out suspicion of a broken pelvis and instead diagnosed a deep contusion on a muscle controlling much of the movement of her right leg. That eventually led to returning home earlier than expected, where she could rest more comfortably.

Yep. Our adventure included seeing the inside of the clinic
this time. Not the adventure we wanted, but the one we had!
The other aspect that this clarified is that it didn’t really end the adventure. It just changed it. A survivalist rule dictates that you need to always be willing to reassess your situation instead of stubbornly locking onto your original plan. If these adventures are to learn about myself, grow, and share experiences further bonding me with others, especially Sara, then that didn’t end when our run down American Express did. We worked together, figured out and evolved our plans, and I held her hand as she laid nervously on an exam bed at the mountain clinic and later in the ER. In short, I was able to really be there for her as events unfolded. Those are still moments that brought us closer and that we’ll share for years, even if we didn’t get to try those Bloody Marys with the thick bacon stirrer they had at the summit bar.

Everyone is entitled to have their own goals and ways of doing things. For me, I was able to come away proud of how I adapted to the situation and supported Sara. I still have stories I can share. And it reinforces that this is part of the trade-off of this sort of lifestyle, with a chance to learn, grow, and live fully. Most importantly, the woman that I love, and love sharing this life with, and I are tighter than ever and will soon be back at it.
The end of one adventure just simply means the next one can get started!

See you on the trails,
Jay Bell, AKA RockHopper

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Kayaking the Bass River with Kids

Kayaking the Bass River with Kids
Bass River, Yarmouth, Cape Cod, MA
August 17, 2014
I long ago established that my girls would prefer to not sweat, smell, or be exhausted. Hiking = all of the above. Sure, it can also be beautiful and serene, and you can learn about who you are in that moment and grow from it at the same time. Oh, and it’s a helluva lot safer than taking them mountain biking with me! But, they’re young and aren’t big fans of sucking up the discomfort. Well, my foot’s been screwed up for a good chunk of the year so for months they haven’t had to worry about Dad making them have a great time whether they like it or not.
My foot messed up my planned August vacation, a big part of which was a 30-plus mile hike through the interior of New Hampshire’s White Mountains. There’s a fine line between pushing yourself and being an idiot. Granted, I normally leap in some moronic fashion over that line as far as I can. But then there’s being an idiot and being an IDIOT, complete with Search-and-Rescue teams. I’ll keep my idiocy in check… this time.
If I can't exercise then I can see what makes me feel better:
cabernet or merlot.
So we went to Cape Cod for the week, and I tried things with less impact on my foot, like mountain biking, cycling, and visiting a vineyard (yummy-delish). Aside of some minor fiascos like having to lift my mountain bike (and myself) over a fence to get back to a road, wiping out when I found out the hardpack I was mountain biking on was actually sand with a thin crust, or being on a road bike in a surprise downpour, it was fun.
I wanted to carry that sort of Plan B recreation over to my girls, too. In trying to figure out some way to torture them with both nature and exercise, we stumbled across an activity we haven’t done often: kayaking. Perfect: it’s not foot-oriented, it’s up close with nature on a beautiful day, and if they sweat then the salt water will mask their smell – maybe they’ll even (gasp!) have a good time.
Kayaking the Bass River on Cape Cod
With some nearby options, we chose to rent from a place adjacent to a large river and bay. No need to truck the kayaks anywhere, plenty of nooks and crannies, no strong ocean currents carrying us to Europe… all good. We paired up with a kid in front and adult in back of a couple of two-person kayaks. After getting paddles, life jackets, a map, and warnings of areas to avoid (avoiding the channel several harbors use and the designated high-speed area were a couple of stellar suggestions), we set out.
Good synchronization!
The girls were a little nervous at first, and there was more of a current than the pond that was the site of our previous excursions. They’re also now older than those prior times, and they worked hard to carry their weight. We had no choice but to cut across a channel, and they paddled hard, digging until we were on the other side and they could take a breather. Then they both tried to stay in synch with their grown-up partner. Even though a rule is that the one in front can do their thing at a steady pace and the person in back will deal with steering, it was cute to see them looking back to make sure their strokes were well-timed and taking their performance seriously.
Break time!
It was also nice to see them asking about, or pointing out, things around them.  A lot of your surroundings get missed when you’re driving by them, or schlepping from Point A to Point B as you cross weekend chores of your list. But out on the water, like hiking, you’re more aware of your surroundings, observing more and then thinking about it. The girls saw a zillion hermit crabs by the water’s edge, which would flee to the beach grass if you approached. They learned about how the channels work, and about dredging which taught them more about erosion and how surprisingly impermanent land can be.
It's great to see an expression like that!
This also meant that we could bond in a way that’s harder to do when you’re running errands or dealing with some of the normal grind. As I try hard to get chores out of the way during the week, the extra time for quality events pays off. I could get a glimpse into the mind of my daughter as she has an experience in which she gets better at paddling, taking advantage of, as she calls them, her “disposable thumbs.” I can’t trick them as I did when they were younger and the world more mysterious – like convincing my youngest that only little people lived in the nearby town of Littleton, or that each denim leg is a “jean”, and since there are two legs it’s a “pair of jeans”. But the world is still vast and fascinating to them, as it should be, and whether it’s a joke or education, I realized activities like this offer boundless opportunities to connect and for them to grow.
Looks like we were back first - we win!
After navigating around the bay for a couple of hours and making it safely back to port, we turned in our supplies and headed home. The store liquidates its fleet every year, and we had the chance to purchase discount kayaks. We passed, but it led to discussion. Later that day, I probed the girls to see if it was worth the investment. Would they use them? Would it get boring? Would it be something else Dad forces them to have fun doing? Their thoughts were interesting: yes, it wore their arms out, but that’s not as bad as leg fatigue. If they started sweating, they could use the water surrounding them to cool themselves off. One was interested in the two girls learning to use a kayak without a grown-up. The other was interested in trying different types of water, from shallow to deep, ponds, lakes, rivers, and even the ocean. Both could see using it locally or going further afield, and being a good way to make a boring day into a ready-made field trip. So, they spoke to an interest in it, and enough scenarios in which I wouldn’t be dragging them reluctantly along.
I hope to have more moments like this next year!
Bottom line from this experience is that my injury may have wound up finding a way for the girls to push themselves, to connect more with the world around them, to have an activity with Dad that can be a bonding experience. And although fatigue and body odor will exist, they aren’t disqualifiers. I’m not sure how it’ll turn out, but it holds good promise. The warm weather will be winding down, but it’s a good thing to ponder as we soon turn our attention to ski slopes, where the cold keeps B.O. at bay, mental challenges are disguised as fun, and fatigue is quickly forgotten in the face of hot chocolate and another run down the slopes.
See you on the trails,
Jay Bell, AKA RockHopper