“Careful, Mike!” my little cousin Clara yelled as our extended family shuffled down Saddleback Mountain in the rain during our Maine vacation, my son Evan perched behind me in his big red backpack, quietly misplacing his trust in his dad.
Eleven of us, including six kids, hiked to the summit that day, and when we got to the top, exhausted and exhilarated, we turned around to see the 20% chance of isolated showers heading straight for us, a wall of dark clouds replacing the sweeping view that had been there moments before.
“No rest for the wicked,” my Dad said, and we all began hustling down the mountain, throwing the trail mix we’d been saving for a lunch break into our mouths as we went.
A few hundred yards from the summit, the rain swept in, soaking everyone except for Evan, who watched the proceedings with interest from under his rain bonnet. My little cousins were troopers, apparently not yet having realized that half the fun of hiking is whining about hiking.
Baby-stepping down the slippery trail, the heel of one foot never passing the toe of the other, we all arrived at the parking lot soaking but unscathed. Evan had just completed the longest hike of his life, raising his father’s confidence beyond the recommended safety parameters.
“Be careful,” my wife Kara said two days later, back home, as I left to take Evan and our dog Memphis for a stroll in the woods near our house.
“I’m half mountain goat,” I replied.
The first forty minutes of our walk passed without incident.
Then I started hurrying, worried about getting Evan home past his bedtime. And you know what they say: Haste makes waste, and also makes blood shoot out of normally placid orifices.
Out of nowhere, a miscreant root accosted my right foot, then my left.
I’d like to think that I consciously decided to take the brunt of the fall, but there wasn’t really time to think about heroics, much less unhook my thumbs from the backpack’s shoulder straps. The ship was going down, quickly.
Fortunately, the ground was there to arrest the increasing velocity of my face.
On impact, two water bottles shot down the trail like backpack-mounted rockets as something in my face made a sound I hadn’t heard since my last viewing of a Cap’n Crunch commercial.
The next noise I heard was Evan crying by my ear. Dazed, I wriggled out of the backpack and set him upright.
“Daddy’s so sorry, Daddy’s so sorry,” I said, frantically giving him a once-over. The bag had admirably passed its first (and, I hope, last) crash test, and Evan was without harm, except perhaps to his sense of paternal infallibility, if he had one to start with.
I took a moment to inspect my teeth, confirming that I still had them all. It was then that I noticed Memphis standing in the trail, looking at us with a cocked head as if to ask, “Why would you do that?”
The Tarantino-esque blood spurts emitting from my nose settled down after a moment, and we headed back down the trail slowly, like a car getting back on the road after a fender bender.
Back home, after Kara had a moment to digest our adventures of the past hour, she graciously poured on the sympathy.
“I might have whiplash, too” I said.
“You should go see a doctor,” she replied.
I whined one step too far. A good whiner whines just enough to get sympathy, but backs off before someone tries to send them to the doctor.
Anyway, my nose seems to be healing up just fine on its own, and I was right about being half mountain goat. It just wasn’t the half I was hoping for.
You can have a nice trip and see Mike Todd next fall at firstname.lastname@example.org.