Monday, July 9, 2012

My (not really unfounded) worries #2: Falling Down

As mentioned in the most recent edition of The Journey, I tend to find creative ways at falling*. That scary piece of falling was the second time in about a month that I've fallen while walking. The other time was an even scarier, although ultimately less painful, fall on the Appalachian Trail at Grayson Highlands.

I can't recall why I fell. I assume one of those blasted rocks that are on the trail tripped me up, and I was unable to keep from falling forward. I think my trekking poles may helped me fall a bit more graceful, going straight forward instead of bending back or going sideways (both terrible things for my knees). From the reaction of Erin, and the fact I ended up flat on the ground, it didn't look pretty. Fortunately all that happened was a ugly bruise just below my knee. It was the first time I've fallen on a trail since another harmless fall at Unicoi Bottoms State Park in Georgia, not counting a slightly less harmless fall on a slippery boardwalk in the Okefenokee Swamp. It was also the first time I've ever fallen on the AT.

Honestly, unlike worrying about weather, or snakes, or pooping outdoors, this is something that legitimately worries me. I'm not even talking about chronic stress on my knees, which is another issue I'll have to deal with entirely. I'm just talking about trips and falls.

I guess my worries boil down to four types of falls, of varying worries. The first type is losing my balance and falling either forward or backwards on the trail. This is the kind of fall that could ultimately be the worst (falling off the side of cliff never is a good thing), but also the one that least worries me. Perhaps it is just the increased perception that usually comes when you are put in a somewhat dangerous situation, but I just don't worry about this.

The next type of fall is related to roots and rocks. Obviously this is something to worry about on trails such as the AT, as most of its distance is this (when it isn't crazy boulder hopping or walking through trail towns). Considering I've only ever fallen a few times, despite many stumbles, I don't really get worried about this. However, I do tend to slow down when the rocks and roots get numerous. As long I stay careful, this won't be a big issue.

The third type that worries me are slick conditions. Whether because of ice, snow, mud, slick rock, or a combination of all of these, it does make me worried. I've had a tendency to find the slick spots before, falling many times on ice and mud. This isn't a worry at all if its a warm dry day. But if I am going to hike the AT, I'll be hiking through the Smokies during the last days of its winter. I suppose good shoes, careful steps, and some work on balance may help here. If all else fails, there's the safer, if less dignified method of sitting down and scooting down. Obviously this would only work in some instances.

The fourth, and most worrisome, type of fall comes courtesy of my eccentric right ankle. Granted, I walked the eleven miles in Cades Cove, 625 steps at Amicalola Falls, and up Blood Mountain without once having one of these horrible incidents. Rather, I'm more likely for this to happen on a gravel road, or possibly even a paved one. Even then, most times I'll catch myself before it rolls too much. However, the times it has caused me to spill have not been fun, and if it does give me trouble on the trail, the result could be disastrous.

I suppose the best way to prepare for this is to just wear shoes that will support that ankle. My hiking shoes tend to alleviate some of that, although they aren't high tops, so they don't help completely. As long as I tie them good and tight they have helped. I suppose I could look into taping up my ankle, or some other form of support. Although not directly helpful, I'm sure losing weight can't hurt. Working on improving my balance combined with using my trekking poles will also help.

In the end I can succumb to my fear of falling and do nothing, or fight through it. As long as I'm careful, I'm sure I can minimize my falls, as well as minimizing the damage when I do fall. Fighting through those fears is totally worth it. Just keep me away from those fallen walnuts.*

*Yes, I've tripped over a damn walnut before. As it has happened exactly once in 30 years, I can't say nut caused tripping is one of my true fears.

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