While putting on lip balm, I mentioned to my daughter that I wished my upper lip was bigger.
“I look like Kermit the Frog.” I complained. “I wish I had lips like…”
“The Kardashians?” she offered.
I didn’t know who the Kardashians were. I mean, I had heard the name, but I hadn’t seen anything they had been in.
“They aren’t actors.” She explained.
“Are they one of those famous for being famous people?” I asked her, then pulled up a photo on my phone. It turns out, I actually did recognize Kim Kardashian. “Wow, she’s beautiful.” I said. “Yeah, I wish I had lips like that.”
That was a Friday. We were traveling to Estes Park, Colorado to go on a hike with my husband’s friend, Erik Weihenmayer and the outreach program “No Barriers” that Erik founded with Mark Wellman and Hugh Herr. (If you haven’t heard of Erik or No Barriers, you should follow the links. Then you can say you actually learned something useful from my blog!)
My husband, our daughter Maggie, and I, started the adventure on Saturday, August 12th, at 9400 feet above sea level. My head began hurting the evening before from the elevation and I was chugging water like a lip gloss lathering Kardashian.
I don’t care how fit you are (not saying I am), elevation is its own beast and when you live in a low lying state, 9400 feet above seat level puts pressure on your brain. Like watering a flower, hydrating yourself, keeps you from withering.
I don’t know if it was the fresh air, the water, or the inspiration, but my headache was gone within the first fifteen minutes. More than likely it was the inspiration. We were hiking up this rocky terrain with soldiers suffering from PTSD. We couldn’t tell who they were, not because they weren’t wearing their camouflage, but because every person was jovial, enthusiastic and connected on a mission to reach the summit – whatever that was for each of us.
There were also several blind hikers, including Erik Weihenmayer, who, having climbed all Seven Summits (that’s the highest point on every continent, including Everest) traversed the mountain like it was a walk in the park. There were several amputees and four people in wheelchairs. Which, if you’ve never seen a person in a wheelchair hike a mountain – you need to go on the next No Barriers hike and meet all the amazing people involved.
Our family didn’t know when we began the hike if we would continue from the first summit at Storm Pass, or if we would hike the final .7 mile up the rocks to Estes Cone. But once we got that close, we knew we would regret not continuing. I still don’t regret it, despite what lay in store for me. (Foreshadowing…)
We reached the top, took photos and headed back down. I was happy as can be. Until, mid sentence of what I am sure was the most brilliant thing I’ve ever almost uttered, my foot caught under me and I went flying, head first, down the steep rocky terrain!
Instinctively, I threw my hands in front of me and arched my back, trying to keep my head from slamming into the rocks. Gravity was working against me and I flew downward, my knee slamming into a boulder, and as I hit a level rock I went sliding on my face. Blood gushed from my mouth and as I pulled my head up, my backpack gave one last bounce that caused my bared teeth to slam hard against the rock and I knew I had just lost two or three teeth.
My daughter just below the rock I landed on, helped me up. In moments, a woman had a gauze bandage out of her pack and in my hand. I poured water on the bandaged and mopped my bloody lip. Not wanting to frighten my daughter, or slow down the hike, I got my clown feet under me and moved along, holding the cool wet gauze on my rapidly swelling lip.
“Did you see how I tried to protect my brain by using my hands and stopping with my face?” I asked, trying to turn it into a teaching moment.
“Way to avoid a concussion, mom.” She said encouragingly.
My bloodied knee hurt, but I ignored it as I tried to safely get the rest of the way down the peak. My daughter insisted on carrying my backpack and hers the rest of the way. My husband far behind us helping others, wouldn’t hear about my encounter with the mountain until later.
Maggie and I paused further down the trail to assess the damage to my swollen mouth. I didn’t have my glasses or a mirror, so she took a photo and I studied it. I was amazed that I hadn’t chipped my teeth and my lip wasn’t split open. In fact it was swollen in perfect proportion.
“Wook at how puffy my uppa wip is.” I said narcissistically. “It’s so pwetty. Isn’t it?”
My daughter looked unconvinced.
“I mean, if you ignore the bwuddy cut.” I explained.
“Yep, you look just like a Kardashian.” She agreed.
“Aw, yer tho thweet.” I said. Then got to wondering, “You think the Kardathians thwam their wips ev-wy day to get them to wook wike this?”
“Just keep the gauze on your mouth, mom. We’ll be down the mountain in a couple of hours and can get some ice on your whole head.” Maggie said, sounding like the parent.
Epilogue: Thanks to the grace of God, and the braces on my teeth that reinforced their strength, my teeth did not chip or fall out. One tooth was dangerously loose and I wouldn’t be able to bite or chew on the right side of my mouth for almost three weeks. Five weeks later, my gums were still tender and I couldn’t kneel on my right knee. But, somewhere up on Estes Cone my DNA bears witness to reaching my own personal summit and a No Barriers experience I will remember for many reasons.
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