Layering the Injuries

Today I added a third injury to those I’ve been carrying for most of the trip.

I’ve had a moderately sore lower back for a couple of years, but it’s rarely mattered. The worst it’s gotten is a bit grumpy standing for an entire Timbers game. That is, until I tweaked it working on the van the week before I left, and then again moving a mitre saw the penultimate day. Since then, I’ve had trouble sleeping, and especially switching between standing and lying down. I’ve also re-tweaked it about once a week. I think this week I finally got my technique down for crouching instead of bending, and that will both protect my back and build the right habits.

I badly injured my right ankle (not the one I fractured last year) when I was sixteen, when I missed an ollie onto church steps. In retrospect, I’m pretty confident I badly fractured it, but I never had it treated. I mean, I was a sixteen year old boy. I could still walk, mostly. Who goes to the doctor for that? I’ve re-injured that ankle tons of times since then (probably about twice a year, including a couple of real doozies) but hadn’t much since the injury that convinced me to stop playing soccer, almost ten years ago. For some reason, though, I’ve now rolled this ankle three times since the start of the trip. Some of it is obviously the change in circumstances not getting the requisite change in focus, but that’s not all.

Two of the three times were my failing to respond well to a kid — the first one, a kid pushed me a bit, I stepped sideways and rolled. I haven’t admitted this to the girls, because they’d use it against each other forever. The second one, they were fighting over the hammock (scarce resources always result in war) and I stepped around to take it down and boom! There I went. I also scratched my arm against a tree, but that ended up being minor. The third was all me, although I will forgive myself for making stupid mistakes in the morning. I mean, my blood is still congealed until around noon, so my brain doesn’t work yet.

We were walking to breakfast, and I stepped half on the sidewalk, half on a church parking lot, and I rolled the ankle. I long ago learned the defensive measure of quickly taking weight off, dramatically throwing myself at the ground but actually saving myself from real injury. In this case, I was carrying two iPads and two books, and had a camera around my neck. Everything put me off enough that I ended up flinging the books and iPads, and then landing on the camera. And this isn’t some sissy plastic thing that shattered; the Fuji X100F seems to have come away far better than I, its aluminum body clearly winning the battle with my ribs. Of course, its scratches won’t heal like mine will, but that’s little consolation.

Landing on the camera really hurt. I am pretty used to pain, and pretty good at dealing with it. This hurt. I laid on the ground with my right foot in the air, not wanting to touch it to the ground, not wanting to breathe, not daring to ask if I’d just shattered our iPads. It still hurts.

I don’t know that I cracked a rib. It’s not worth getting an x-ray, because the treatment will be the same: Take it easy, try not to use it, here’s your bill, etc. But experience says it’s probably not just a flesh wound.

I’ve been wrestling with expectations vs reality on this trip, which is by no means surprising, and one of the painful seams in that dialogue is the consequence of injury. I missed a brilliantly typical Tennessee hike in the Big South Fork because I re-tweaked my back right beforehand and could barely stand. I have been slow to get up every day because merely getting out of bed is a trial in pain management.

Part of me wants to use this injury as an excuse to act like the city boy I really am, and do less. Part of me wants to lash out, to ignore the smart moves and just do what I want and damn the consequences. None of me knows the right answer. This is a unique opportunity, and it’s worth doing unique things to take advantage of it. At the same time, it’s stupid to be stupid, and ignoring layers of injuries in order to try something epic qualifies as such.

One of the reasons to do this trip now, with all its costs and compromises, was because doing it in my early forties has so much more potential than doing it in my fifties or sixties, or after retirement, especially given the age of the kids. What would you give up to have the Porsche when you still drove like a maniac, rather than when you’re old enough to just drive sedately? To be wrestling with fitness issues makes the trip that much more poignant, felt every moment in its experience but also echoed by how much different it would have been a decade ago, or would be a decade from now.

I’m not enjoying the limitations. But there’s no question I’m more in the moment, more conscious, more present.

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