Painful Lessons

The reasons for the pain— X-Ray date 3/14/19

The reasons for the pain—X-Ray date 3/14/19

Crunch.  Whoosh.  Gasp.  Pain.  In the amount of time it took me to write these four words is how long it took for a ten-year project to come to an unexpected and abrupt halt.  With 80 to 85lbs of bike, backcountry skis, camping equipment, food, and everything else needed to live in the winter backcountry, I hit the pavement with impact.  As the five different doctors and too numerous to recall number of x-ray technicians would say as they shook their heads in disbelief, “you must have hit really hard to fracture your scapula and break three of your largest ribs.”  First came the crunch as my front tire, rolling at 20 mph, failed to find grip on the black ice-covered pavement. The whoosh came almost instantaneously with the crunch, as I landed square on my left scapula.  The violent meeting of the pavement sent my breath out of my lungs leaving me gasping for its always life-bringing presence.  Laying in the oncoming traffic lane, I took stock of the situation as pain quickly blanketed my left side.

Rising from the pavement, I knew the trip was over.  I wasn’t going to be able to simply harden the f&%kup and carry on to the end of this journey.  My body was broken beyond a bump or bruise. With this realization, the pain intensified.  Why this? Haven’t I been patient long enough? This was to be the year.  As I sat in the snowbank, my partner, AJ, mumbled something about my collar bone. My brain was already a step ahead. Collar bone and head are fine. Scapula and ribs…jacked.  Greg had a camera in my face, capturing the aftermath all on film.  What about the sponsors?  What about Greg’s time?  Again, this was supposed to be the year.

Just moments after hitting the pavement.— photo courtesy of Greg Cairns

Just moments after hitting the pavement.—photo courtesy of Greg Cairns

It was day five of a 16 day trip to bike the famed San Juan Skyway, camping and backcountry skiing along its length.  The trip would begin and end at my doorstep in Durango, CO.  In between, 240 miles would be ridden and weather/avalanche conditions permitting, some grand ski lines would be dropped.  I had been planning and thinking about this trip ever since I laid eyes on the San Juan’s cloaked in the white of winter.  For one reason or another, the adventure was always stymied, leaving me scheming for the next season…partner bailed, no snow, too much work, etc.  Each year, I watched from my kitchen window as the snow melted away on the high peaks, leaving me with a feeling of disappointment as I took on the adventures of the summer season.  Would it ever come together?

After three days of hospital time, I found myself couch ridden watching “March Madness.”  The pain was all encompassing.  Laughing, sneezing, rolling over, and raising my left arm were no longer things I took for granted. I also had the clarity to recognize the set back as just that…a little dip in the journey of my life that was trivial compared to what others face on a daily basis. I would heal in due time. This realization in itself is a valuable lesson. Why not be grateful? 

Greg enjoying some “March Madness.”

Greg enjoying some “March Madness.”

 Gratitude sounds easy but with each incredible Instagram photo of those enjoying the unprecedented spring ski season, I started to feel a tinge of jealousy.  I was supposed to be out there.That should be me.  Lesson two: Don’t Compare.  With the inadvertent intentions of social media, it is easy to measure one’s situation with that of others.  Sitting helplessly on the couch, my self-worth started to erode with every swipe.  One solution was to turn off the social media.  Why not ignore the comparison vehicle all together?!  Given that I enjoy and am inspired by what others share, I chose not to close out Instagram.  Instead, I made a decision to see it for what it really is and celebrate those who were getting after it.  Heck Yeah—that line on the Sultan looks sick. Way to go @jacksreel.  If I was healthy, I would be right there with you.  As soon as I stopped the comparison game, a weight was lifted.

Lesson three:  Acceptance is just the beginning.  When something like this happens, as humans we have the tendency to start the woulda, coulda, shoulda game, where we analyze the incident over and over. This can lead to all sorts of issues including an eroding of our mental state as we potentially fall into despair.  While lying helplessly in the hospital bed with multiple lines protruding from various body parts, the crash replayed nonstop through my head.  Regardless of how much I hoped and wished for a different outcome, it wasn’t going to happen.  I had to accept it.  Learn from it.  And formulate a plan for moving forward.  Using energy to relive the past inhibits the ability to be in the present; to design a better future…to heal.  

A bike commute into a winter wonderland.

A bike commute into a winter wonderland.

Once I accepted what had happened and what was in store for me over the next several months, the noise in my mind dissipated.  A feeling of patience took over.  As a person in constant motion, patience for slowing down isn’t my strong suit.  I am used to accomplishing goals.  To creating.  To checking things off my lists.  Always being in motion has its positives, but it also has its negatives. I get things done, but sometimes this is at the cost of missing the millions of little moments that are happening all around me.  I hurriedly move from one moment to the next.  When the universe forces us to slow down, the present moment can be fully experienced rather than the spaces between the moments.  The outcome is an opportunity to be introspective and do the inner work that we usually ignore or are too busy to acknowledge.

Lastly, it is true how one’s attitude determines the outcome of one’s life.  ATTITUDE IS EVERYTHING.  It effects our interactions with others; how we deal with situations; and plays a significant role in our decision making.  When encountering adversity, whether big or small, our attitude will ultimately determine how we experience it and consequently, how we come through it.  In my case, negativity wasn’t going to help me heal any faster or change the situation. It could lead to an unhealthy mental state that would affect those around me and hinder my ability to fully recover.  After learning the previous lessons, I returned to gratitude for the unfortunate accident and chose to summon positive energy for rapid healing.  

A friend’s wish just before the trip came to a crashing halt.

A friend’s wish just before the trip came to a crashing halt.

As I write all of this 14 weeks after the injury, I am almost there.  I am back on my bike.  Hiking with a heavy pack.  Paddling and about to start rock climbing.  My body is starting to feel like itself again with only a few reminding moments of the accident.  In the coming months and ensuing years, the crunch, whoosh, gasp, and pain will all be a distant memory.  What won’t be, are the lessons that were taught.  The truth is, sometimes we crash in life; what matters is what you do amidst the debris.