I loved adventures, even slightly dangerous ones. As a teenager, I tried to pinch a hippopotamus, climbing and leaning over the fence at Mysore Zoo, fell thrice trying to ride my scooter with my arms crossed for a bet and jumped from a twenty-five feet roof as a challenge.
Like two sides of a coin, adventures come with their own set of advantages and disadvantages, the disadvantages outnumbering the advantages as you age. My hunger for new experiences and adventures continued, though on a less dangerous level through my middle age. After trekking at 19000 feet altitude for Mount Kailash Kora at age 58, dunking into the sub-zero glacier water of Gangotri at 59 and driving a land cruiser through the sandy dunes of Jordan at 60, I decided to try snowmobiling in Alaska when I turned 61.
Mamatha’s and my three-week vacation in the United States had been the sweetest that we had had in our 31 years of marriage. In January 2019, closing the year 2018 after a Christmas dinner at a Catholic home in San Francisco, a Muslim wedding of a close friend’s daughter in Virginia, a breakfast at a Beverly Hills hotel, and witnessing the northern lights, Mamatha and eagerly looked forward to our snowmobile ride in Grand Teton national park.
It was supposed to be a three-hour snowmobile ride through the beautiful and snow-covered Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming. While everyone else in our group of eight had elected to ride alone, I refused the services of an extra professional driver for Mamatha considering myself no less than Evil Knievel himself and chose to take an ever un-complaining Mamatha as my pillion.
Teton National Park was stunning on that crisp winter day, blanketed in white. The sun was shining, and the sky was eggshell-blue. Zach, our guide, was a tall, handsome man in his late twenties. He had spent a few minutes when we first met up explaining the operations of a snowmobile; “Lean into turns to gain more control while turning. “
“Move your body in the direction of the roads curvature” emphasized Zach.
Zach led us along with two more snowmobiles in front of us and four more behind us. All the other snowmobiles were with individual riders. We followed rough snow-covered roads through Grand Teton National Park, and I thought that I had an idea of what Santa Claus’s home looked like.
The drive was beautiful, and Mamatha and I were thrilled, enjoying every moment.
Halfway through our ride, we came to an undulating road going uphill that had an uneven surface covered with stones and slippery ice. I slowed down, and when I tried to avoid a large hole, Mamatha and I leaned too much to the right and so did Mamatha instead of counterbalancing me. As a result, the snowmobile tipped right, and then it toppled over ever so slowly and landed on both our right legs. Our feet were still firmly rooted in the footrests with the vehicle on top of us. Because she was in the back, Mamatha bore the brunt of the bike.
“Aaaahh….”, Mamatha screamed in agony, and I winced in pain as both of us were stuck below the 600-pound snowmobile. Zach stopped, turned and looked at the snowmobile on top of both of our lower parts of our bodies. I tried to struggle out, but the damn thing was weighty. We lay motionless. Zach, our leader hopped off his bike and came running towards us and tried to lift the 600-pound snowmobile. He could not move it an inch by himself until four more members joined him to lift the bike. I snuggled out, stood up, dusted the snow and ice on my jacket and offered my hand to Mamatha to help her get up.
Mamatha continued with her long and piercing cries. She was in extreme pain. I was the only Evil Knievel in the group who refused the services of a professional rider to ride Mamatha separately choosing to take her as my pillion even though it was my first time on a snowmobile.
“I can’t move, Mona,” Mamatha said. I bent down and tried to lift her. She said “Don’t. I don’t trust you”. I reached out to rub her back, but she moved away from me, waving me off and shaking her head and looked at the tour guide and leader Zach running towards us with his first aid kit. Zach sat down and touched her ankle. She screamed in agony with tears rolling down her cheeks. My brown face went red with shame, and I felt like crawling into a hole and hide. Zach radioed his headquarters and explained the situation.
“A vehicle will be here soon to take her to the hospital,” he said much to my relief. Mamatha was still writhing in pain.
Mamatha’s screams of agony pierced my heart and sent an avalanche of the guilt of such intensity that I wished with all my heart that the ground under me gave way and sucked me in.
Zach came with his first aid kit as I watched Mamatha still on the ground moaning. Zach sat down and touched her ankle. Mamatha let out a long, painful shriek and started crying. My brown face went red with shame, and I felt like crawling into a hole to hide.
Zach radioed his headquarters and explained the situation.
“A vehicle will be here soon to take her to the hospital,” he told me, much to my relief. Mamatha was still writhing in pain. Zach kneeled next to her and carefully cut open Mamatha’s legging. He quickly prepared a splint using two sticks a few rubber bands. He used Mamatha’s pullover jacket as the supporting pad underneath her lower leg.
Mamatha lay there on the ground, motionless for about 30 minutes in the snow until a pick-up truck arrived to carry Mamatha back.
“Can you ride your snowmobile alone?” Zach asked me since he had seen me limping too.
I was in a state of utter shame and embarrassment.
“I am fine. I will ride it,” I said.
The 30-minute ride to the base camp was the longest and most anxious 30 minutes of my life. The pick-up truck brought Mamatha to St. John’s Hospital in Jackson Hole. Zach fetched the wheelchair, and both of us very gently shifted Mamatha to it. Once inside the entrance, a stretcher arrived with two nurses, and they moved Mamatha to the emergency section, where they did some x-rays
“I am afraid I will have to conduct surgery. There is a deep crack in the Fibula that showed up in the CT scan,” Dr. Williams, the senior orthopedic surgeon at the hospital, told us.
“When can we have the surgery, Dr.?” I asked. He looked at his watch and said, “I will try to schedule it for 8 this evening, or else we will do it first thing in the morning”. He smiled sympathetically at Mamatha, who appeared absolutely worry-free, and carefree thanks to all the mood-elevating opioid pain medication injected into her. When I looked at Mamatha lying on the stretcher, I was ridden with much guilt and shame.
The surgery was scheduled for 7 a.m. the following day. I watched as Mamatha was taken into the surgery room and waited anxiously, looking at the patient status monitor in the waiting room.
Dr. Williams came back at five minutes to nine and sat beside me. “It went off well. She is doing fine,” he said. I sighed deeply with a long and quivering breath that took away a significant portion of my guilt and shame.
Dr. Williams took out an X-Ray to show me the 11 screws and the metal plate in Mamatha’s ankle.
I brought back Mamatha with her entire right leg in cast to India after a fortnight. Now, three years after the accident, Mamatha makes it a point to tell everyone she meets that her nice and wonderful husband took care of her so well while bringing her back to India and while she was convalescing.
Be adventurous, but be aware of the entailing risks particularly if you are involving your spouse or partner into it.
Dare, but do be aware.