A couple months ago, over dinner with friends, Monica asked, “So, what’s the worst thing that’s happened on your trip so far.” At the time, it seemed like a funny question. I hadn’t really thought about it….we needed a new fuel filter in Jackson, Wyoming? I dropped a stitch on a sweater I’d been knitting for Johnny for six and a half months (that I am still working on) and I needed to find a yarn shop in Austin, Texas? A bottle of soy sauce spilled in the refrigerator? I don’t know. A whole year on the road without major incident, injury or disaster. Of course, we’d had bad days, tears, flat tires and blisters but overall, honestly, life on the road was easy peasy lavender squeezy. And, then, like Portugal scoring in the 94th minute of a 90 minute game, on day 368 of our year long road trip, mishap in the mountains befell us.
On Tuesday, Johnny and I said goodbye to Charlie who was taking care of Max while we two headed off on a multi-day backcountry excursion in the Weminuche Wilderness. We boarded the Narrow Gauge Railroad in Durango, got off three hours later at a whistle stop called Elk Park where Elk Creek meets the Colorado Trail. We adjusted our backpacks and hiked 3 miles in and 1200 feet up to a majestic alpine meadow, away from city lights, cell signals and convention. We were with our good friends from Santa Cruz – K, D, W and Z – a mama moose, a baby moose, a feisty marmot family and a large beaver pond. We camped across from Vestal and Arrow Peaks, in a ponderosa pine forest that sparkled with very hard quartzite, here, there and under our feet.
Wilderness camping is the best! I like those first few hours where my sensory recognition has to adjust to a wilderness vocabulary. The eyes might see a dark, rotted stump while the brain registers a person slumping over. I love the surprises and realization that wilderness is bigger and vaster and different than anywhere else we can get to.
When we first arrived to the beaver ponds, we passed two women who had already set up camp. They were very pleasant and friendly. My eyes saw mountain mamas but my brain registered angels. Not that they owned the joint, but they welcomed the youthful energy that Johnny, West and Zoe brought and shared their local knowledge having lived in the Animas Valley for years.
Seeing a tree fall in the woods our second day was perhaps a sign. I think not. I don’t believe in signs. I believe that dead trees fall when they’ve been growing on steep terrain with thin soil and a strong wind blows. It was, you see, just a tree falling in the woods and yes, it made a sound! We hiked through glorious meadows with yellow violets, bluebells and columbine then retreated to our tents just in time for a late afternoon hail storm. Of course it’s Colorado and the sun reappeared for us to enjoy a dinner of penne pesto and black beans in our outdoor kitchen.
Our third day we planned to hike back out to catch the train in the same spot we had hopped off. Kaitilin and I wanted to go for a short morning run/hike 1.5 miles up trail to a waterfall we heard was gorgeous. Fifty feet in, I tripped and as I tried to collect my balance my foot jammed and I crashed. I hit hard on my right hip and elbow, immediately feeling the sting and severity of bone on rock. The next two hours were right out of a wilderness first aid training workshop – patient in shock, children on scene, no communication. Kaitilin, David and the junior crew were the best. They broke down camp, packed the packs, kept me warm and readied the kiddos with hot chocolate and oatmeal for a quick descent to Elk Park.
The angels of Elk Park were soon on the scene as well. Jean and Doe helped me step over step down the 3 mile trail. They were calm and reassuring, intuitive and warm and their genuine desire to help allowed me to let go of whatever it is that makes it hard to accept help. They are angels and I am forever thankful, forever, thank you.
I had emergency surgery for an open fracture of the elbow and got stitches in my hip and elbow. For now we are hunkered down in the Animas Valley, a very good place to be. Here one can find excellent doctors who have no qualms about giving patients the nickname of “crash,” excellent soccer camps and lovely people. I am lucky beyond measure for sparing my head in the crash and I am feeling the gratitude. I have no regrets and I still love the wilderness. And as it turns out, I have a much more interesting answer to the question, “what’s the worst thing that’s happened on your trip?”
And thanks of course to the 24/7 post surgery crew. Don’t worry, it’s only 8 weeks!