In my fourth year of dancing and not dancing the often-joyous and sometimes deeply disappointing Argentine tango, I’m beginning to emerge from the late-night, dark dance halls and step out into light of day.
Though I’ve shared some of the most sublime moments while dancing the tango, there’s a decided catch. This lovely experience happens when I’m dancing–not while waiting to be asked.
Now of course, this is not news. I could go on about the lead-follow imbalance, the exclusive couples, the New York tango scene cliques, the fellow students who’ve moved on, and countless other gripes. But when I do get to dance, all is forgiven and forgotten and the euphoric experience of moving in unison to a seductive tango makes the rest worthwhile. That is, until I’m planted back on the bench and have sat out the third tanda (dance set)—in a row.
One would guess that learning the Argentine tango is challenging enough of an art form, but as it turns out, attracting a dance partner to complete the act involves just as much artistry. As I bore myself contemplating my longtime singlehood and I continue to feel alienated from a world that values couplehood, I decided to give myself a break and stop fretting about pairing on–or off–the dance floor. I resolved that the only pair I really needed were my Asolo Stynger GTX, which are my waterproof, Gore-Tex lined, red suede hiking boots.
And so with my sensible, hi-tech footwear, three liters of water and a packed lunch, I set out to hit the trail.
I’ve long been a white-water paddler and an avid hiker of near and far. Over the years, I’ve spent many weekends running shuttle to the kayak put-ins, and trailheads of creeks, rivers and mountains up and down the East Coast. I’ve also had the great fortune to take off for weeks at a time to trek the Himalayan foothills of Nepal, India, Tibet and Bhutan.
But I’d traded in my wet-suit booties long ago, and years later, replaced them with tango shoes. Now, with no Himalayan trips were in the offing and the longing to get outdoors and step away from my desk and the dance floor, I rejoined the local chapter of the Appalachian Mountain Club, and went outside to see what I could see.
Since early spring, every weekend I’d be on the road just after sunrise, driving to a designated trailhead either in Harriman State Park, the Hudson Highlands or the Catskills to meet up with an interchangeable group of rag-tag hiking enthusiasts. The AMC has a rating system so one can choose hikes based on terrain, distance and speed. While tango has taught me much, the one thing it has not prepared me for, which I’d kind of forgotten about, was the physicality of hiking. Though I took care to choose moderate hikes that were challenging and just long enough, even then, I was always the last hiker. So, my goal for this hiking season was to become the “sweep” by choice instead of by default.
I do like bringing up the rear. It’s quiet but for the birdsong, and the frogs, and the sound of scampering through leaves, and my heavy breathing. To be to be in so much green and hear twigs snapping underfoot, and water moving over rocks; glorious. And I love the puzzle and decision-making of navigating a rocky trail. So, it’s the end of the line for me, and as a trekking companion once told me, “unless you’re the lead yak, the view is always the same.”
Last Saturday, while hiking with the AMC in Harriman State Park on the Ramapo-Dunderberg to the Bokey Swamp Trail, I hoisted myself atop and traversed a huge fallen tree that obstructed the route. I lost my balance, fell off—backwards–and shattered my wrist. What ensued is a gruesome tale of serious injury in the woods, some stellar and some not-so-stellar examples of human behavior, and the fierce power of adrenaline. I’ll set aside the grisly details of the three-mile hike out, though part of it was on the “Red Cross Trail”–I kid you not.
Aside from some grit and determination, what eventually saved me, without much thanks to my fellow hikers, was my best friend Sharon–who wasn’t even on the hike. Astoundingly, I had cell service and when I called her, though she lives in Washington, D.C., she happened to be an hour from the trailhead, headed upstate to a triple-header family celebration that she was also helping to host. She met me deep within the park, and asked if I could drive and suggested we take a test drive to see if it were at all possible—it would have been a logistical nightmare to leave my car in the middle of the woods so far from home. I was pretty sure I couldn’t drive, or more to the point, shouldn’t. She freed me from my backpack and hiking boots, laced up my après trail shoes (sneakers) and buckled me into the driver’s seat. I started the ignition with my left hand (the uninjured party) and we took a tour of the Lake Tiorati Parking lot. I could indeed drive!
With the help of my dear friend’s loving levelheadedness and my GPS, I had the confidence to get myself to the trauma center at Hackensack University Medical Center–where they have valet parking!
I checked into the emergency room and handed over (with one hand) the requisite contact information. When I told the young man behind the desk that I’d injured myself in a hiking accident, he asked if I had seen the movie “127 Hours” “You know, the one where the guy gets his arm pinned by a boulder and has to use a pocket knife to amputate it”, he said. Luckily, this event required no cutlery.
What followed was a surreal choreography of waiting rooms, X-rays, clipboards, orthopedic surgeons, gurneys, IVs, emergency surgery, pain meds, room service, thankfulness for Obamacare–and the indispensable care and kindness of nurses. Sharon was waiting for me by my hospital bed when they wheeled me back to my room after surgery–the next day.
Now I have a new titanium wrist to match my titanium trekking pole.
The good news is that I’m home and doing really well. I’ve learned how to put in contact lenses one-handed, which I learned watching a quadriplegic teaching this trick on YouTube. I’ve also discovered that a New York Times blue plastic home delivery bag secured with painter’s tape makes a handy waterproof cast cover. And, I’ve had so many offers of help from friends and family that it’s an embarrassment of riches.
Since I’m not quite ready for a one-armed tango embrace and hiking is on hold, my tango shoes wait patiently in my closet beside my hiking boots. So for now, I’ve got plenty of time on my hand to contemplate that while I’m not part of a pair, I’m hardly alone.
Nancy is a product designer in Hoboken, New Jersey. She works quietly at her desk and desktop designing home products – dishes and the like. This article was taken (with permission) from the blog NANCY LEARNS THE TANGO, where she shares the trials and tribulations of her newly found passion – dancing the Argentine tango.