In my last installment of this column, I wrote about the vacation Krista and I enjoyed a couple of weeks ago in Tucson, Arizona. The day after I drafted that piece, she and I went on our final hike of the vacation, a challenging trek referred to as “Blackett’s Ridge” that took us up nearly a mile high into the desert mountains northeast of town.
We began our 8 mile hike in the mid-morning, well stocked with water and eager to test our leg muscles and our ability to overcome vertigo. As we ventured up the rocky switchbacks, I became thankful that Krista demanded I lather my exposed skin with sunscreen, for the sun (remember her??) was intense and relentless. I rapidly also became aware of the grade of the hike. It was quite steep, causing us both to gulp air with each step. We took frequent breaks to hydrate and gaze at our surroundings. The vistas were astonishing, and it was late enough in the day that we didn’t have to worry about confronting a mountain lion.
From what I could tell, the other hikers we encountered could be placed in one of three categories: (1) retirees with (apparently) nary a care in the world, (2) middle-aged folks like us who were on vacation (and therefore their cares, whatever they may be, were not at the forefront of their minds), or (3) students from the University of Arizona or other young adults enjoying a day off due to the Easter holiday (who are too naïve to be aware of the cares which surround them. To paraphrase Irving Kristol, they haven’t yet been mugged by reality). Thus, the human mood on Blackett’s Ridge was decidedly upbeat. And why not? The sun was shining, all the various muscles were operating as designed, the desert blooms were on display, and all seemed right with the world.
As we continued to ascend, I grew more physically weary, my breathing became more labored, and (“too much information alert”) I needed to pee. This presented a weird dilemma. My bladder’s discomfort caused me to move faster while the part of my brain registering physical fatigue silently protested. These two cohabitants waged an internal dispute the rest of the way up the mountain: “Move faster, I need to go!” “No, slow down you moron, we’re tired!” And so on.
We passed small groups of people coming down as we climbed. All were chipper (“Good morning! Have a great hike!”), and some were considerably older than I. This observation provided both hope and incentive to continue. Surely my physical demise was not so severe, I mused, as to prevent me from completing this journey that the 80-year-old woman passing me in the opposite direction had just accomplished.
Roughly 2 ½ hours after we began we reached the summit! Hosanna! We took a couple of pictures and swigged some water. I rewarded my bladder by marking my territory next to a cactus plant at 4400 feet elevation, fortunately completing my task a minute before another hiker arrived. We then began the descent and fantasized about the ice cream we had promised ourselves after this journey.
I took the lead and steadily led the way down the rocky, precipitous decline. About 20 minutes into our return, as I carefully negotiated a step down on our path, I reached down with both hands to steady myself. My right palm fell on the flat rock next to my hip while my left firmly gripped a small cactus.
“YEOOOWWWWW!” I squealed reflexively, pulling my hand away and shaking it violently. “%^$##!@$%*!” I screamed, along with other obscenities. I looked down at my already throbbing left hand. A couple of needles protruded, and I pulled them out easily. I stared carefully at my hand and continued to assault the desert air with epithets cursing my stupidity and carelessness. There were three tiny needles submerged in my index finger and one in my ring finger.
After inspecting my injury, Krista assured me she could remove the needles herself, but I wasn’t so sure. How stupid, I thought, how comically stupid and typical of me—ruining the best vacation of my life by carelessly holding hands with a cactus plant, necessitating a visit to an ER and possibly causing an infection to two treasured digits!
“Calm down, Tim,” Krista gently chided me. “When we get back to the hotel I’ll take them out. It will be fine. You’ll see.”
I grumbled for another 15 minutes, but eventually calmed down as I wondered whether my eye doctor wife was up to the task.
Timothy Swensen is the author of the column series Virtue and Mischief. He can be reached at email@example.com. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.