Surviving the Canyon Trail and What I Learned from It

Monday, December 25, 2017
Instead of my regular Christmas post where I write random inspirational thoughts, I’m sharing a story about something that happened to me recently, and how I’m applying it to the New Year.

(Yep. I've ran into rattlesnakes.)
December 13th was a Wednesday, but it felt more like a Friday on account of my bad luck. It’s the kind of luck that turns a glass half empty, makes you question what you did differently. By sunset, I would find myself alone, stranded in the wilderness, using all my strength to survive.

Okay, that sounds a bit dramatic. I’ll change that last part to: “using all my strength to survive the situation.” Yes, we’ll go with that because this is not a Rambo movie!

I was working on WOW that day. I had just finished the html page for Chelsey Clammer’s column, and it was 3:40pm. Normally, I’d take a break at 3pm to go trail running, but I’d gotten out of routine. It’d been almost two weeks since the Santa Ana winds started whipping through the canyons at 50mph, tirelessly stoking the California wildfires. It was a bad month for wind (and allergies). Every voice was a scream. I had less than an hour, but I knew I could finish the four-mile trail that snaked through the canyon and get back to my car before sunset.

I ran light: Brooks trail running shoes, capris with zipper pockets for keys, cell phone, Bluetooth headphones, Ray-bans, and one stick of gum for hydration. A downloaded Spotify playlist helped keep the pace. I knew where I should be on the trail when a song came on, and how many minutes were left in my run. By the time “Goodbye Horses” played, I slowed to watch three juvenile coyotes run across my path and into the bushes. One curious coyote stopped, and I swore we had a moment as we exchanged a long glance. I made up for that pause and ran faster until I hit the end of the lollipop trail and turned around.

(Where the coyotes like to hang out.)

I ran down the 1,500-foot peak, then slowed to a walk to take a second descent down a smaller hill of dirt and gravel. This is where my memory fails because it happened so fast. I don’t know if it was because of my sunglasses or the fact that I didn’t slow down enough or that I hadn’t cleaned my shoe’s treads in a while, but the next thing I knew I was tumbling down the hill like a cartoon character. When my body finally stopped, my head was still tumbling and I felt like puking. I took a deep breath and stood up, but the pain was too agonizing. My left ankle was the size of a softball. I tried to get up again but felt something dislodge and pop, and I couldn’t put pressure on my left foot. It was then that the realization set in. I was hurt, really hurt. I couldn’t walk. I was two miles from my car. The sun was abandoning me. I was alone. I reached for my cell phone and there was barely one bar. I called my husband.

(Not the hill I fell down,
but check out that terrain!)
“I’m on the 5-freeway an hour away, going to a meeting,” he said. “What happened?!”

I told him I possibly broke my ankle, maybe sprained it or twisted it. I wasn’t sure. That I was two miles from my car.

“Find a stick to walk with, and call my dad to pick you up. Or call 9-1-1—“

“And what? Have them airlift me out of here?”

Then I lost cell service.

It was getting dark and I debated using my phone’s flashlight, but needed to wait as long as possible because my battery was dying. I stood up and hopped on one leg down the hill. By the time I got to the bottom, I was drenched in sweat. The temperature was dropping quickly and I knew sweat would make me cold if I stayed still for too long. I called my husband again, but I still had no reception. So, I hopped. And hopped. And hopped. For a quarter of a mile.

I stopped before I reached the twelve-inch ledge that hung twenty feet over the stream below. Even with two legs, this part of the trail required attention. I knew I couldn’t cross it by hopping. To my right, tree branches broken by the harsh winds lay in a jumble. I found a curved stick, two inches in diameter, broke off its branches, and used it as a support. Honestly, it didn’t help much. Every step delivered a shot of pain and a clunky pop, but at least I could maintain balance. My thoughts turned dark as I hobbled into the thick forest, trees swallowing me like the mouth of a cave. I could barely see the rocks on the ground. I felt like I was going to lose it when I thought of how far I had to go. I stopped to catch my breath.

I heard a rustling behind me and then some panting. Could it be coyotes?

“Hey, what happened?” a man’s voice said. “I saw you run past me a while ago.”

I craned my neck around to see a stocky man with long blonde hair and a scraggly dog emerge from the darkness. I recognized him as a regular hiker on the trail, and told him what happened.

“I’ll walk with you,” he said.

His name was Richard, and his dog’s name was Betsy. We talked about the Trump administration of all things, our aging parents, the holidays, and pretty soon I was laughing and in good spirits.

As we walked over a small rocky hill, he grabbed my arm. “Dang, this thing is meaty! Do you work out?”

“Every day.”

And so it went. We made it back to my car pretty fast.

“Door service,” he said, opening my car door.

I thanked my new friend, chucked the walking stick to the side of the road, and drove home with my good foot. My father-in-law drove me to the hospital. Like I’d suspected, my ankle was broken. After seeing an orthopedic doctor who examined my x-rays—a “bad break” he said—I found out I would have to get surgery. Pins, plates, rods, and all that fun stuff. I would finally achieve my dream of turning into a cyborg. Just in time to ring in the New Year.

So why am I telling you this? I learned a couple valuable lessons from this experience that I’m applying to the upcoming New Year:

Choose Your Reaction to the Situation

“Life is 10 percent what happens to you, and 90 percent how you react to it.” ~ Charles R. Swindoll

I started to slip into that bad space where I felt frustrated and alone, and could've had a meltdown, but I didn't. I pushed on and maintained a positive attitude.

Margo Dill wrote a recent post on her blog, Life is All About Your Reaction and Your Tribe, which inspired this post. In it, she talks about how a friend changed her perspective on a bad situation, and how it’s important to choose who you surround yourself with because they can help change your reaction.

I totally agree. When Richard appeared out of the darkness and walked with me, it changed my perspective. I didn’t include this in the story, but when I got back to my car, I called my husband. “Gee, you sound chipper,” he said. “I guess you didn’t break your ankle.” As you know, I did. But having someone positive to talk to during a bad situation helped pull me out of my headspace.

Margo improved the above quote to this:

“Life is 10 percent what happens to you, 40 percent how you react to it, and 50 percent who you choose to surround yourself with.” ~ Margo Dill

Pretty awesome.

I choose to surround myself with fine writers like all of you in the WOW community. I believe if we band together, we can make all of our writing goals happen.

Train Every Day

(Not a fashion statement.
I just can't wear pants!)
If I hadn’t trained for it, I never could’ve hopped on one leg for almost two miles. P90X is part of my regular workout routine; and believe it or not, one of the weekly exercises is hopping on one leg for a period of time. It’s my least favorite exercise, but it prepared me for this.

I’m not saying to go workout in case something goes wrong; I just mean if you love something, work on it every day.

I only have one goal for 2018: write every day.

Professional writers I know write every day, if only for an hour. I figure if I do that, the rest will fall into place. I will be prepared for anything that comes my way. I will find what I’ve been looking for by putting in the time and effort.

Oh yeah, and the last lesson I learned? Don't run down hills.

Merry Christmas, writers. Cheers to a productive New Year!


Angela Mackintosh is publisher of WOW! Women On Writing. She hopes to get back on the trails in six to eight weeks.


Sioux Roslawski said...

Angela--Not a fashion statement? Sooo not true. You look so cute bottomless in the shirt/pajama top. At first, I was going to gloat and say I never run/work out, so I've never broken an ankle and turned into a cyborg, which is true, but I also would not look that cute in a cast and a flannel shirt---and not much else.

So I won't gloat and say, "I told you so--exercise can kill (or at least injure)."

I'm so glad you survived (it really could have been a life or death thing--seriously) and that you found a two-legged and a four-legged friend to surround yourself with.

I hope you have a wonderful 2018 (and yes, you probably need to resend the Amazon card from last year--sorry). I look forward to your posts, so don't hurt your hands or arms. ;)

Crystal Otto said...

You are amazing!
You’re one of the strongest and sweetest humans, not to mention how most people would give up add stubborn to that list if S quality traits!
Thank you for all you do!

Angela Mackintosh said...

Sioux ~ I just resent it. :)

That is actually supposed to be a dress or tunic worn over tights. I dunno, Old Navy stuff never fits's pretty shapeless, but it's comfortable. Score!

I will try not to hurt my hands or arms. I swear, I'm not accident prone. This is the first bone I've ever broken. :)

Crystal ~ I AM totally stubborn sometimes! In this case, I feel like running is worth it. Since I gave up drinking wine, it's my only body high. I'm still trying to figure out how to exercise while I'm in this thing...but using crutches is a great workout for the arms.


Renee Roberson said...

Oh my goodness! What a scary story! You are so lucky you didn't have a concussion on top of everything else. I came close to having a bad sprawl earlier this fall when I was running on a mountain bike trail during my daughter's cross country practice and tripped over a root--but at least then there were plenty of kids running past that could have helped me. At least in this case your husband knew where you were in case you weren't able to make it home, and that the hiker was there to help! I hate that you'll be out of commission for awhile but that should give you plenty of butt-in-chair-time!

(Oh, and I ordered a shift dress from Old Navy this summer that shrunk to an obscene length--but you are rocking this one!)

Margo Dill said...

Oh my gosh! I saw this post yesterday and wanted to read it, but then I have a 7 year old who was like: MOM, what are you doing?

First of all, I can't believe this happened to you. I think we are all glad we didn't know it was happening when it did or we would have been freaking out. I'm so glad it was only your ankle that was broken. And the guy being on the trail with his dog reminds me of an episode of Highway to Heaven or something--where did that guy come from? :)

I'm glad it was only a broken ankle, but ouch! And at the holidays. :(

Your husband's responses are so funny. One time, my grandma fell down the steps and couldn't get up. My grandpa came home (this was before cell phones of course) finally and was calling for her, and she's like: I'm down here. And he says to her, "What are you laying down on the ground for?" Men! :)

Finally, thank you so much for referring to my blog and talking about my quote. I do so believe that life really is affected by who we surround ourselves with--it's not everything, but it's big.

Love you, Ang! :)

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

Wow. Go off-line for a few days and all sorts of craziness happens.

So so happy that you found someone to cheer you along until you got back to your car.

I hope it mends quickly. No suggestions on how you can workout until then. I do yoga, the treadmill and row which are all out. Actually, you might be able to do some chair yoga.


Angela Mackintosh said...

Renee ~ I admit, It was pretty scary especially when it was dark and I was alone. I didn't even mention the homeless camp with shady skinhead tweakers near the entrance to the trail, so I was worried about my car. Deep down inside, I knew I would be okay though. I don't know why.

YES to BIC time. I have surgery this week, so I'll be on my laptop in bed with my leg elevated.

That ON dress thing is an obscene length! LOL But I was wearing gray running shorts underneath it. ;)

Margo ~ I hope you and KB had a wonderful X-mas! I did have people over and heated up a pre-cooked meal. I got a knee scooter so I can at least use one hand to carry things (you can't carry anything with crutches!), and that scooter is a lifesaver! I also got your card. Thank you! :) xoxo

Sue ~ Chair yoga is an EXCELLENT idea!

Cathy C. Hall said...

Holy broken ankle, Ang!So sorry for your "situation" but on the plus side, that was a riveting blog post! It was like something out of those Dateline stories--except with a happier ending. I mean, at first I was sure the guy who appeared out nowhere was going to knock you over the head and steal your phone! So hopping for two miles with a broken ankle really IS a happier ending. :-)

And you managed people and a Christmas meal (mine are always pre-cooked, even when I'm on two good ankles) AND a still cheery attitude!

Take care, Ang, and may your 2018 be filled with lots of writing and lots of writing warriors to join you!I'm so glad you're one of mine! ♥

Marcia Peterson said...

What a terrifying situation. So glad that you are ok! Of course you turned it into a riveting account for us, and provided a truly inspiring message too.
I hope your recovery is swift and as easy as possible. :)

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