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Lessons Learned on a High Desert Mesa

There I was, on top of the mesa at sunset relishing the incredible views of the painted desert walls opposite our position on the Rim Vista trail near our camp on the Chama River. On the way back down the trail, each time I looked up to catch the view, it was more spectacular than just a few minutes previous. As we descended, the pinks and oranges deepened as the sun set on the opposite horizon. When we were about one third the way down, my hiking companions and I stopped for a water break and we shared our impressions of the views, the trail and the completely foreign (to me) vegetation. We tucked our bottles back into our packs to keep going, so we’d make it back to the car just before eight to ensure we’d be back to camp for a late dinner prepared by our campmates.

I took one step and the gravel gave out from under me, my left knee went one way and the left ankle went the other. The rest of the hike was now a completely different endeavor.

My mind began racing - how would we manage? Are mountain lions nocturnal? Is this a broken bone? What’s gonna happen next? How will I get out of this fix? What does this mean for the rest of our trip? Immediately, I began to breathe deeply and soothe my worrisome thoughts with a little mantra - it’s ok, you’re ok. Over and over - it’s ok you’re ok it’s ok you’re ok it’s ok, you’re ok. And that’s how I got down the mountain, along with so much support from my companions.

First there was a hunt for a suitable walking stick, which appeared within five minutes, because New Mexico is the land of enchantment. According to my New Mexico friend, that means that in New Mexico, things that are needed appear - just like in Harry Potter’s The Room of Requirement. In keeping with that theme, my stepson also had an ace bandage and ibuprofen in his pack, so I received excellent trailside first aid.

Ultimately, five days later when we were back in town, I went to a local Urgent Care facility and received a boot, crutches and excellent compassionate care.

And what did I learn from all this? I’m so glad you asked!

  1. Procure a pair of top quality ankle-high hiking boots because I have skinny ankles and it’s kind of a miracle that this is the first time this has happened to me!

  2. Put a pair of hiking sticks in my car and in the RV. I never want to go hiking without them again and I’m tired of always remembering that when I get to the trailhead!

  3. Put together my own hiking First Aid kit for my pack. It was pitch dark by the time we got back to the trail head, but fortunately my stepson was prepared for everything not going according to plan which included a headlamp. Seriously, how often does anything actually go according to plan?!

  4. Maybe most importantly and most applicable to everyday life, my stepson shared that in the survival course he’d just completed, the instructor said the MOST important action to take when you get lost or injured on the trail is to pause and take 10 to 30 minutes to breathe and calm down. Most folks find themselves in increasingly worse scenarios if they rush to action.

I found this last lesson fascinating. At Perfect Avocado, we are always always preaching and teaching the virtues of slowing things down and not letting the amygdala take over. Our amygdala treats every negative issue as though it’s a life of death situation - traffic jam, shitty service, long lines, a nasty comment - no matter. It’s a true practice to take a breath, put things in perspective, and move on. We need that amygdala to warn us off danger, but only for a second. Like, how long do you need to hold your hand on a hot burner to get the message?

But apparently, even in an actual LIFE OR DEATH situation, the first thing to do is slow down, breathe, and take stock to figure out your next best move. Please take note, this is advice not from a yoga guru, or a meditation instructor or even a new age Instagram influencer, but an actual bona fide military level survival instructor. This woman teaches survival skills to soldiers and backcountry guides, and has competed and won on at least one Survivor type reality show.

As Trevor Noah might say, if you didn’t know, now you know. Take a breath for crying out loud!

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