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Thu, Aug. 22

Johnson: Personal injury, encountering a mountain lion
Hiking Arizona

Progressively increasing pain in your legs is one thing but on a four-day solo backpacking trip through West Clear Creek, any little pain can assume a high degree of significance. This 40 mile cross-country trek in central Arizona involves floating a dozen ponds, negotiating cliffs and bushwhacking.

Day One: Is that a pain in my left knee?

Day Two: My knee is really starting to hurt, sometimes. Ouch!

Day Three: I wonder why my knee hurts most of the time.

Day Four: Where is that trail that marks easier going near the end of this canyon? There were no more ponds to float as the canyon widened but there were plenty of boulders to navigate over and around.

Stepping high atop one such monstrosity sent a stabbing pain from my left knee to my toes. Unable to bend my leg, I could only drag my left foot, banging into first this rock, then into that exposed root. My progress slowed to a crawl.

Desperate problems call for desperate remedies. It was time to call on God. Remember Aron Ralston’s conversations with God in his book, Between a Rock and a Hard Place?

I reminded God that I had to get out of this mess. After all, I had to be at work the next day. Surely, this would be no problem for the Great Physician.

Nothing happened. Questions came, answers didn’t. What was wrong? Where was the trail? Why me? No message appeared in the sky above. My leg hurt as much as ever. I saw no sign of a trail.

It was looking bad. Many years of wilderness backpacking, yet I had never felt so stuck. I had been delayed due to poor planning, poor health and poor judgment but I had never been stuck because of “poor me.”

Perhaps I should just be thankful that only one leg hurt, not both. I realized too that God did not owe me an explanation. On I went, stumbling along a faint animal path between a vertical stream cut and a thick stand of bamboo-like reeds. I rounded a corner and stood facing a large mountain lion approaching me, a few feet away. Silence engulfed me like a black hole. I heard not my breathing, not my heart, nothing.

The animal did an immediate about-face and retreated the way it had come. I followed it. Dumb? It gets worse.

I saw where it had apparently climbed the cut in the stream bank. Rocks and other debris began falling on my head. It was directly above me. Not good. Yet, I continued and climbed the bank too but saw it no more. I went a few steps farther up the side of the hill and there it was, ... the trail I was looking for. Fifteen minutes down the trail, my leg stopped hurting.

What would have happened if my leg quit hurting when I first asked? Would I have missed the most incredible wildlife sighting of my life? Would I have been attacked?

The trail led me to a road. A vehicle came up behind me and I stuck out my thumb. It stopped and gave me a ride to my car in Camp Verde a few miles ahead. Adventure over, but the memory is as fresh as yesterday.

Next: The “Hike” @Meteor Crater.

Ted Johnson is a columnist for The Daily Courier. Reach him by email at

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