Thursday, November 10, 2005

Please Clean Up After Your ____________

Fill in the blank. You know you want to. No, this is not another BriWise interactive quiz. Just giving you a chance to mentally fill it in before I tell my tale. You're thinking "Dog". Some of you might be thinking "Child", but dog is probably the more common answer. If I added context to it, such as "I was rollerblading on a paved path in a public park", dog would be reinforced. That's because of all the signs on the trails say "Please clean up after your dog." Why then, are there no signs reminding people to "please clean up after your horse"? After all, their mess is much larger and less likely to fall in some out of the way place. A dog will try to find a grassy spot to do his thing. A horse won't even stop walking...

You're putting it together, aren't you? I'm using some foreshadowing here. Rollerblades. Paved trail. Horse droppings. This can't be good. You may even think you know how all the pieces fit together, but wait! Let me tell you how it happened.

We had decided to go to the park for a little family exercise and picnic. My wife went earlier in the morning as the park was having a program to promote their horse trails and hiking trails. So, she went on a hike. We were to meet her there later with bikes and rollerblades where we could all exercise together. The park has a nice paved loop that goes around a lake. The loop is only three quarters of a mile, so it is manageable for the kids. My wife stayed with the kids since her legs were tired from the hike while I did a little blading. Their pace is somewhat slower than mine and she wanted me to have a chance to really exercise.

I set off down the steeper path the to trail. It's not super steep, but it is steep enough for someone not very coordinated. Someone like me. I didn't die. I didn't even fall. I wobbled a little and made my wife nervous, but that was all. I did a couple of miles solo and then helped Maya roller blade for a lap and a half. No injuries and only one minor fall for Maya. As we skated, she asked about my wrist guards. She had elbow and knee pads, so they were no mystery. But she didn't understand why I had the wrist guards. I sagely explained, "A lot of times when you fall forward or to the side, you use your hands to break the fall. The wrist guards help reduce breaks and scrapes. The protective gear covers the areas most likely to be injured in a fall. You can still get hurt, it's just a lot harder."

Josh rode his bike for a bit and then had a meltdown. Seemed like a good moment for a lunch break. Have you ever tried to rollerblading up a hill while pushing a bike with sized for a four-year old. Now imagine the bike has training wheels. This is more challenging because they get in the way of your rollerblades. Now imagine the fit-throwing four-year old is trying to climb onto the bike while you are doing this. And yet, I still did not get hurt. I am pointing out all the challenging situations in which I did not get hurt because I want to underscore that I do have good balance and am reasonably capable with my rollerblades. I can't skate down railings or stairs. Nor can I do flips or other fancy tricks. But I can't do the most important trick. I know how to NOT FALL. This is important to the story.

Incidentally, the horses are important to the story as well. It may not seem that way yet, but stay with me. I can tell you, in a bit of foreshadowing, that the paved trail was dotted with horse piles here and there. My thought at the time was how annoying they were. They were easy to steer around and provided only slightly more of an obstacle than joggers or child bicyclists. I say slightly more because they always seemed to be right in the middle of the path.

But, for now, back to lunch. Once Josh served his time-out sentence, lunch was a pleasant affair. We picnicked in the grass under a tree, enjoying the beautiful southern California fall weather. For those not familiar, that often means warm, but not hot, temperatures and sunny blue skies with lazily drifting clouds. We digested as the children played in the park fountain. The fountain activates a few times a day and runs for fifteen minutes before draining back into the system. As fountains go, it's pretty sanitary. Once that was over, Josh decide it would be fun to play in the sand. I thought that, perhaps, it was time to go. "Aren't you going to go back out and do a few more laps?" my wife asked. "I'm kind of tired and stiffening up. I think I'll call it a day." I decided after some half-hearted consideration. "No, don't. Go out for another half hour. Just do a few more laps."

And that's how I find myself strapping my pads and helmet back on and getting ready to brave the steep slope back to the loop. "Go the other way" she requested, "that way's too steep. You'll hurt yourself." Now, as I have already mentioned, I have done nothing during this day to suggest that was true. But I didn't want her to worry, so I went the other way, the safer way. This had a hill, but was not as steep. It's main drawback was that you had to step over a railing attached to a gate onto some dirt and down off a curb. For some reason, she felt this was less dangerous, probably because you could use the gate to keep balance as you stepped over the railing. "Don't kill yourself," she commanded as I rolled away. And that is when I made my fatal mistake. "I haven't fallen all day!" I retorted. Everything else was preordained once the words escaped my lips. I think I knew it on some level, too. And yet, I pressed on.

I started down the safer hill leaning slightly on my brakes. The hill had a wooden bridge on it. I hadn't forgotten that. The slats paralleled the edges of the hill. All I had to do was steer myself onto the slats instead of the slight indentations between the gaps and I'd be fine. Well within my abilities. And then, as I expertly maneuvered myself safely onto the slats, I saw it. A horse pile. It stared at me from across the too short expanse of the bridge. It was right in my path. Right in the middle. It mocked me from its spot on the bridge. Five feet further away and I'd have been able to steer around it on the smooth pavement. I could think of any number of maneuvers that could have worked there. Five feet closer and it might have been in my field of vision as I was focusing on my approach to the slats. I couldn't go through it. That would almost certainly cause a fall AND be nasty to clean. I had only two options. Or rather, I could think of only two options. No, not the brakes. I am not good enough with them to stop that quickly while going downhill. I either had to do a lane change while speeding down the hill or jump over it. I didn't have much time to consider. In the split second I had to decide, I figured that taking entirely to the air was what I was trying to avoid. I went for the lane change. My left foot connected with slat. So far so good. My right foot hit slat, too, and then swerved. I got into the groove, and not in the good way. This wasn't bad in and of itself. It was bad combined with the groove meeting the slightly higher pavement as I was swerving. I started to topple forward and shifted my weight to compensate. I made a beautiful baseball slide. On coarse blacktop. Wearing shorts.

The road rash was impressive. It was about the size of a grapefruit. An oozing grapefruit. It was spectacular enough, as I suppose was my cry of "Dammit!", that the few walkers nearby felt the need to see if I was all right. I assured them that aside from the burning pain, I was great. I wasn't ready to face the I-told-you-so awaiting my cocksure self at the top of the hill, so I drowned my pain in endorphins. I raced around the three-quarter mile loop for about forty minutes. In that time, I managed to cover six miles. Six to go along with the four from earlier in the day. Then I dragged by burning grapefruit and my fatigued legs up the hill. That's when I saw the sign. "Please clean up after your dog."

Damn horses.