I Fall…A Lot

As soon as I returned to the office I knew I had to call Ann.
“Hey Ann, at lunch today will you meet me at the jewelry store across from your office?”
“The one where we got our rings?”
“Yep. I’ll see you there at noon.”
“We’ll talk then.”
We had just bought new rings for our 30th wedding anniversary and I lost mine. Earlier that morning I was running the eight mile, paved road, that runs through Saguaro National Park. It was misting rain, which is a beautiful exception in the Sonoran desert. 5:00 am was too early for cars on the road. The gates were still locked. My dog Mattie was my consistently joyful companion and I was feeling good. As we sprinted down a short, steep hill something happened. I don’t know what exactly. I do know that when I looked up I was sitting in the road and my shoulder was in terrible pain. Looking down I saw it was twisted toward my chest in an awkward manner. With no forethought and very poor judgement I pushed it back into place. That snapped me back into the moment. Mattie sat patiently and watched. I staggered to my feet and began to walk. It was still a couple of miles to my truck and only one way to get there. When I was about half way to the truck I noticed my ring was gone. I went back and looked but couldn’t find it. The pain in my shoulder was escalating so I went home. There was no need to go to the hospital. I had developed a good relationship with a surgeon in town. He had repaired my other shoulder and my hand twice from bike wrecks. I have a lot of scars. Once my young friend Brendan asked about them. I told him I used to be a pirate.
“Why did you quit being a pirate?”
“Look at all the scars. I was a terrible pirate, always losing sword fights. I needed a way to lead a peaceful life, so I became a pastor.”
Ann and I shared the story of my fall in the jewelry store parking lot. She is always compassionate but stuff like this happens often enough that she is not always overwhelmed with sympathy. I was in obvious pain.
“Why haven’t you gone to the hospital?”
“I’ve already made an appointment with Dr Beers. I’ll see him in about an hour.”
We went in and I ordered a new ring.
That afternoon we scheduled surgery, leaving some time for the swelling to go down. Dr Beers suggested that next time I wait and let him put my shoulder back into place. This seemed like wise counsel.
A few months later I was running in the Rincon Mountains with Angie, a coworker, friend, Brendan’s mom and a frequent running partner. We were doing a run called the fish tank and were headed down the back side on a rocky, highly technical section of trail. We were feeling good and running faster than usual when…you guessed it. I found myself sitting on the ground with blood pouring down my face. I had fallen and hit my head on a rock. The forehead is quite vascular and a small cut can result in a lot of blood. This was a little more than a small cut. Angie was pretty excited. I had given her the gift of a first aid kit to keep in her hydration pack. This was the first time she got to use it. I was somewhat less excited about it than she was. I took off my shirt, wet it with water, she cleaned and taped my head wound and we finished the run. The reaction from the hiking group in the parking lot let me know it looked pretty dramatic. We skipped our after the run burrito and I went home to clean up.
I remember the day I was finishing a run to Cow’s Head Saddle. Nine miles up and nine miles down. I had rarely felt as good at the end of a run that hard. I was thinking to myself that surely, if they saw me now, some running apparel company would want to sponsor me. Ok, they rarely sponsor middle of the pack runners, but today I was looking good. Less than a half a mile from the parking lot I stubbed my toe, and in weaken exhaustion, I hit the dirt. My forehead again, palms of my hands, bottom of my forearms and knees were pretty scratched up and covered in blood and dirt. There are not many soft places to land in the desert. I was in pain and tired. I did not move. A couple came walking down the single track trail toward me. Surely they would give me a hand getting up. They did not say a word or acknowledge me in any way. She actually stepped over me; desert trails obstructed with rocks, cactus and the occasional fallen runner. Clearly, today, I was not going to be on the cover of Trailrunner Magazine.
I don’t particularly like to fall. As I get older it takes longer to recover. I like to sit on the couch even less and while walking the dog in the neighborhood is Ok, I do it almost every day, it does not begin to satisfy my urge to push myself in the desert mountains that surround my city. So I run and bike and from time to time I have a confrontation with gravity and the ground. I always lose.
I had back surgery once. The surgeon said, “It will be better if you don’t fall until this is completely healed. Seriously.” I didn’t disagree with him and I didn’t fall again for well over a year. That being said, I will not allow my life to be defined by clumsiness or fear. I listen to the siren call of hot and cold, dry days and rain, running in the morning and running at night and along with my mentor John Muir I laughingly affirm,
“The mountains are calling and I must go.”


  • Harry Posted January 19, 2018 1:04 pm

    I remember when you were a pirate. I don’t remember the sword fights, but I do not doubt they occurred. To paraphrase I once read, falling down is not as important as getting back up. I would say you’ve done that well.

  • Harry Posted January 19, 2018 1:05 pm

    “To paraphrase something I once read”. Typing is hard!

  • Mary :Lynn Still Posted January 19, 2018 2:56 pm

    Hey Billy, your Mother is at home and so glad to read a message from you. I’ve learned to live with your active and sometimes hazardous lifestyle and even revel at your ultra adventures but I will try not to picture you falling in the desert where the rattlesnakes roam! I pray for your safety and give thanks to God for the gift of Ann! One of the great bonuses of your lifestyle is the wonderful friends that you have made on your journeys. Add those to the ones that you have cherished from your very early years and I would say that you are a very fortunate man. Thanks be to God.

  • Ed Bennett Posted January 20, 2018 12:24 am

    I fall much more on trails now that I stopped running on the roads. Strange.

Comments are closed.