Recently, I have felt my age a little more; specifically, I’m not as agile. A (slightly younger) friend and I took a hike. While she lightly leaped across gaps in a stone wall, over a stream, I got stuck. The wall was a little too high. The distance a little too far. I couldn’t cross the chasm and we were forced to turn around.
Thus, when my family signed up to hike to the top of Skellig Michael in Ireland, over 600 crumbly steps there and then back, with sheer vertical drops and no handrails, I was understandably nervous. The literature stressed ‘you hike at your own risk, there have been fatalities’. Adding to the anxiety, the only way to reach the island was an hour ride in a small boat, crossing the open seas of the North Atlantic. This almost guaranteed you arrived slightly seasick.
The crossing was particularly rough. We arrived glad to be on steady ground. At the bottom of the steps, a last warning was issued. If we decided to climb, we had to come down of our own accord, even if we did so on our butts. There were no handrails, and as we could see the steps were steep and the drop off was sharp. The guide told us not to look over the edge, and when coming down, to combat vertigo, not to look out but to concentrate on our next steps. Lastly, we were reminded that people had died doing this.
My husband opted out. He was still a little nauseous and like me, felt the climb down was the most daunting and the lack of handrails made the risk too great. But I took the challenge.
I was the last up, so I would not hold up anyone else in the single file line. One of the guides was just ahead of me. We talked most of the way. He told me about the puffins that nested on the mountain in May. He told me about Star Wars filming at the site and a little bit of the history of the 12th century monastery at the top. The steps were steep, and I definitely didn’t scramble up, but I made it in a respectable time. I even stopped to admire the view trying not to psych myself out by looking back and down.
As expected, the climb down was the harder and I went slowly, step by step slowly. I stopped on the flats to give my legs a break. I carefully placed my feet on each step. Despite wanting to see the view, I did not look out. I tried not to be self-congratulatory too soon, knowing at any moment I could slip. No need to anger the superstitious gods. I met my husband at the bottom triumphant.
A week later, home in suburban Connecticut, I was back to my usual routine: walking the dog and attending exercise class. Active but not too strenuous. As I left the house on a beautiful afternoon, leash in hand, my sneaker caught the side of the door mat. In slow motion, I felt my left foot roll and I was down on the ground. The pain was intense. An x-ray the next day confirmed what I already knew. My foot had a hairline fracture. Somehow, I had survived Skellig Michael, only to be undone by a welcome mat.
I wasn’t distracted. I wasn’t looking at my phone. It was just a stupid accident. And I’m just not as agile. However, I’m choosing to think of it as a sign from the gods to be extra proud of myself for hiking Skellig Michael.
PS: The welcome mat looks a little worn. I ordered a new one.