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

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