Ahh, the sights and sounds of southwest Utah: the babbling streams, the venous walls of crimson rock towering above the desert floor, the Traveler-model Swiss army knife blade protruding from my hand, the rolling valleys. Did I mention the Swiss army knife? Sigh.
Yes, I stabbed myself over Spring Break. My friends and I went backpacking in Zion National Park and on my last night in the backcountry, I slipped with my pocketknife and filleted my left hand. I’ll spare you gory details about the possibilities of infection or partial tendon laceration and just say that it really hurt, that hiking out was not fun, and that it is taking forever to type this.
At the time there wasn’t much to do but mutter under my breath, call my friends to get out the lantern and first-aid kit, and silently marvel at the fact that my own clumsiness had managed to catch up to me despite my attempt to outrun it by 500 miles. Oh, well.
Still, I am discovering I have joined a brotherhood of sorts – a fellowship of backcountry flesh wounds if you will. On the way to the hospital the next day, a gas station attendant who is a park ranger at Zion during the tourist season looked at my bandages and told me that she has cut herself about once every three months since moving to the park. The nurse at the hospital explained how he had impaled his hand on a twig in the Zion narrows.
When I got back to Santa Barbara, my friend Eric confided, while showing off his scars that all true outdoorsmen and women have been injured with a knife or other sharp instrument. Curious to test this theory, I engaged in my usual regiment of pointless research.
As it turns out, Eric may have been right. According to the Journal of Wilderness Medicine 15 percent of backpackers have had to shorten a trip at one time or another due to a medical problem – lacerations being one of the most common. Most have only about 48 percent of the necessary first-aid supplies to treat themselves. I feel a little smarter now.
During the 19th century, a member of the Lewis and Clark expedition, Private John Potts, lacerated his own leg with a hunting knife on the return journey to the states. Clark also cut himself badly at one point. Meriwether Lewis managed to escape self-injury but was instead shot in the buttocks by a nearsighted member of his own expedition.
Reaching even further back, the famed explorer Captain James Cook died after being speared in the back by Hawaiian Islanders. The explorer Magellan, famous for naming the Cape of Eleven Thousand Virgins among other things, was severely wounded and made lame for life on a voyage to Morocco. He died on a later expedition to the island of Mactan after a blow to the neck with a sharpened stick – again delivered by an angry native.
The moral? Practice knife safety at all times, don’t piss off the natives, and wear your scars with pride. Welcome back from Spring Break and good luck to you all.
Josh Braun is the Daily Nexus science and technology editor. He highly recommends the trip to Utah – but not the whole pocketknife thing.