Monday, May 31, 2010

It Was a Walk in the Woods

I went hiking this weekend. My hiking partner and I originally planned on it being a two night deal and had mapped out a route of about 30 miles and more than 60 river crossings. We finished the entire route in just two days, encouraged by our morning speed and the potentially unpleasant turn in the weather that afternoon. It was the worst trip I've ever taken. It beat out the time I had to do several miles of a ridge hike on a knee that was starting to go out on me or the 10 mile hike I did a few days after that where the knee started giving out on me only a couple of miles in. This beats my very first overnight hiking trip where I lost my glasses in the river, stepped on them and then had to find a clear lens in clear water about chest deep. This time I came home with a permanent injury, a lost wedding band, and a water-filled camera.

I'm a little pissed off about the ring and I have no idea how it actually happened, but this wouldn't have ruined the trip by itself. My wife lost her ring a while back, so I had a free pass, and I chose the cheapest ring possible when we were picking out rings. I think our homeowner policy even covers the cost of the ring. I have to check the specifics, though. The water filled camera didn't even ruin the trip. The camera is one of our older digitals and we basically only pulled it out to shoot video clips and when I went hiking. No, the fact that I lost about half of a tooth on the trip is what made it so crappy.

The photo makes it look a little better than it actually is. The break is lower in the back than it is in the front, but it is a clean break, and if you look from above, you can see the pink ring where the break just barely exposed the sensitive insides of the tooth. Even better was the fact that I did this on a Sunday on Memorial Day weekend, so I couldn't even get the tooth looked at on Monday. I'm going to have to wait until Tuesday to have the doctor check it out and see what I have to do about it. I can't just leave it as is. Right now every time my tongue or toothbrush strays too close to the center of that tooth, there's a bit of pain and that sharp corner on the tooth to the right of the break keeps catching my bottom lip when I chew. I just don't want to think about the money aspect. I can afford it. I just had other plans for the cash.

Oh, and I'm sure you want to know how I managed such an injury. I walked into a tree.

Actually the tree was horizontal and the underside was about 6 feet and 2 inches above the trail. The problem is that I'm about 6'3" and I had my hat brim pulled low to keep the light rain off of my glasses. I was watching the ground because it was a lumpy section of trail full of roots and rocks. I never saw the tree until I walked full speed into it, heard the clack of my jaw clamping shut and the pop of enamel shearing clean off. I don't even have a mark on my head. I hit the log almost perfectly in the head butt zone, that part of the head in the top center of your forehead that can take a little more force than the rest. The only injury was to my tooth. The weird thing was my initial reaction. I just told my hiking partner that I'd just broken a tooth and kept walking, pausing only long enough to let him take a look at the damage.

Of course, I wasn't entirely Mister Badass. In fact, most of my inner monologue consisted of whines like, "I don't want to be tough. I hate being in situations where I have to tough it out. Why do I do this to myself," and musings like "what if it gets infected?" There was also a lot of dreading about what the dentist might have to do to fix things and how much that would hurt. On the outside, I was just plowing ahead on land and carefully picking my way through the river crossings until we got back to the car.

It's funny that just hours before destroying my poor innocent tooth I had been pondering how I always come away thinking I loved backpacking when there were plenty of moments on most of my trips where I considered selling all of my gear and finding a more comfortable hobby. Backpacking is tough. You're carrying a significant amount of weight on your back, walking up and down hills for miles at a time, exposed to the elements, and in an environment that is often moderately dangerous. I've never come off of the trail without something hurting. The happiest result I would have managed would have been aching muscles, but I usually end up with a few scrapes at least. I genuinely hated backpacking when everything was wet from the rain and the temperatures dropped into the 20s one night on the Benton MacKaye a couple of years ago for one. I was kind of rethinking my priorities at several points of the climb up Mount Albert on the Appalachian Trail last year. I think the reason I keep loading up my pack and heading back out is that when I think back to past trips, the memories come back with a romanticized glow. I think I get more out of the sense of accomplishment from having done something outside of my comfort zone and having seen things that couldn't have been seen without that work and suffering (like the view from the top of Standing Indian when the rest of the world is a sea of cloud) than I get taken out of me from the pain and suffering. Besides, the tooth was a freak accident. I'll learn from the mistakes that led to the damaged tooth and camera and the lost ring. I'll be on the trail again before the end of the summer.

Already, in those moments when the tooth is calm and I'm not trying to eat, I'm already starting to think about this trip more in light of the fact that I did more than 21 miles in a single day (a record) and less about the fact that I lost the tooth. It'll probably be more about the tooth tomorrow when I'm lying back in the dentist's chair, but it'll be all about the personal record by the end of the month.


Hank Gay said...

Geez, I hope the dentist can fix that up. I know tooth stuff in general is a PITA, and I never decided to break one off.

Julie said...

That sucks. I hate it when bad things happen while you're trying to be good. I chiped a tooth (much better than what you did) while eating a carrot once and I held a grudge against carrots for a while. A cokie wouldn't have chipped my tooth.

God luck at the dentist!

Courtney said...

Sorry about the tooth, but I admire you for sticking with backpacking even though it hurts. I'm such a wuss that I can't forget about the pain long enough to actually enjoy it. The 25 miles I did last summer was it for me.

A Free Man said...


Maybe you're one of those people who's meant to stay indoors...