Who is better off: the paraplegic or the lottery winner?

I wrote a couple posts about lightweight backpacking last week to summarize my preparation for a sweep to finish hiking the entire Appalachian Trail. Having just graduated, I was stoked about my trip. I was waiting for a rain jacket to come in the mail so that I could peace out and get moving. In my restlessness, on the first day of the new year I asked my friend Scott if he wanted to go climb a mountain. Paris mountain sat just across the valley from my home. It stared at me every time I commuted home. Since I moved in I declared my intentions of standing on top of it and with a snowy peak, it was luring me in stronger than ever before.

I picked up Scott and we drove down the valley, amazed at its height and beauty. We ran through private property, skirting around a nearby peak and then crawled up the steep wooded mountainside. It was exhilarating, exactly what I was looking for. With other adventures planned for the evening, I told Scott I was adventured out for the day.

Just a couple hours later, after a Waffle House run and some warming up inside, the satisfaction wore off and I expressed interest in climbing another mountain. With a barely above freezing drizzle, I donned a trash bag over my torso in lieu of my in transit rain jacket. We drove to the base of Gap Mountain, ran into the valley and up to a park service road. From there the bushwhacking began up the steep incline. I had brought my micro spikes this time and was scaling up the mountain like a goat. We reached the rocky summit of the mountain but in the cool rain had to soon drop below the ridgeline to stay warm. Having safely scaled the treacherous side of Gap, we began running on the single track in the valley. On the flattest, least technical, easiest section of woods the entire day, my ankle rolled and popped.

We returned to Waffle House for seconds to give this day half of my total visits to the chain restaurant. I was in agonizing pain. My ankle was beginning to swell and while I knew what I had done I denied my frustration the liberty of imagining the impact of the injury. Coincidentally I had an appointment with a local orthopedic surgeon for a partially fractured patella from a wicked face plant in the Regal Cinema’s parking lot two and a half weeks earlier.

That night I wouldn’t be able to sleep. I postponed the inevitable rolling around in my bed by watching a movie and reading about evolutionary medicine. I knew what I had done but I would wait to see what hardware I would be assigned to make plans about the next six weeks. Having been teeter-tottering between whether I would attend Collegiate Triathlon Nationals for my senior year, this was all but a guarantee that I would not be racing. Another early season race in Florida is now also up in the air.

The physician assistant saw me first. I was surprised to hear that I had in fact torn two ligaments and not just one. A short time later, the doctor came in and confirmed the diagnosis.

“What were you doing running at night with your knee?” he asked.

“I don’t know. I don’t even like trail running,” I responded.

It wasn’t extraordinarily stupid what I was doing. Hell, things like that are perfectly normal for me. Just every now and then something happens that was unexpected. With a boot and crutches and only one ligament holding the external side of my ankle together, the trip has been postponed. Honestly, though, that part didn’t even phase me. Two years ago I suffered an injury to my left leg that kept me from training for six weeks. It seemed like the worst thing that could have happened at the time. When I was younger, I used to justify things like this by saying it was to prevent something worse from happening. Like had I not sprained my ankle, I would have run into a bear up ahead.

But now I know that things simply happen and we only classify them as bad or good. So instead of dwelling on the incident, I am choosing to treat the assignment it gets. A study on adaptation level theory found that over time, becoming a paraplegic, winning the lottery, or having neither resulted in the same level of happiness. What the theories acknowledges is similar to the fact that cool water feels cold only after transitioning from hot water and feels warm after transitioning from cold water. So while an injury could be compared to the mobility and freedom preceding, it could also just be taken as is and the frustration could be left behind.

So instead of my backpacking trip, an adventure on a trail that surely will not vanish in the next six weeks, I may be taking a road trip. Despite my reduced mobility, I can still study, I can still write, and I can still read. I’ve learned a lot in the last few days. I believe blessings and curses to be the epitome of metaphysical conceited bogus and see that believing in these things is entirely unproductive. I know my injury is minor but no extent of fortune or adversity is immune to the fact that these labels are only derived from the environment in which we are raised and possibly ingrained evolutionary traits. The abandonment of these ties is the ticket to Nirvana (in the Buddhist sense), not the lottery or marriage to a beautiful woman. But this knowledge doesn’t build strong economies so the power hungry among us are content with you not knowing this.

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