Damage I

When you’re young, you do whatever you feel like. You are ten feet tall and bulletproof and nothing can stop or touch you. At least that’s the perception…and maybe it was just my perception. I haven’t taken a poll but from what I have observed, I am not the only one who rowed that boat.

So you go out and drink a lot, eat very spicy food as much as you want, play any sport that strikes your fancy and generally do things that tend to put you on your backside every so often. But back then, you could dust yourself off and go chase down the mutt who knocked you flat for a little payback. All in good fun and sport. There are few second thoughts about what effects these things might have on you later. Whether consciously or not you believe your physical endeavors aren’t supposed to have an effect because the human body has an incredible capacity to heal itself, right? Besides, up to that point, for most of us, there’s no evidence that healing wouldn’t happen. So you continue, and when you hit 40, your the mutt and your body is the one coming for payback.

I submit the following for your consideration.

I went skiing for the first time as a sophomore in college; went to upstate New York with my roommate and another friend to some ski resort that was more of a bump than a mountain (my inner Colorado snob coming out, having been spoiled by our ever-present, vast and towering peaks.) I had never skied, and never really thought about it until my buddies brought it up that day. Prior to that, I had only watched a TV show for 10 minutes on how to ski. It was one I had just happened upon when surfing the channels during a moment of college boredom (as much as one could surf back then).

So we went, and I had been doing well all afternoon, but on one particular run, I came around a right turn way too hot. My friends were waiting about half way down that segment of the hill and saw me blur around the corner three times faster than than was probably prudent. Immediately they called for me to slow down, so I eased my skis sideways, doing that parallel edging thing, whatever you call that (still green after all these years), and started digging into the slope.

But we were in the East. The slope was not 153 inches of packed powder. It was 3 inches of packed powder on top of 10 inches of solid ice. In some areas, those 3 inches had been scraped away by fools who take right turns way too hot and as I began to slow, I hit some ice where I may have actually sped up a bit. Then, once again, I was back into the snow pack and that’s when this mountain-lette decided to shake itself free of yet another moron.

Hitting that second section of snow after the ice sheet was like riding a bike on road and then heading up onto the grass, or maybe more like heading onto the beach…but at 30 miles per hour. You kinda have a tendency to slow down. But even better, it was what you’d call a high-side.

When I was riding motorcycles I’d sometimes “drag a knee” when I was on the sport bikes (not touching down of course lest there be Damage in the form of leaving my patella behind half way through the turn) and drag the kick stand when I was on the cruisers. Thought I was cool. But that’s another Damage story. Thinking you’re cool is usually the start on the path to Damage.

In taking turns this tight, there was always that risk of high-siding. (putting on a pseudo scientific affect) This occurs when the angular momentum of the turn/curve is replaced by tangential motion along the direction of travel (centrifugal force no longer having an effect) out of the arc, in a straight line, no more curve. It’s a physics thing. The bike stops dead in its tracks for a brief moment and you don’t. Then suddenly you are the participant in a demonstration of rotational inertia. You go sailing out of the arc of the curve and if you’re lucky, leave the bike to do its own thing hoping it won’t fly up and come down on top of you (an riding instructor once told me he saw an accident in which an eight hundred pound Goldwing flew 150 feet after a high-side). Think of a string with a ball on the end. You’re the ball, where the tires meet the road is the string in your hand. How much faster is the ball going than the part that’s closer to your hand…get the idea? But as sixty miles per hour, gravity tends to mean less and, thus, the flying part.

This is sort of what came next in my attempt to stop using ice and then making a transition to something fairly less slick. When I hit the softer snow, I was slowed suddenly enough that I high-sided and launched myself, or more aptly “was launched,” into the air – I am under no illusions that I was actually in control. With the angle of the mountain, my speed and my downhill direction of travel, I possibly flew 40 feet over the ground. There was that sudden silent, frictionless and vibration-free sensation of no longer being in contact with the ground. In the end, as they say in aviation, take off is optional but landing is mandatory.

In skiing you have the “yard sale” where everything not nailed to your body comes off and ends up somewhere within a 10 foot radius of the twisted wreckage you’ve become. With a sudden thump and the scrapping sound of snow, I executed my yard sale in fine style and then there was nothing. Silence. I just lay there taking an inventory of myself to make sure first, that everything was still attached and, second, to make sure the attachments fit and weren’t broken. They did and they weren’t but my left knee was pretty banged up (how I didn’t tear my ACL is still a mystery to me.) And that leads me to my point.

That one ski outing by a young bullet proof college student was possibly the start of what has evolved into a regular routine of icing down my knees after working out. But you couldn’t have told me then that I’d pay for not treating my joints a little more nicely. You learn from your mistakes, but sometimes the lessons come when you already know the material, or it’s too late to act on the sage advice.