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It’s taken me a month to write this entry—this clumsy, stilted account of what happened one grey, wintry day in January. Here goes …
It’s Monday afternoon, Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
The morning hours drift over me like a thick fog. Then, finally, I realize I need to get out of the house to avoid wasting the day doing mundane chores and lounging on the couch. And so I decide to visit a place I’ve wanted to explore for a while now, Alderfer Three Sisters Park in Evergreen, Colorado.
My drive begins in clear weather, but by the time I reach the small town of Morrison, a fickle wind has kicked up. Frantic swirls of snowflakes spiral through the air and scatter across the windshield. I contemplate turning homeward, fearing the weather will degenerate as I gain elevation. But my intention for this excursion is purely reconnaissance—locate the parking lot, assess the trail conditions, pick up a park map at the trailhead—all simple tasks in preparation for future hikes.
And so, I drive on.
From Morrison, a closed road forces me to follow a slight detour that shunts me along Highway 8, Highway 285, and Parmalee Gulch Road. I enjoy the diversion, especially the winding, gentle, old-Colorado vibe of Parmalee Gulch Road. Eventually, I make my way back to Bear Creek Road and to the town of Evergreen. I arrive at Alderfer Three Sisters Park on the west side of Evergreen shortly after two o’clock.
Layers of clouds churn overhead, and icy snow spits down, stinging my face as I get out of the car. Yet, despite the wintry weather, I find the atmosphere cozy, beautiful, and quiet. I realize that the past seven years in Colorado have restored my love of winter, a season I had grown to loathe while living in northern Illinois, where the winters felt to me dark, harsh, and long.
I’m swept up by the beauty of the landscape, so I decide to take a short hike.
I pass Alderfer Barn not far along the trail—a lovely barn with a red metal roof, a raised ridge line, and four dormer windows that gaze out over an open field. I take a few photos and drop a GPS pin to mark the beginning of my walk. I decide to hike a mile to get some exercise before driving home. So I pick up my pace.
I notice a layer of ice beneath the snow. I slip slightly in places but manage to catch my balance. I realize I’ve left my microspikes at home and consider turning back, calling it a day. But, I look over my shoulder and am oddly comforted by the fact I can still see the parking lot. Reassured, I continue on.
When I get to a fork in the trail, I turn down a quiet side path to maintain a safe distance from a cluster of hikers I see coming toward me. The splinter trail winds through a sparse grove of ponderosa pines towards an open pasture. I’m soon alone again, walking at a cautious pace, aware that there may be more ice lurking beneath the snow.
Then all of a sudden, it happens—my right foot flies out from under me. For a moment, I float suspended in midair. I clutch my camera close to my body with my left hand and reach out with my right to break the fall. I hit the ice hard with the heel of my palm, which takes the full brunt of my downward momentum.
The impact is so sudden it knocks the wind from me. On the ground, I shift into autopilot. I curl myself around my right arm, then pull the glove from my hand. This sends darts of nervy pain up my forearm into my elbow. My wrist is swelling already and looks misshapen. I’m afraid to move my hand so I let it hang limply at the end of my arm. I feel queasy.
I hug my battered limb close to my body and clamor to my feet. I scan the ground for anything I might have dropped and then glance behind me, embarrassed and hoping that no one has witnessed my careless tumble.
Standing now, I’m clumsy. I take erratic steps, lunging and sliding along the trail back to the trailhead. There is suddenly ice everywhere now, but my awkward movements are governed by an odd equilibrium—a peculiar grace that I cannot explain. My hand throbs, I feel faint.
I see two hikers coming toward me. I step several yards off the trail. They pass by, unaware of the struggle I’m hiding. After they disappear around a bend, I slump down to the ground. I realize I might have asked them for help, but soon shake that notion—I’ll take care of myself I think. From where I sit, I can see the parking lot; I can even see my car. I gather my gumption, get back to my feet and somehow manage to walk the quarter of a mile back to my car.
The rest of the saga progresses in a series of necessary tasks and adjustments to my predicament. I drive home, change, and take myself to the emergency room. I leave the hospital after x-rays and a splint fitting. My radius is fractured but fortunately, it’s not displaced.
I’m referred to a wrist specialist with whom I make an appointment to see the following day. At that appointment, the doctor replaces my splint with a fiberglass cast. I leave with a leaflet that describes my recovery and a series of appointments for check-ups and x-rays.
I’m lucky, by the fourth week after my injury, I’m out of the cast and in a removable brace for a month.
So far so good.
In the days that follow my wrist fracture, I replay the events in my head many times. I scold myself for my various miscalculations—neglecting to check the weather before my excursion, getting a late start, deciding to take an unplanned hike, failing to pack the right gear (especially microspikes), and continuing that hike when trails proved treacherous.
When I eventually grow tired of regret, I imagine all kinds of simple activities I could have undertaken (instead of breaking my wrist) on that day. One of them is to spend time quietly contemplating the life and achievements of Martin Luther King Jr. by listening to the podcast It Was Said - Episode 1: MLK Jr., The Last Speech:
And while I can’t go back in time and change what I did on that grey, wintry day in January when I broke my wrist, I can slow down now, give my fractured bone time to heal, and listen to the podcast.