My Own Cautionary Tale
Two days ago, I became my own cautionary tale. I want to blame it all on my head cold that has been slowing my reflexes and clouding my thinking, but a great part of what happened just came down to carelessness. After three months of being on the road, of setting up camp and breaking down camp, of preparing and putting out fires I had a moment of bad judgment and paid for it.
I was getting the cook fire ready. I chopped up some wood into kindling and fuel. I built a teepee and lit the fire. Some of the wood was a little damp from the recent rain so had a hard time catching and threatened to go out. I thought that I’d give it some help and poured a little denatured alcohol from our canister over the fire and thats when everything went wrong very quickly. The wood came to life in big blaze. So did the canister. So did my hand.
I remember that instant looking at my hand and seeing it on fire and thinking that this couldn’t possibly be happening, that this was some bad dream, something caused by my cold. It all seemed very plausible that I was hallucinating this, until I FELT my hand burning.
I panicked and dropped the canister and stamped the fire on my burning hand which seemed to take forever to do. The thing with denatured alcohol is that sometimes you can’t tell if there’s a flame or not. The more rational part of my brain finally kicked in. WATER. I ran to the picnic table and found some water and dumped it on my hand and on some of the small flames on the ground.
When the panic was over we did virtual triage on my hand. I too a photo of my hand with the iPhone and emailed it to Laura’s brother who is a paramedic and gave us advice while over the phone.
It hurt like hell for the rest of the day. I joked a little with Laura and told her that, “the good news is that relative to my hand, my cold doesn’t feel that bad; the bad news is that my hand hurts like HELL!” The rest of the evening was pretty quiet, thinking about what just happened and what could have happened.
In my head, the whole thing played over and over again with varying results. In one version I was smart enough not to pour the alcohol. In other versions, things went horribly wrong, I panicked even more, managed to douse myself with burning alcohol and set myself ablaze in this campground 50 miles from any hospital.
When it got dark and all there was night and my hand that hurt like hell, I felt my fist pang for “home”, whatever that meant. I was frustrated and angry with myself. I wanted to pack it up and stop playing at adventurer. What a stupid rookie mistake. It was then that it really hit me that there was nothing to come back to. That this tent, in this campground, somewhere on the Sacramento delta was home. If we were on vacation we could just call it short, but we are traveling and this is the difference. I remember something that was written on a food box at a hiker/biker campsite somewhere on the coast. It was written in Latin but whoever wrote it also provided an English translation – “Your mistakes are your only true possessions.”
Maybe he burned his hand as well.
I wasn’t sure if I could ride the 40+ miles into civilization but we had to. Laura lovingly bandaged it up, we put on big heaps of Neosporin and I had to relearn how to maneuver my 110lb bike with one hand and one brake. I could lean part of my burnt hand on the handlebar, but I couldn’t operate the brake. Fortunately, the terrain was flat so I didn’t have to shift with my bad hand. However, we did ride a few hours on washboard gravel roads, moving at 5mph, bumping up and down and inside I prayed that I wouldn’t burst any of the blisters I had.
We made it to Davis. My hand and arm were sore from leaning on the handlebars in such an awkward way, but we made it.
Now we are in Sacramento and the last few days and the next few days will be a regimen of daily unwrapping and rewrapping the burns. Every time I see the blisters they are big ugly reminders of my mistake and of what it means to travel the way we are traveling and to live the way we are living. Any choices and mistakes we make are ours. I suppose it’s really no different than our prior lives, except for the fact that often the results of our choices are more immediate and dramatic.
Sorry to be such a downer in this post, but I really am frustrated. I’m having a hard time with the limited mobility, with the stupidness of the mistake and how much it could tragically affect our trip. But ‘cest la vie. I am still alive. We are still on the road. I’ve got a good hand and can use one brake and I would still choose to do what we are doing than anything else.
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