You know how it is: Winter creates unpredictable water conditions, but everyday family life hands you so many variables that planning a two day foray to the coast and being lucky enough to see perfect water conditions coincide with your hall pass is luckier than holding a winning Powerball ticket. This I pondered as I lay in a heap of pain, crumpled on the landing of the basement staircase having just discovered that old painted stairs under wool socks are slicker than dog snot on a park slide smeared with bacon fat. In the 4 am darkness of our quiet home, my right foot shot down the stairs after I planted the arch over the routed edge of the top step. The first thing to hit wood hard was my right elbow. But almost simultaneously, the bottom three ribs on my right side crashed into the last step above the landing. I thought I had broken my back. Then, once I determined I could feel my legs, I thought I had broken many ribs. But once I started to breath again, I didn’t feel any crunch, crunch, or pop, pop, as my lungs filled with air. Unable to move, I relived my career as a high school quarterback 30 years earlier; the localized pain in the same lower ribs reminded me of the punishing hits I took week after week because our coach thought a passing game was essential to our overall offensive threat, though our line was so weak it couldn’t keep a stampede of pop warner 10 year olds off my back. Then I thought about my fishing plans: at the top of the stairs I was feeling lucky. Now, not so much.
Many minutes later I crawled back up the steps and chose the cold kitchen floor as a resting place. I rolled onto my back and tried to breath, slowly; a little at a time; the shallowest of breaths, waiting for the spasms and pain to subside. I would have bet that Powerball ticket that there was no way I could make my crippled body descend into the river canyon and hop from rock top to rock top in the murky winter water when I was unable to simply lift myself off the floor.
But 30 minutes later, I sat up, pulled my things together and ever so slowly, left the house. Fortunately I had packed the truck the night before. Hoisting camping gear and a cooler would not have happened. As it was, the only time I nearly collapsed from the pain was when I had to climb into the truck.
When I was younger I would “walk it off” after experiencing a sprain or deep bruise. I’m not sure the coaches shouting those directions knew what they were doing, but the pain usually subsided as long as I kept moving. Sitting static for 3 hours in a comfy 4×4 locked up the recently torn muscles and tendons holding my spine in place. At the end of the old logging road, I pulled the truck into the pullout of the first run I wanted to fish and then spent another 20 minutes trying to get out of the truck. Rotating my torso against the seized up trauma shot sharp pains down my leg and up my back. Inch by inch, I slid my crippled mass out the door and onto solid ground. I’m sure I should have been in the hospital, but the water was perfect, and I needed to be on the river.
Donning waders took another 20 minutes. Rigging the rod; 20 minutes. Slipping on my rain coat nearly made me puke when I raised my arms. The trail to the river was flat, mostly, and negotiating the short drop into the stream bed required nothing more than keeping my feet beneath my rigid form as the sandy bank gave way to bedrock. Stepping onto the basalt, surrounded by my favorite sounds, I swear I was breathing easier as I approached the water’s edge.