Monday, July 30, 2012

Elbows

Overlooking the Salt Lake Valley, veiled by a rainstorm near the summit of Mount Olympus.
Beat's and my trip to Utah was exceedingly short, so much so that we spent more time en route to Zion National Park via plane and car than we did actually in the park. Still, we thought we could squeeze in a quick "training hike" up Mount Olympus in Salt Lake City on Friday morning before our 11 a.m. departure for Springdale. Although not the most majestic climb in the Wasatch Range, the main route up Mount Olympus ideal for mountain training — it starts less than twenty minutes from most anywhere in the Salt Lake Valley, gains 4,200 feet in 3.5 miles, contains about three quarters of a mile total of class-three scrambling, and ascends to an elevation of 9,026 feet. We optimistically estimated we'd need three hours to wrap up the hike (I hoped for 1:45 up and 1:15 down), and hit the trail at 7 a.m.

We had some difficulty route-finding during the final half mile of scrambling and had to backtrack (not to mention I am out of practice with the whole scrambling thing, not that ever had any climbing skills to speak of), and the resulting setbacks netted a 1:57 summit time. Although rain sprinkled on us for most of the climb, a larger shower unleashed right as we were beginning the descent and added a slippery extra layer of difficulty to the scramble. I felt a bit frazzled by the time we cleared the most intimidating down-climbs, and of course by then we only had forty minutes to complete the descent on schedule.

Beat attempts a contemplative expression on the summit.
His face is a good illustration for how I felt thirty minutes later.
So, yeah. Of course I fell. I was attempting my best shuffle down the steep, loose dirt when my feet slipped forward and I landed hard on both of my elbows. My right elbow has been extremely sensitive since a rock ripped a large chunk of flesh out of my arm during a mountain bike crash last August, and the resulting quarter-sized scar is still in the process of slow healing one year later. Hitting my scar directly on the rocks caused an electric shock of pain that took my breath away. I had to take more than a minute to compose myself enough just to speak two words to Beat. The terrible pain still hadn't subsided much when I finally picked myself up from the dirt, so I didn't notice anything else was wrong until I felt hot liquid on my thigh and realized that blood was gushing out of my left (other) elbow and soaking into my pants.

After the hike, I tried to clean out the wound as best as I could before we hit the road south. The swelling and pain in my left elbow only worsened until I had no range of motion without pain the morning of our Narrows hike. Luckily my right elbow was only bruised, so I could negotiate the wet boulders just fine with a single wooden walking stick while I let my left arm dangle lifelessly for most of the day. By Monday the joint was still swollen so I went in to see my doctor, worried that I might have chipped a bone. An X-ray thankfully ruled out that possibility, but I do have a moderate infection in the wound. Antibiotics will hopefully clear that out before it becomes a problem; it's never good to have an infection so close to a joint.

So there won't be any cycling for at least a week as per my doctor's request, and when I go running, I'll have to sling my left arm, as opposed to my right arm, which is how I ran for several weeks last summer. Beat has started calling me by the nickname "Elbows," which is both humiliating and completely appropriate.

I'll post my photos from the Zion Narrows soon, as my family and I had an amazing hiking experience. But for now I just needed to lament my continuing trials as a hopeless klutz. My mom, who has clumsy tendencies herself, said to me, "I don't know why you would admit these things. I would just say 'I fell' and try to change the subject." Because I never seem to take glorious falls; I take really stupid falls, and my injuries usually far outweigh the simplicity of the fall. How did I manage to jab both of my elbows behind me instead of just sliding onto my butt? The extent of my clumsiness baffles me, almost as if it were subconsciously deliberate, as though my body hates me and wants to take me down despite my best overcautious efforts.

Ah, well. Beat's recommendation is "learn to dance." Maybe he's onto something there. 

9 comments:

  1. Oh, Jill! You need falling lessons. Sounds like you swung your arms back to break your fall without dropping your hands. But then, bruised and cut elbows may be better than broken fingers or wrists.

    Hope,you heal quick. You have a little trek coming up soon. :)

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  2. Ever do any technical climbing? I've got issues with heights that keep me from doing anything too serious -- I haven't done roped or real outdoor climbing in years. But regular gym bouldering sessions have done a lot to improve my balance and coordination.

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  3. There is a section in the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy 4, So Long and Thanks for All the Fish, where Arthur Dent realises there is an art in falling and not hitting the floor. I think that you should read this and practice!

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  4. "learn to dance" huh ? with your two left feet fighting as to which is right, at least you will be on a level surface. It is a much bolder move to dance on boulders.
    Set up a practice area for agility skills without the boulders.

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  5. Maybe learn to fall on your butt? Although I have good balance, I seem to do it several times per hike. In my case it offers ample padding....

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  6. yoga!
    it's great for balance, coordination and core stability. all runners and mountain bikers should do a bit.
    and in california there's a yoga studio on every corner isn't there? :P

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  7. I was going to recommend yoga also but I feel a little silly recommending anything when I don't have any experience with this problem. For what it's worth I've always crediting childhood gymnastics and dance lessons with my falling skill - I fall spectacularly but usually safely/without serious injury.

    I wonder if the hill was just too steep for you to land on your butt rather than elbows?

    Best wishes for a quick and painless recovery!

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  8. Regarding yoga — I agree I should give this and similar strengthening exercises a try. However, I also believe that good balance and coordination isn't always something that can be learned. As a kid I tried both gymnastics and dance but never pursued either because I was so terrible — honestly, even if I had insisted on continuing, I'm pretty sure those teachers would have pulled my parents aside and recommended piano lessons instead. I've never felt fully comfortable in my own body; sometimes I think that the way I so avidly desire physical fitness and an ability to climb mountains must be some kind of cosmic joke.

    As an adult with limited talent, however, I know there's still things I can do to improve on my abilities. It's just hard to find the motivation, even with as much time as I've lost to falling injuries.

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  9. I don't know...that sounds like a place deserving of a fall. I tend to fall on the very smoothest parts of a trail, whether on bike or on foot...basically as soon as I relax because it's nice and smooth. And I love to talk about my falls, so I say share away!

    Heal fast!

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