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Even the Best Hikers Trip

We all slip, trip, and fall. So what's with all the embarrassment?

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I was on the Arizona Trail, about halfway down the Mogollon Rim, when my right foot left my control. It hooked itself under a rope-like root that jutted out from the side of the path. Meantime, my left foot, mind of its own, flung forward and came to rest on the branch’s loose end, pinning its mate and breaking the bipedal contract that keeps us all upright. Next thing I knew, the ground was rushing up to say hello.

My trip of a lifetime was dramatic and more painful than most, but not unique in its nature: Taking a spill while ambling through the woods is as common as getting a blister. And yet, no one brags about the quality—or magnitude—of their fall. But why shouldn’t we wear our wipeouts like badges of honor?

My tumble on the Arizona Trail led to several butt-battering somersaults that terminated inches from a fully-grown cholla that was waiting to welcome me into its spiny embrace. My hiking partner at the time, a droll Swiss meteorologist, later stated that I had defied the laws of physics by falling head first on a steep descent. “When people fall going downhill,” he observed, “it’s almost always feet first.”

Perhaps I’m biased. My personal tripping résumé is long, extensive, and replete with all manner of colorful associated expletives. I accord my propensity to “catch my foot on something and stumble or fall”—that’s how my dictionary describes it—on the fact that my size-11 1/2 feet are disproportionately long compared to my 5-foot-9 height. Thus, my gait is askew. My wife is less sympathetic, arguing that I simply do not pay as much attention as I should to the task at hand. As evidence, she cites the time I tripped over the leg of a dead cow that was lying bloated next to the trail. So there’s that.

Of course, some falls, like some blisters, can be downright debilitating, and you’d be rightly proud just to survive. I have a neighbor who, after tripping and tumbling on a well-traveled trail, looked as though he had been in an automobile accident. He had to spend several hours in the emergency room having bits and pieces of detritus tweezered from his pummelled body. It took him weeks to fully recover.

I write about his experience not to shame the poor guy, but to boast about it for him. How many among our tribe can claim their stumble was worth thousands of dollars in hospital bills? Big or small, tripping need not be something to be embarrassed about—surely everyone among our perambulatory clan has tripped, give or take, a million times.

Let’s embrace it. If anything, tripping should teach us humility. Even the most accomplished, fastest-known-time junkie has surely tumbled when attempting some sort of long-distance record. There is solace in that thought. Not much, but some.

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