September 4, 2012

Accidents happen, people get lost – let someone know your destination.

Above my desk at home, hanging on the wall, is a framed note from my wife. It reads:


Wake me before you leave. Please write down exactly where you are going, what time you'll be home - DETAILS. Honey, please be very, very careful.

 Please be safe.

I love you very much,


P.S. Set the alarm for 8:00. Candy bars in freezer. Are you going to take a sharp knife to protect yourself? Please.


I keep this note for two reasons: one as a reminder that my bride probably hasn't secretly increased the amount of my life insurance policy, and secondly, as a reminder that I have acted so inconsiderately at times that I couldn't blame her if she did secretly increase the amount of my life insurance policy. Out of either machismo or stupidity (I have wondered at times if they are the same thing), I left home on many weekend mornings, destined for some far off trail, without telling my bride where I was going.


"Nothing will ever happen to you!" my inner machismo would scream. "Accidents always happen to someone else." I was invincible. Besides, what good would it do to tell my bride what trail I was hiking that day when I'd often find myself on a different trail than the one I had originally planned to hike.   


One weekend I found my schedule heaped with obligations. Procrastination had set in some weeks earlier and had left my yard in a modest state of neglect. The lawn needed mowed and weeds needed pulled. So what did I do? I crawled out of bed at 3:00 am, grabbed my daypack, kissed my bride and headed for the Patjen Lakes Trail near Mt. Washington. The Patjens Lakes area is made up of three small lakes a short distance from Big Lake along the Santiam Pass.

 One of the Patjens Lakes

If everything went according to plan, I calculated my return home to be at approximately 11:00 a.m., leaving ample time for chores.


For about 15 minutes my plan worked splendidly. That is until I stopped at an all night convenience store a couple of miles from home to buy camera film and a few snacks. As I returned to my pickup and reached into my pocket, a feeling I can only describe as something of a cross between embarrassment and disbelief suddenly enveloped me. I had locked my keys in the truck.


It was not the first time this had happened. However, enough time had usually elapsed between each of these episodes that they were simply considered  a fluke. "So why make a spare key and hide it somewhere on the exterior of the truck when it will never happen again," I always told myself.


The store clerk couldn't find a hanger or anything resembling one, so I sat down on the store-front bench and assessed my options. The easiest solution was to simply call my bride and ask her to come to my aid. Another option and the path of least resistance was to walk home and let my bride sleep. Finally I reached into my pocket, pulled out a quarter, and with a sigh, stuck it in the nearby pay phone (this was before cell phones).


"Hello," my bride whispered from the other end.

"Hi honey - Uh, I locked my keys in the pickup."

"What Gary?”

"I locked my keys in the pickup," as if she hadn't heard me the first time.


"Sorry. I'm at the little market."

"What time is it?"

"Uhh. Its pretty early.”

“I'll be there when I get there!"



I sat back down on the bench, now pondering the meaning of "I'll be there when I get there." Was I destined to sit on this bench until the sun came up? Should I start walking home, exchanging a hike over humus for one on a sidewalk? Or would my bride hop into the car and pay heed to her husband's impulsive desire to walk in the mountains, leaving the leaky kitchen faucet for another day.


Just as I was preparing to hoof it home, Dvenna's car pulled into the little store's parking lot. My bride simply shook her head, rolled down the window and handed me a key before backing up and driving from the parking lot. I don't think she even heard me say thank you.


I canceled my plans for Patjens Lakes, knowing my schedule was now worthless. Determined to get in a hike, I instead drove to the trailhead leading to tiny Hidden Lake, located on the southwest slope of Mt. Hood.


I hiked along Zig Zag Canyon's southeast rim, past tiny Hidden Lake and upward toward timberline.

 Zigzag Canyon

Somewhere between the lake and the trail's intersection with the PCT I stepped awkwardly on a rock, twisting my ankle so severely I swear my anklebone touched the ground before my foot. I dropped to the forest floor and knew immediately I wasn't getting up for awhile.


I quickly looked around to see if anyone had seen me fall, hoping I was spared the embarrassment of dropping like one of Mike Tyson’s opponents. Fortunately for my ego, no one else was nearby. It also made me realize just how vulnerable I was. Late in the fall, it was quite possible that no one else would hike this trail for days, and if I couldn't get up - well. Suddenly I was mortal.


Making my predicament worse was the fact I was sitting on Mt. Hood's slope, far away from my originally planned destination - Patjens Lakes. The note I had left for my bride that morning told her I would be at Patjens Lakes. No one knew I was sitting on Mt. Hood's slope, twisted ankle and all. There I laid.


Then I remembered something a high school basketball coach once told me: "An ankle sprain is like riding a horse, if you go down its best to get right back up on it again." Since that day I had never needed the advice, but isn't it nice that we can pull things out of the past when we need them the most. So I pulled myself up to my feet and gingerly placed some weight on the tender joint. There was no way I was going to able to place weight on it. So, I hopped on my one good foot part way down the mountain, placing my ankle on the ground every few steps to catch my balance. Eventually most of the pain worked its way out of the ankle and I hobbled back down the mountain.
From that day on, I have left a note on the kitchen counter telling my bride where I was headed, and if I wasn't there, where else I would be.      

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