Walkabout. Bad Trip Edition.


It was cool and early and I headed out to trail 100 to hike in the mountain preserve. Since the surgery on my foot, I have concentrated on walking flat surfaces—the canal, the perimeter of the park—to build up my endurance, but today I wanted to try the uneven, rocky trails that I have hiked numerous times in the last thirty years. Today, I wasn’t alone. Gene Brousseau is a former student of mine from my early days at Moon Valley. He’s an artist and a teacher and periodically stops by on his way back to Flagstaff after coming down to Phoenix. We met up this morning and decided to go for a walk and talk.

We hiked up the trail that runs between North Mountain and Shaw Butte. Sunday can be busy with cyclists and groups of hikers and dogs. We passed two slow moving grandmas walking little dogs. It was that kind of morning. A couple of miles in, the trail splits. To the left is the visitor station, straight ahead takes one to the road up Shaw Butte. The trail we took, to the left, cuts west to a less travelled trail that parallels the main trail. This is the trail I would take Hess on when he was little, carrying him in a backpack. We passed an area where people in the ’50s gathered for campfires and stories of the Old West. Further west, we passed the flattened ground of an old corral where trail guides would tie up the horses. We looped around and headed back south to trail 100 and home.

We moved at a pretty good clip, talking up art and painting. We threaded our way downhill and I saw the two grandmas waddling back toward us. I had spent the morning carefully watching where I stepped among the loose gravel, the overturned rocks, and uneven surfaces. As we passed the grandmas, I got distracted by one of the dogs. I lost focus. My left foot stepped fine, but my right foot got hung up on a buried rock and when I went to step down my foot wasn’t there and because I was moving quickly, I flew forward down the trail. Head first. Actually, with both of my arms outstretched, I body surfed down the trail. I slid along the gravel, passed the old ladies, and ended in a cloud of dust. Oomph. As I was bouncing past her, Grandma One yelled “Oh, my God!”

Grandma Two shouted, “Oh, dear!”

It is my impression that when we fall, or trip, or stumble when we are little, that time slows down and we can react. To catch ourselves. To soften or cushion our fall. To roll out of it. When we get old, not so much. One second I was talking to Gene and watching out for a little dog; the next second I am surfing Mavericks on my stomach. My cat-like reflexes appear to be sitting in an animal shelter, waiting to be euthanized.

When I realized what had happened, I was flat, face down in the dirt. I tried to take stock of my condition. I felt that I had scraped the heck out of my right knee, but everything else was okay, nothing broken. Gene told me to rest for a second before getting up. I didn’t argue with him. Grandma One starting yelling, “Your wrists! Your wrists!” I told her they were fine. I was embarrassed. But Grandma One wouldn’t let go of it. “Your wrists! You broke your wrists! Don’t move.” I assured her for a second and then a third time, that I was fine, and that indeed my wrists were okay. I tried to get up and I sort crabbed forward on my hands and knees at the same time Grandma One grabbed my pants leg. She was trying to steady me, but in my fall and subsequent slide, my pants and my boxers had begun to slide down my hips. When she grabbed my pants and I struggled forward, she pulled my pants completely off my bare butt. A nice bright white light engulfed us all.

Humiliated, I screamed, “I’m fine!” as loud as I could. 
Upon gazing at my exposed body parts, I thought I heard Grandma Two purr, “Nice!” but that could have been wishful thinking on my part. Needless to say I was really embarrassed and I jumped up, pulled my pants up, and moved quickly down the trail. Grandma One started in again about my wrists, but I yelled back angrily, “My wrists are FINE!”

“You don’t have to get huffy,” she countered, but I was hell bent on getting out of there. Gene ran to catch up.

We continued down the trail without incident. Gene asked if I was going to write a walkabout about what happened. And if I did, he wondered, would he get to be in it? I wanted to answer him, but although my wrists were fine, my knee was bleeding and killing me and all I could think about was making it to the grassy fields up ahead so that in the event I would trip and fall and make a complete old man fool of myself again, at least I would land on something soft.

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