THIS PAST SUMMER, during a Grade 2 strain of my right groin muscle, I thought I heard a “snap-twang” as though someone had squeezed wire cutters through the top string on a guitar.
As it turned out, the sound hadn’t emanated from my groin muscle. In fact, there was no real sound. It was just the imaginary sound of my brain slapping the back of my head for doing something stupid.
Without going into detail, I was trying to teach my son to dive rather than jump into a swimming pool. (Details on request.)
As soon as it happened, the intersection of thigh and hip caught fire. The pain came swiftly, and it was intense.
My deep-rooted “nesting” instinct said to gather our gear, jump in the truck and head home. If I was going to wind up in the Emergency Room later, I would arrive in comfortable clothes and carrying my own toothbrush.
The injury settled enough that evening to keep me from dialing 9-1-1, but it took significant time—weeks—to heal. I should have known better than to do anything potentially “physical” without stretching in advance, but in the moment, I chose to act without measuring the possible consequences.
Which brings me to a laundry list of activities we “seasoned” outdoorsmen presume, as we have for decades, pose no threat. In the presence of peers, even if we thought our way halfway toward a logical conclusion, we certainly call a timeout for a quick stretch.
However, we should, beginning the day after we feel any ache or pain caused by something that never caused pain in the past, because that day marks the turning of a corner. Ignoring that turn could lead to a more serious injury, one that might keep us off the water or out of the woods indefinitely—or longer.
How embarrassing, it can seem, to concede among a group of equally grayed hunters or fishermen that we’re not as good at pushing or pulling or dragging or carrying as we once were. But truth is truth, and time eventually plays the same dirty trick on us all.
One side of me, if asked to help unstick a stuck ATV minutes before shooting time at the duck lease, can’t imagine pausing to stretch my back and quads and shoulders before stepping into the muck. The other side, which is winning more internal arguments than it’s losing these days, knows the risks and is increasingly afraid of the pain that now so often rides with stupid decisions.
If you’re in your 30s, maybe even into your 40s, you’re probably snickering now. It’ll never be you who pulls or tears a muscle because that next 50-pound sack of corn you sling up toward your shoulder suddenly feels like it weighs 100 pounds.
It’ll never be you who reaches over the tailgate to lift a strap of 15 or 20 geese and bulges a disk or two in your lower back. (That one never goes away; it just sits quietly, long enough to let you believe it’s actually healed, then jumps out and stabs that same spot when you forget and try to lift a case of water the same way.)
It’ll never be you whose boot slips off the box-blind ladder and causes you to twist violently, awkwardly sideways. That one can run up a heavy tab of discomfort. Back, knee, hip, shoulder—they all are critical in the moment to keep you from actually falling off the ladder and possibly causing worse and permanent damage. And they’ll all hurt—for a long time.
It’ll never be you who swings into the saddle for a three-hour horseback ride into a high-elevation elk camp and thinks 180 minutes on a horse when you’re older is the same as when you’re younger.
Navigating rocky, rain-soaked terrain, toting bags of gear or corn, winching boats onto trailers, slinging a loaded ice chest into a boat. Any and all of that (and so much more) becomes increasingly difficult and in need of forethought as we continue to have birthdays.
There will come a time, guaranteed, on which you can’t do today what you could do yesterday. It won’t be marked on a calendar, so you might prepare for the change or exercise enough to postpone it. It’ll just pass without even being noticed.
You’ll wake up after a fun day of fishing or hunting, after a day of working in the yard or filling feeders, and something will hurt.
If you’re at all like me, you’ll acknowledge the pain, take something for it if necessary, and then just keep plowing forward.
It hurts now, sometimes more than others, to enjoy the outdoors at the level I choose. To stop enjoying the outdoors, however, would be far more painful.
Email Doug Pike at [email protected]