“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming, “Wow! What a Ride!”
-Hunter S. Thompson
I have been asked multiple times to share the story of how I ended up so stupidly injuring myself in town in the first place, so here it is:
I had just hiked Forester Pass by myself at nighttime. I had hiked up steep snowy inclines, fallen, slid downwards, gotten lost, felt alone, been really cold, insecure, worried, hungry, sick, in pain, and completely depleted of energy and strength. I’m not dramatizing this for effect. Maybe for some of you this is no big deal, but for me, it was quite a feat. I’d never hiked in the snow before. I’d tried to be prepared but my winter gear didn’t arrive in time to Kennedy Meadows (after which the snowy parts of the trail begin) and was mailed ahead to a town that came after Forester Pass. I didn’t expect to experience altitude sickness (I’d hiked a third of Mt. Whitney before and didn’t feel affected by it). I planned to hike this section with someone else, but couldn’t find that person. Hiking Forester Pass is already not an easy task, and I had several disadvantages on my side.
So, when I had climbed over Forester, and the next day, Kearsarge, and was still alive afterwards, I felt pretty unstoppable. Consequently, when I got on a borrowed bicycle, I was no longer nervous about riding a bike too quickly, too carelessly, too riskily, and threw caution to the wind. Prior to hiking Forester, I could never let go of the handlebars because fear would stop me. Now, I could let go of the handlebars and feel like I’m soaring. Additionally, I learned that I could put my hands back on the handlebars and lift my legs off of the pedals instead. I stuck them out on both sides, I crossed them in a yoga pose, I placed them onto the handlebars. This newfound fearlessness felt amazing. I decided to try something stupid. I combined the two. I had my legs on the handlebars already and let go with my hands as well. Imagine that, and add the fact that I was also going too fast, and in the middle of the road as well. The bike wobbled, I didn’t have time to grab on to anything, and was thrown over the handlebars. I landed onto my tailbone, then fell onto my ride side and skidded down the road, ripping skin off as I went.
I couldn’t get up. For a second, I thought I was paralyzed. A few other hikers who were biking behind me stood in the road to redirect traffic. Someone tried to pick me up. I screamed at them not to touch me. I sat there until I got used to the sudden shock of so much pain all at once, and then allowed someone to help me into a standing position. But I couldn’t walk. A passing car who’d witnessed the fall offered to take me back to the hostel, where my wonderful fellow hikers cleaned my road rash wounds, helped me ice my throbbing tailbone, and made me root beer floats (which was the whole purpose of the joyride in the first place; we went to Vons to buy ice cream and root beer). They later carried me upstairs to my room (I couldn’t climb the stairs), and in the middle of the night, when I couldn’t sleep, brought me pain killers and water. One extra sweet hiker, Horse Whistler (pictured below), proceeded to help me change the bandages on my back every day for about a week until new skin began to form where there wasn’t any.
I love these compassionate, kind-hearted souls so much, and keep in mind that I’d just met them at the hostel one day prior. The PCT is a wonderful place full of people who connect in a beautiful way and become friends for life at an astonishingly quick speed.
But, before I go off track further (I just felt the need to recognize certain people’s kindness for a moment), the moral of the story is that facing your fears emboldens you, and sometimes too much so. I have learned that accomplishing something that is challenging and difficult makes me feel powerful and invincible. I have also learned that this feeling is one that needs to be kept under control or else it can result in some risky behavior. My fragile body can’t always keep up with my soaring spirit, and I need to remember this. I need to regulate my fearlessness, diminish my feelings of invincibility, and take care of myself so that I can continue to go on crazy adventures, long-distance backpacking trips, and wild bike rides at nighttime (and occasionally, even let myself let go of the handlebars with my hands or place my feet on the handlebars, just not both combined!). I’m only human. I can fall, break, hurt, die. I need to remember this.