It’s All Fun and Games Until I Crack My Skull

First confession: I spend an inordinate amount of time in-line skating (rollerblading) and listening to 80’s pop music. I’m stuck in the 90’s, love the 80’s, and taking my skates and my music and hitting the trail is my favorite escape from the now. The trail on which I skate was once a railroad line that has been paved over and is a popular spot for all sorts of recreation. The section I frequent runs through wooded areas, farmlands, and marshes. Though it’s a popular trail, many trailheads and parking areas situated on the borders of nice suburban neighborhoods, it’s not nearly as busy as some of the trails in the parks closer to the city. That’s why I like it. I can feel like I’ve gotten away from it all on a trail that’s just around the corner from my house: just me, my skates, and that 80’s music. For the most part, alone. It’s one of the rare times that when I say I’m living the dream, I’m not being sarcastic.

Confession number two: I hate personal protective gear. Absolutely despise it. I wouldn’t wear it as a kid—it was off the second I was out of my parents’ sight—and up until recently, I refused to wear it as an adult. The shit’s uncomfortable: it inhibits motion; it itches; I just don’t like it. In addition, as a former figure skater, I’ve always been pretty cocky about my need (or lack thereof) of it. However, the “up until recently” coupled with the title should indicate where I’m going with this.

One minute, I’m skating, taking advantage of being alone on the trail to really get into the music and how my body moved to it. The next, I’m waking up, the right side of my face flat on the pavement, both tingling and throbbing. Both numb and in pain.

I’d fallen before, and the figure skater who is still very much alive within me knows that falling is no big deal. Get up; brush off; keep skating. But this time, for the first time ever, I couldn’t.

“Get up,” the voice said. Sometimes when people talk about accidents or traumatic experiences, they talk about how they weren’t really alone, like there was a presence with them. Some people credit a guardian angel; others have mentioned their higher selves. I don’t know what I believe the entity speaking with my voice inside my own head was, but whatever she was, whoever she was, she’s kind of a bitch.

“Get up,” she repeated, voice stern, no time for sympathy. I, however, was still rebooting and taking assessments of the damage.

Rebooting-Terminator vision

Still rebooting, kind of like a terminator.

I could feel my fingers and toes; I could move my head. Good signs, but there was something wrong with my vision. I was blind in my right in my eye. “Close it,” the voice said. I obeyed. “Can you see well enough with your left eye to navigate yourself out of here?” I nodded and responded to myself in the affirmative. “Then get up.”

I tried to push myself up, but my left arm wouldn’t hold my weight. You know those survival stories in the movies in which the hero digs deep into their spirit and proves that it really is mind over matter and all you have to do is want your body to work badly enough and it will? Bullshit. All of it. My left arm was useless.

“How’s your right arm?” the voice asked.

“Seems okay.”

“Then get up.”

I sat up and the world spun. I focused on the ground under me as the blood dripped from my face and splattered in little droplets on the pavement. I wanted to lie back down.

“That would be a horrible idea,” the voice admonished as I tried to remember how many serial killers had come from Washington state.

It was at that moment that I realized the pepper spray, which I always keep tucked in my bra when on the trail, was no longer there. I spotted it about ten feet away and tried to push myself onto my knees and crawl to it, but the dizziness hadn’t subsided, and I swayed and fell. Ten feet or ten miles made no difference. For the moment, I was utterly helpless and alone.

I reached for my phone—which had also fallen from my bra to the pavement, but hadn’t gone nearly as far thanks to the earbuds still attached and in my ears—and tried to call my husband. He was also on the trail, but he’d been jogging, so he was way behind me and wouldn’t be covering as much ground. Given the time (the plan was to go 20  minutes down and then turn around), he was likely already on his way back to the trailhead, expecting me to skate up behind him any minute.

It was then that I lived one of my actual recurring nightmares. Do you ever have the dream where you’re trying to operate your phone and you just can’t? You can’t tap the numbers, or you consistently dial the wrong person, or your keyboard is set to the “moving staircase at Hogwarts” setting, created especially for nightmares and stress dreams? That became my experience in the waking world. I couldn’t make my brain and my fingers work together to make the call. I just sat there and stared at my phone and fought the urge to cry.

“Panicking won’t help,” the voice reminded me. I’m honestly not sure if she was talking about my inability to use my phone or what happened next.

I saw people coming and—glancing longingly with my good eye at the pepper spray I couldn’t reach—I could do nothing but hope that they meant me no harm. I couldn’t have fought if I’d wanted to and panicking about it wasn’t going to help. I reminded myself that I was on a family trail, running parallel to the freaking suburbs. I really didn’t have anything to worry about. These people were probably far more likely to be of help than harm.

Then I reminded myself how often the murder shows on the Investigation Discovery channel take place in the suburbs and how many times the killers seem nice and helpful.

I held my head up, which I was grateful I could do, and smiled, trying to look as well and healthy as possible. Drip…drip…drip, I heard my blood hit the pavement and wondered how grotesque my smile must be.

Exclamations of, “Oh my God!” and “Do you need help?” came the second the man and the woman on bicycles got close enough to see my face. I noticed that the man had blood on him. The woman began explaining, as she gathered my scattered belongings, that she’d just bandaged her companion after his bike accident only moments before, and that she didn’t have any more band-aids but she’d do her best to clean me up with what she had left. I think that ended up being a clean napkin and some of the water I had left in my bottle, but unsurprisingly, I can’t recall.

The woman was quiet as she handed me my pepper spray, a silent acknowledgment between us that it wouldn’t have done me any damned good in this situation. If anything, had someone wanted to hurt me, I’d have supplied the weapon. Still, she smiled approvingly as I tucked it back into my bra. She and her companion helped me up and got me to a nearby picnic table so we could continue to assess the damage.

They kept talking to me and asking me questions. I assumed this was because, though I knew exactly where I was and what had happened, I’d had a hard time communicating it. I can only guess what these truly kind people must have thought when they heard me barely string together slurred words, and they did their best to keep me alert. Bless them! Soon, a third cyclist, a woman who told us she was an EMT, also stopped to help. She asked which trailhead I’d started from and if there was someone waiting for me.

“My husband!” I exclaimed. “I need to try and call him.”  I took a gamble at trying to operate my phone with an audience. My vision had started coming back and I was sure that if I concentrated hard enough, I could make the call. I had to. I’d heard the EMT whisper the word “ambulance” to the others and I assure you, nothing scared me more than that word.

For the handful of international readers my WordPress stats tell me I have, I want to be clear. The United States health “care” system would be a joke if it wasn’t already a nightmare. It’s bad enough if you have to visit the emergency room, but you definitely don’t want an ambulance to get you there. Depending on your economic status and your healthcare coverage, an ambulance ride and the subsequent ER visit can be financially devastating, especially if you end up being admitted to the hospital. Even with “good” health insurance, the debacle that followed the care I sought…well, that’s a whole other story. The short point is, I knew there was no way in Hell I was letting anyone call an ambulance. I’d take my chances with The Reaper first. I prayed my husband answered his phone.

“Hi babe, what’s up?” his chipper voice answered. He’d been enjoying his jog.

“Where are you?”

“I just turned around a few minutes ago.”

“Well, I’m gonna need you to turn back around.” I calmly told him what happened and that I was going to be fine, but his assistance was definitely required. He said he was on his way.

The vision in my right eye was returning in time to watch the swelling in my right cheek rise underneath and impede my vision in a different manner.

It occurred to me that I hadn’t heard the voice in a while. All of my thoughts were distinguishably my own. I had the sense to thank the source of the voice mentally rather than verbally. I really didn’t want an ambulance ride.

Talk of an ambulance had stopped since reaching my husband, but the EMT kept telling me that I really need to go to the emergency room, that I was pretty badly swollen and continuing to swell quickly. She told me that she was concerned about broken bones in my face, and when I told her about my arm, she was adamant that I get that checked, too. Still, I very clearly stated that I was already feeling better and that I had no intention of going to the ER.

Based on where my husband told me he was when I’d spoken to him, he made it to that little picnic table on the trail in record time. A look of suppressed panic crossed his face when he saw me; a look that said, This is really bad but I don’t dare tell her how bad this is. As if I wasn’t dying to take a selfie to see it for myself.

I told him what happened, and then each of the three wonderful humans who’d stopped to help filled in bits of information. “She needs an emergency room,” the EMT wasted no time telling him. “She says she’s fine but she’s very clearly in shock. Where are you parked?”

There was much discussion about the best way to get me back up the trail. Do we walk the 2.5 miles back to where we were parked? Where was the closest trailhead? Should my husband go back to the car and drive to that one? No real option was better than the last.

“The best way for me to get out of here is to skate out,” I said. I was tired, and nothing good could come of me wasting time sitting there if I did have a serious problem that needed attention.

“No,” literally everyone responded in near perfect unison.

“Any way you slice it, I’m going to have to get out of here, under my own power, on foot,” I said, trying to keep exasperation out of my voice. Everyone there was trying to help me, after all. “The fastest way is to skate.”

Turns out, threatening to skate was the best way to convince everyone that I was fine to walk back to the car. I thanked my trail angels and swore that I’d be okay. My husband thanked them and promised that we’d get some medical care. He took off my skates and carried them, while I strolled down the trail in my socks, holding my arm and smiling sheepishly at every passerby who gasped at my appearance.

The first selfie I published after the accident.

The first selfie I published after the accident. It’s not a trick of the light, I really am bruised from my brow to my collar bone. I got the hat because my mixed-race hair was being done by my very well meaning, but very white, husband and it showed.

By the time we reached the car, some of my shock had worn off and so some of the pain had set in. Though I’d had the opportunity to take a selfie and had seen how mangled my face was (no one but me, my husband, and my doctor have seen the selfie from the trail), I still refused to go to the ER. We went to Urgent Care.

Urgent Care took one look at my face and sent me immediately to the ER, which I thought painfully silly. I said that, though I was concerned about a concussion, my injuries overall looked far worse than they were. I insisted that if Urgent Care wouldn’t treat me, my husband should just take me home; my husband decided we were going to follow recommendations.

Picture of the manicure that survived.

The manicure survived.

At the hospital, I maintained that it all looked far worse than it was. The X-rays and CT scans said that I was basically right, but it still wasn’t good, and yet it still could have been worse. I’d broken my right orbital (eye socket), but I wasn’t going to need any reconstructive surgery.  I’d also fractured my left elbow, but when I saw the orthopedist, he advised against a cast, so I thankfully didn’t need that either. My vision fully returned.

The accident happened at the end of last summer, right before Labor Day (at least it didn’t wreck my whole summer), and so it’s been a year since. My elbow has healed, though sometimes it locks, and my smile is still a little crooked from the last bit of a swollen hematoma that my body has yet to absorb. It makes the right side of my face pull up a little higher and wider when I smile, like Jack Nicholson’s Joker, only half. I’ve been assured that my Joker face will heal, but if I hadn’t had a similar hematoma on my hip from a previous accident that ended up taking  a year and a half to re-absorb, I’d be really discouraged by it.

A shot of Jack Nicholson as the Joker and a selfie side by side

Who wore it better?

And yet, I have a love/hate relationship with my crooked smile. In my better moods, I think of it like the sexy scar marring the tragic hero’s face just enough to be unnerving. I like to think of my new facial flaw as being barely noticeable in the right light, but just unsettling enough to suggest that I’m not to be trifled with. After all, I’ve been through some shit (no one besides us needs to know that it was something as silly and avoidable as a rollerblading accident). I’ll likely miss my crooked smile the second it finally heals.

First skate of the year early this spring. I wasn’t thrilled about the gear, but I do look kind of bad-ass.

I do wear protective gear now, but that also means I skate a little less. One of the things that draws me to skating is the feeling of freedom, and I can’t help but think of helmets and padding more as shackles than safety devices. It’s a tiny inconvenience and yet, more often than I’d like to admit, the drudgery of donning my armor (no matter how bad-ass I look in it) has been the deciding factor when choosing not go to the trail for a skate, and going without gear isn’t an option.  As an American, I really can’t afford the thousands of dollars (after insurance!) a mistake like that costs.

But, as I said, that’s a story for a different post.

Oh! And if you’re one of the human angels from that day, thank you for not being a serial killer. Thanks to you all for being kind, and wonderful examples of humanity. I appreciated it more than you know.

 

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Sunrise at Sunrise

The alarm went off at 2 a.m. I groaned and considered snoozing, but the memory of the time I accidentally hit dismiss instead—and nearly missed a morning meeting as a result—poked through my half-awake haze. I untangled my legs from the sheets and forced my feet to the floor. The morning ahead was going to be far more enjoyable than attending a meeting.

We’d been saying for quite some time that we were going to make it to Sunrise, Mount Rainier National Park by sunrise to see the mountain in its morning glory and then get some hiking in before the heat of midday. It’s a bit of haul from our apartment to Sunrise, so we grabbed our cold brew coffee, made breakfast smoothies, and headed out the door and into the night.

The trip had been timed well and it’s not as though there’s a lot of traffic in the wee hours to muck things up. However, when we pulled over so I could go behind the little girls’ tree (damned cold brew coffee), I noticed the sapphire blue of pre-dawn begnning to glow on the horizon. We jumped back in the car and raced the sun…up switchbacks.

I wish I’d gotten a better view of the owl that swooped near the car and then changed course, retreating back into the woods. Sadly, it happened too fast to capture a picture. Relying on the split-second view and my memory to guide the research I’ve done since, I believe it was a northern barred owl.

We made it to Sunrise Point in plenty of time to capture this:

Mount Rainier faces the dawn. I love the line between the light and the darkness.

and this:

Mount Rainier on the near right; Mount Adams on the distant left. Lenticular clouds remind me of flying saucers.

and to watch the golden morning sun slowly illuminate the hills around Sunrise Lake:

The view of Sunrise Lake looked like it came straight out of a fairy tale.

I’d love to say that I had some quiet, spiritual sunrise moment, the mountain top glowing almost neon pink in the background, but Sunrise Point is a busy place at that hour and though the people were generally quiet as far as people go, I wasn’t attempting any morning meditation. Really, I didn’t want to. I wanted to get to the visitor center to see the trail options and to get an idea of the potential hike ahead.

I recognized the look on my husband’s face. I’d seen it before and had come to expect it. He’d been looking from the large trail map at the trailhead, to the wooden sign with arrows pointing the way to each trail just slightly beyond, to a rocky peak in the distance, and then back to the map to confirm. He repeated this a couple of times, and when he looked at me, the hopeful expression reaching his eyes, I sighed, “Let’s go to the peak,” and gestured to the trail ahead. He beamed.

I took a closer look at the map to see what I’d gotten my seriously-afraid-of-heights ass into this time. The peak in question was Dege Peak, and oh yes! Named the Sourdough Ridge Trail, the trail to the peak followed the ridge. The trail itself is rated moderate, but ridges often mean steep drop offs. I don’t always do so well with those.

Luckily, for most of the hike, I was far too distracted by the beauty of the subalpine meadows and wildflowers in full bloom (and by swatting the biting bugs that live amongst them) to think too much about falling off the side of the mountain.

I have more shots of meadows and wildflowers than I’d like to admit. It wasn’t just my fear of heights slowing me down.

I’d been assured that the trail was a broad one, and it was. It’s likely even broader than I recall, as I’m well aware that fear influences perception. You know that camera effect in movies where a long hallway is stretched far longer and becomes much narrower? Yeah. That’s what happens to my perception on a trail with a drop off to even one side. The trail could be 5 feet wide, only a few paces bordering a drop, and those few paces would look, to me, like a mile on a tight rope.

And there I was, on the ridge, a steep drop-off on either side. My knees turned a little rubbery and I had to remind myself to breathe. I could turn back, I knew. My sympathetic husband turned around to tell me as much, but I was not turning around.  “Keep going,” I told him. “I got this; it’s just going to take me a minute.” I forced my perception into something closer to reality and pressed on. I’m glad I did.

Mount Rainier (14,441 ft.) and Mount Adams (12,281 ft.) in the distance (far left), from Dege peak (7,008 ft.)

Had those rocks been more comfortable, I might have stayed at 7,008 ft. for a bit longer.

I might have even been a little proud of myself for getting that much further in my fight against fear—or at least, fear of heights.

Descents are always a little tricky. I’m traveling in the direction gravity wants me to go: down. The issue is that I’d really rather not slip, slide, tumble, fall, or otherwise plunge to my death to get there. I was just starting to get comfortable, traveling at a good clip if I do say so myself, when I heard rocks start to fall down the side of the mountain. My first realization was that, thankfully, the falling rocks weren’t coming from me or anything I was doing, nor were they falling near me. Phew! The second realization was that I was in bear country; signs outside the visitor center made that clear. While I was fairly certain that it wasn’t a bear causing stones to roll, I turned to confirm. No bear. Phew, once more! I heard rocks again, this time at a lower altitude. My husband and I stopped and stood scanning the steep grade for the source of the disturbance. We couldn’t see a thing until the mountain goat flicked its ears and tail.

We both tried to get a picture, but the goat was too far off. We each zoomed in as far as we could on our respective phones/cameras, but the pictures were crap. We’d seen clearer images of Sasquatch! So, I decided to stick my phone back in my sports bra and enjoy the moment in mountain goat territory. As a Capricorn, I enjoyed a giggle.

We completed our descent without further incident (if you can call an almost-encounter with a mountain goat an incident), and spent the rest of the day scoping out places for new adventures.

Stay tuned!

Trails from the Crypt

With Labor Day just over a month in our rear view, the autumnal equinox a couple of weeks past, and the weather forecast assuring me that the rain has returned and is staying for a while, I find myself reflecting on summer. I spent quite a bit of time hiking trails at various state and national parks and so I tormented my Facebook friends with photos of mountain views, glorious sunsets, and every damn waterfall I came across all summer long. That is, admittedly, a pretty happy and sunny method of torture, but then, it’s not always sunshine and rainbows on those trails. Sometimes, I come across some seriously creepy shit.

Since summer is officially over, and it’s the most wonderful time of the year (Halloween), I thought I would take this opportunity to share a shiver in the form of some of the more unsettling pictures from this summer’s adventures.

The Silence of the Ram

Okay, so here’s the deal. I have no bloody idea what this is.

I mean, seriously!

I mean, seriously!

I just know that when we turned the corner at Paradise Valley Conservation Area and there it was, I had to get photographic evidence. Now, I’m sure that whatever this actually is, it’s just the result of some perfectly innocent creepy kid shenanigans and not in any way related to any real kind of evil ritual. However, coming upon a scene that features a pink plastic pony head with blackened eye sockets stuck on a human doll body jammed into the throat hole of the pink pony body – the ruined and severed human doll head perched on a nearby rock – would make anyone stop to ponder. Perhaps it might make some run. Either way, can someone please explain the ram?

My WTF meter is still spiking on this one and will likely continue to do so. A couple of weeks after this photo was taken, my husband and I were back on the trail and this little horror scene was still there. It even had some new additions, though nothing worth taking a follow up photo.

That said, the next time I’m there, you better believe I’m going to check for it again.

The Tortured Soul

The cool thing about this picture, aside of its high creep factor, is that it was one of those “and we didn’t even notice until we looked at the pictures later” scenarios. We decided that we wanted to stop at Ape Caves, Mount St. Helens Lava Tube. We didn’t venture very far into the cave because we didn’t have adequate light sources and hadn’t planned to do any deep spelunking that day anyway. Perhaps the poor lighting provided by the flashlight on my cell phone was why I never noticed what looked like the agonized face of a tortured soul trapped in the rock.

image-2-face

I’m in the blue hoodie. The giant tortured face is to my right.

It wasn’t until we returned home and started going through the pictures that my husband exclaimed, “Wow! That’s sort of freaky!” and I saw it. Since we were taking photos in the dark, it’s entirely possible that the face was a trick of the light and that even with proper illumination, I will never see the giant tortured face in person, but again, I’m going to go back to look.

Also, I’m seriously considering using this for my next author photo!

The Third One Because I’m Weird and Need a Third One

I admit that this one is a bit of a stretch but I really like the number three. I like it so much that I’m willing to reach as far as this photo just to include a third example. Also, I like to brag about hiking the Carbon Glacier Trail at Mount Rainier National Park. It’s a long one and we do it in a day.

If you look past the ants, the glacier can be seen in the background.

If you look past the ants, the glacier can be seen in the background.

As we were climbing the final yards of the trail with the glacier well within view, my desire to get close-up shots of high altitude wildflowers battled my desire to keep climbing. At that moment, I was particularly interested in the thistle when I came across this one.

I’m not sure what kind of ants they were. I’m not sure why they were all over that thistle, but I couldn’t help but think of swarming bugs on dead and dying things (or really, just swarms of bugs at all), and get a little shiver. I still say I’m reaching a bit with this entry; at the same time, I’m getting kind of itchy thinking about those ants crawling on me.

How ‘bout you?