Falling Down

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February 16, 2012 at 2:48 pm #265

Key Master

Falling Down—a Scientific Inquiry
©2006 by Pat Wray

Most of the world’s problems can be solved by a few hours of solitary reflection in front of a campfire. And so, after a long day spent chasing chukars over rough country, I sat before a fire and explored one of the most important and vexing aspects of every outdoorsman’s life—that of falling down.
I had some incentive, having been badly bruised during several falls earlier that day. The different methods I used to achieve the same painful result piqued my curiosity Subsequent interviews with other outdoorsmen have shown me that we all fall for the same reasons, in pretty much the same way.
In the interest of focused scientific inquiry, I have not examined falls related to skis, snow shoes, roller blades, ice skates or skate boards. I examined only falls experienced by people covering ground on foot.
One of the most common falls is caused by the movement of rocks underfoot. Small round pebbles are the worst, but any kind of unattached rock presents a problem. Loose rocks are the typical cause of the ‘chukar shuffle,’ a relatively sedate loss of balance that ends with the victim in the sitting position. Timing is the problem here; the chukar shuffle almost always occurs as the hunter is approaching a covey of birds, which fly as he begins to fall.
A related fall occurs when the victim-to-be dislodges a round rock as he walks downhill. The rolling rock arrives under his forward foot just as he puts his weight on it. The resulting loss of friction causes extreme discomfort; I once did the splits, or as close to it as a middle-aged, inflexible man can come. I took baby steps for weeks afterwards.
People in wooded areas often experience a similar situation. This occurs when one end of a branch contacts the top of a walker’s striding foot and the other end pivots in the ground. As the foot continues forward the branch prevents it from descending to the ground. Because the victim has shifted his weight forward in anticipation of a successful step he is unable to stop his forward momentum and falls face first to the ground. The damage done by this fall depends on the landscape. I once watched my hunting partner tip into an ugly, scrape-inducing windfall. Another time, I landed full force into a very soggy high country bog. The good news was that only the front half of my body was soaked. The bad news was an air temperature of 33 degrees.
Even large rocks can’t always be trusted. Nothing shakes your faith in the basic goodness of the natural world more than learning a 400-pound, seemingly stable boulder is precariously balanced on a single, knife-edged piece of basalt. The word ‘fulcrum’ is not a positive one in the outdoors. This situation is often humorous, until you have to leap to the next rock…which often is just as unstable. It’s like leaving Britney Spears to date Paris Hilton.
The worst rocks of all are part of a steep cliff or rimrock. They seem to be blue chip, S&P 500 handholds, the kind you can really put your trust in. Until you do…and then they are the Enrons of the rock world. When handholds like these fail they do so only after you’ve committed much of your weight, and then they fail suddenly, guaranteeing you a violent and dangerous fall.
Underestimation contributes to many falls each year. My personal favorite is “I’m sure I can step over this barbed wire fence.” Not until you have straddled the fence and a barb interacts with the area best described as the ‘confluence of your anatomy’ do you realize you are in trouble. The best you can hope for is that you remembered to unload and ground your firearm…and that you brought a first aid kit.
Then there is mud. The most difficult (and entertaining) mud is deep, clingy and thick, the kind that ate my father as he and I and my daughter headed back to the car from a duck blind. His accidental departure from the trail put him into mud above his knees. At that point both feet were immobile, so when he lost his balance and began to fall forward the conclusion was foregone. I hate to admit this but there is something absolutely hilarious about watching someone almost two feet shorter than normal desperately trying to keep his shotgun dry as he falls forward in ultra slow motion against the resistance of the mud, which is making loud sucking noises.
You’ll be glad to know we finally got him out, with the aid of a long branch, rope and 20 minutes of work, but as far as I know, his right boot is still there.

February 18, 2012 at 9:24 pm #267


Pat, very interesting evaluation of the falling process. Maybe some day I might be able to help you with summing up the monetary costs of falling. For instance I am two weeks into a shoulder operation from an earlier fall and I just got my shotgun back from Browning who replaced the broken stock from a fall mid January.

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