It was our last day on the Everest Base Camp trek, just a few hours hike outside Lukla, when the mule pushed me off the mountain.

I remember Ray LaMontagne’s song, “Beg, Steal or Borrow” was playing on my iPod at the time because it was hearing the lyrics again, after the crashing and crunching of my body plowing through vegetation subsided, that assured me I was still alive.

“Dreaming of the day you’re gonna pack your bags
Put the miles away.
Oh, just grab your girl and go where no one knows you
What will all the old folks say?”

I opened my eyes and looked up toward the trail. Lakpa, our guide, and the mule’s wrangler were plowing down the mountainside toward me. My right forearm, I noticed, was red with blood.

*                                   *                                         *

Him, Lakpa and I had left Namche Bazaar that morning, Day 11 of our epic Everest Base Camp adventure. We were scheduled to arrive in Lukla by afternoon, bed down there and then leave for Kathmandu the following day on an early morning flight. And as if desperate to end the marathon, the boys maintained a quick trot throughout the day, running and jumping down the path and cutting their own steep shortcuts to avoid the switchbacks. Cascades of pebbles and clouds of dust trailed them and I trailed the pebbles and dust. Stepping gingerly to avoid sliding down the path, I struggled to keep up and chastised them for their dangerous behavior.

But it was I who ultimately broke the cardinal rule of hiking: NEVER pass another hiker or pack animal on the cliff side.

All day we had been playing catch-up with a team of mules. We would pause for a rest or a drink or for certain members of our group to snap yet another picture of a blossoming cherry tree or a chicken, and the mules would file passed us. We’d then spend the following half hour maneuvering around our slower, four-legged companions.

The line of mules stretched zigzagged across the trail when we approached the team for the last time. The animals were drinking from a miniature waterfall that trickled down rocks stacked on the inside of the path. Him was ahead of me; he had already successfully navigated past the mules. But when my turn came, the only path ahead was around the animals, on the cliff side. I was sidestepping the business end of the animal closest to the edge, a grayish mule carrying a bright red propane tank, when he chose to move his business end toward me.

I took a step backward. Waved my arms like a pinwheel. Grasped frantically for the rim of the propane tank. Missed.

“Well, here I go,” I thought to myself as I fell backward. Down, down, down.

I can’t say for sure whether my Gregory backpack saved my life, but it did cushion my fall; I landed on my right side with the pack wedged between my back and a tree. The pack had shielded my entire spine and neck, suffering just a rip in an exterior pocket in the process.

“Oh sit! Oh sit!” Lakpa muttered as he stomped through the underbrush toward me. (Only from previous experience did I know this was our heavily accented friend’s version of an expletive).

“I’m fine. I’m fine,” I insisted from a fetal position.

I must have been in shock because I truly didn’t feel all that bad. I was more concerned about the status of the Canon DSLR hanging around my neck, the one containing several hundred pictures of cherry blossoms and roosters. Thank goodness it had been in its case when the mule decided to take me out.

Him, a few steps behind Lakpa and the horrified mule wrangler, shouted frantically.

“Don’t move her!” Don’t move her!”

But they did move me, hauling my limp body upright like a rag doll and then slipping my arms out of the backpack.

“I’m fine. I’m fine,” I repeated as Lakpa and the wrangler half-dragged, half-carried me up the hillside. Back on the path, my right leg started twitching uncontrollably at the knee.

I didn’t know it then, but the fall had rendered a giant tear in the seat of my khakis, a rip so large a lentil-fueled, atomic bomb-grade fart could be responsible. My dingy ExOfficio underwear was in full view of the hikers who happened to be rounding a bend in the path at that very inopportune moment.

“Oh sit! Oh sit!” Lakpa said. Although this wasn’t actually a command, I did so, collapsing on a boulder with the help of Lakpa and Him. The mules and the mule wrangler, I noticed, had disappeared.

Lakpa was rattled senseless. Repeating his choice expletive over and over, he proceeded to cover each of the bloody knuckles on my right hand with a Band-Aid. The amount of blood the knuckles expelled, however, kept the bandages from sticking. Still in shock, I watched his frantic actions with fascination.

“You can’t put Band-Aids on cuts without cleaning them first!” Him said, yanking the strips off. “Where’s your first aid kit?”

Aside from three or four knock-off Band-Aids and an Ace bandage, our intrepid guide, it seemed, did not possess a first aid kit.

Him was furious. He nudged the bumbling Lakpa out of the way and proceeded to check my injuries. I watched as Him broke a stick and then created a splint using the Ace Bandage. He fashioned a sling from the krama he had purchased in Cambodia and then gently fit my arm inside. He left the bloody knuckles exposed.

It turns out one of the hikers I had flashed was a nurse from Australia, and he happened to carry a limited first aid kit with iodine he used to wash the debris from my knuckles. (In hindsight, I should have introduced him to Paper Sis – he was dreamy.)

My knuckles thus cleaned, Him and Lakpa began discussing what to do next. No one knew the true extent of my injuries, and a helicopter evacuation to a Kathmandu hospital was discussed as a possibility. But as the minutes passed and tensions cooled, it became clear that I could still walk – albeit raggedly – so we decided to try for the next village, Phakding, which happened to be home to the lodge where we spent our first night on the Everest Base Camp Trail. An able-bodied hiker could hoof it in about an hour. With Him and Lakpa alternating supporting me (the other carried my backpack), it would take us a handful more. Him discreetly indicated the source of the odd draft I was experiencing and then helped me wrap a jacket around my rear so we could begin hobbling toward Phakding.

It was a long and grueling three hours. In addition to the physical pain emanating from my body, I mentally pummeled myself for having acted so carelessly. I knew my fall signaled the end of our World Trip. Unwilling to wait for tomorrow’s scheduled flight from Lukla, Him and Lakpa would arrange for a helicopter evacuation and then I would end up in a dodgy Kathmandu hospital until they could fly me home to South Florida. The medical bills would be atrocious.Would our travel insurance even cover them?

In Phakding, Him bought a thermos of hot water from our one-time lodge and gently washed my busted hand with soap in a basin of water, all the while angrily lambasting Lakpa’s lack of a first aid kit and any modicum of first aid training. In a telephone call, he exchanged heated words with Lakpa’s boss back in Kathmandu but agreed to wait for our regularly scheduled flight the following day. We ate lunch (me a bit clumsily considering my dominant hand was bandaged), and then resumed the arduous hike to Lukla.

I think my ability to continue the hike unaided and eventually shoulder my own pack again eventually helped us all realize that despite all the blood and drama, my injuries (even the ones I had yet to discover) were merely superficial. Nevertheless, Lakpa informed us that his boss had reserved the “suite” at our Lukla lodge on our behalf. The free upgrade meant our room had it’s own attached toilet and sink, which despite the lack of toilet paper and functioning light in the bathroom, seemed absolutely luxurious at the time. We ate dinner and then I collapsed in bed, trying my best to find a comfortable position for my broken and terribly bruised body.