Blog 32 has been by far the most difficult post for me to complete. Not for lack of ideas — I came back from vacation bursting with them — but because I’ve had to dictate or hunt-and-peck it. On February 22, 2022, I broke my right wrist in Arches National Park’s famous maze hike, the Fiery Furnace, and have been managing everything left-handed (I am a righty).
Fiery Furnace: Arrows Mark the Path
My husband, daughter, and I picked up self-guided day permits to visit the Fiery Furnace on 2-22-22. It is our favorite hike in Arches National Park (Moab, Utah). I hadn’t hiked since December 10, so I felt compelled to make up for lost time. By completing the orientation video on Monday, we could start hiking before the rest of the 60-some permitted hikers arrived.
Around 9:30 a.m. we began our counter-clockwise trip, searching for 27 miniature arrows that mark the way through the maze. Some arrows are posted at eye level, others on thin brown posts. A few have gone missing and have chalk-drawn scratches. Several are tricky to find. Part of the fun of the maze is exploring features in dead-ends, including five arches, squeezes, bowls and spires. Four years ago, we “got lost” until another party located the arrow we had missed. Can you spot the one in the picture below?
Of the five hundred photos I shot while on vacation, more than half were from our hike. Even during an overcast, somewhat chilly (below 40 F) day when the lighting is not optimal, I still found plenty to catch my eye. The unique rock features and delicate cacti and plants are a photographer’s dream. It’s no surprise that I was lagging behind, capturing as many of the features as I could.
What’s more, the ranger had told us he’d only ever found fifteen arrows, so just as we like to track state license plates when we travel (i.e. the License Plate game), we tracked the arrows in the maze by taking photos of each. Knowing we would be doing it in the opposite direction in the afternoon, they provided us with a sort of reverse map.
Clockwise through the Fiery Furnace
In the afternoon, wanting to experience the maze in the reverse direction, we went against the directional arrows. I hoped to find all five of the maze’s hidden arches during our leisurely exploration. The trickiest part was finding our way back to the manmade stairs.
My daughter took off ahead of us as though wanting to see how quickly we could do it the second time. I was still enjoying shooting photos with my DSLR camera. About a mile in we stopped at an open area for a snack and I explored an arch high up on a rock. Then wanting to do some more scrambling with hand free, I tucked my camera into my pack, leaving my cell phone in my pocket for snapshots.
Karate Chop Mistake in the Fiery Furnace
Halfway through the maze, I got off-balance on a bit of steep rock. Thoughts raced through my head: “Protect the back, head, legs, hip, camera.” Somehow, I spun around, landing catlike in a sandy wash on both legs. I could tell both my husband and daughter were relieved it turned out so well. Unfortunately, I smashed my right wrist into a rock as I landed. I took one look at my throbbing hand, swelling and bent at an awkward angle. Had I just dislocated it?
It was more shocking than painful. Instinctively my Mountaineering-Oriented First Aid training kicked in. No tigers — the scene was safe. No bleeding or broken skin — nothing life-threatening. But I definitely needed a splint. I handed my pack to my daughter and asked for help getting out of my T-shirt to use as padding. I used my buff to keep my wrist supported and neutral, and my husband helped get the camera strap around my forearm as a sling. Later the doctors at the hospital were impressed with our in-the-field get-up.
I knew that above all else, I had to remain calm. I forced myself to take deep breaths and a few sips of water. We declined the assistance of another couple heading in the opposite direction, one of whom said she was a nurse. I suggested we go back the way we came, thinking it was shorter, but Doug reminded me that the first half of the route in front of us required less climbing.
With him ahead offering me a supporting hand if I needed it, I walked unaided to the car, breaking down in tears a few minutes after we resumed hiking, thinking of how I’d just screwed up our last family vacation. We drove directly to Moab’s Urgent Care where an on-call orthopedist reduced the break twice (far more painful than the fall itself) and set it, enabling me to walk out before sunset and before a snowstorm arrived.
I have learned so many lessons in the past two weeks that I have decided to write another blog post about it. A few, briefly:
- 1. It will be a while before I can use my 100-400 mm lens or my DSLR camera, but it IS still possible to take one-handed lefty photos with my cell phone. Proof below, the night of my fall.
- 2. Dictation, Hunt-and-peck, Notes on my phone can substitute for my journal habit. I am incredibly slow but as this Blog shows, dedication pays off.
- 3. Bones heal. The orthopedist got my wrist reduced and set well enough that I do NOT need surgery and that is a huge blessing. I am grateful it was not my head, back, legs, hip, or gear. Sure, it would be easier if it were my left, but I would still be hunting and pecking. The silver lining is I am becoming ambidextrous!
- 4. Remember Joyful from my last post? Even injured, I came away with many fond memories of our trip, despite the obstacles we faced from store closures to botched reservations, inclement weather to a trip to the hospital.
If you are up for an exercise in empathy, try two experiments:
- 1. With your non-dominant hand, grab a pen and write: I AM SO GRATEFUL FOR WHO I AM AND WHAT I CAN DO. I WILL NEVER TAKE MY LIFE FOR GRANTED AGAIN.
- 2. For an hour, be mindful of those many things you do with your dominant hand or with two hands. If you are feeling brave, try it with only one hand or with your opposite hand exclusively.
Hardest? Doing my hair. Zipping. Tying knots. Buttoning. Fastening my dog’s harness. Writing. I thought it would be driving, but that is pretty straightforward. And washing dishes or hair and vacuuming just take practice. Haven’t tried mowing yet. I’d love to see your comments about your experiment.