Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Getting Out of the Woods Alive

Continuing from where I left off...

There I was, sitting on the ground with a broken leg in the middle of the woods trying to breathe and forget about the pain. None of us has cell phones so we have to recall back to our Boy Scout days of what to do in a situation like this.

Build a helicopter out of sticks and leaves and fly out of there.

That is what MacGyver would do and three Engineers who are also Eagle Scouts are completely prepared to do such a thing.

Before we could do any of that we had to splint my leg. Stability and lack of movement were the key given both bones in my lower leg were now in two or more pieces and my foot was effectively just floating in space.  Bruce found two tree branches about an inch in diameter and we placed one on either side of my ankle (inside & out) spanning from my foot up to just below my knee. We then used his long sleeve jersey to tie the splints together around my ankle. We grabbed my spare tube from my Awesome Strap and did the same with my shin just above my knee. I wish I had photos of this splint but we had no cameras or phones with us.

Bob cleared the trail ahead of us from debris that may have fallen in the previous day’s storm. Both Bob and Bruce then then helped me hobble the 50 feet or so off this piece of singletrack and onto the doubletrack that intersects it. Picture one of them under each arm of mine.

From the doubletrack we figured out a game plan. We needed a plan to efficiently get me out of the woods.

~ build that helicopter and fly Doug out of the woods.
~ build a stretcher and carry Doug out of the woods.
~ Stay put entirely, one goes ahead to get help.
~ Ditch Doug’s bicycle in woods, plan which trails to walk out, one goes ahead for help, Doug and the other start walking out of the woods with makeshift crutches from tree branches.

Of course, we were probably at one of the furthest points from the forest service road on our ride that night, about three or four miles...
The agreed upon plan was something along the lines of the later. We agreed on which trails we would get out of the woods (One Hill to the Blue Blaze trail [aka Portland Res Road] to the Singletrack [down] to the forest service road). Bob would go ahead and get help while Bruce and I would figure out how to keep moving (if we could).
Sitting on the trail focusing on breathing and trying to ignore the pain, Bob turned on my HID headlamp on my helmet and took off for help. Bruce and I looked at each other hoping the other would know the right way to move me. I stood up again and tried hopping on my left leg with a tree branch Bruce gave me as a crutch under my right arm.

Bruce, this one crutch is not going to work. It uses so much of my energy to hop on my left leg and I am making very little progress down the trail. My hip hurts a tremendous amount from hopping.

Whilst standing I could feel all the blood rushing to my right foot and it hurt. I needed a rest from hoping on my left leg and we only made it a measly five feet down the trail. I then layed down on his bike with my stomach on the saddle and hands on the handlebars. Laying on the bike in a Superman like state, I haphazardly started pushing off with my left leg like a scooter. The bike started rolling forward and I more than doubled the distance traveled via bicycle.

Hmm… We have an idea here…

The downside to this was all the pressure on my abdomen from laying on the bike. I tried sitting on Bruce’s bike (his bike is smaller than mine) and it was more comfortable but the saddle was waay too low. I couldn’t keep my right leg in the air high enough to avoid hitting my foot on anything. Bruce then took my bike, lowered my saddle some and we carefully switched bikes. I turned the Pro-Pedal off my rear shock so the ride would be softer and tried it again.


This was working.

Working so well that I started riding away from Bruce and he was yelling at me to slow down for he was worried about me and my leg. That was when I realized that even though I can move on my bike with my left leg I really should slow down and take it slow and safe. The last thing I need is to lose my balance and fall over onto my broken right leg.

Bruce caught back up when I came to a fallen tree we had to get over. Normally I would ride it but in my state I did not want to risk trying to ride it with one foot clipped in. I can do some wild things but this was not the time nor the place. We worked together to hop me over the tree. This consisted of me dismounting my bike and using my bike as a ‘walker’. While standing on my leg adjacent to the tree, Bruce lifted my bike over the tree while I held onto his shoulder. With my bike on the other side of the tree I could hold onto that and Bruce helped me hop over the tree with my left leg. I could then remount my bike and start pushing off with my left leg. We are moving again!

Early on I was able to lean my right leg backwards in a horizontal fashion, rotate my pelvis forward on the saddle and kick off with my left leg. This worked for about half an hour or so and then the pain in my right leg worsened. The blood was pooling in my foot and both  my foot and ankle were swelling at a rapid pace. More pressure. I then resorted to riding in an upright manner on the saddle with my right knee up near my elbow so as to keep my right foot off the ground and away from obstacles near the ground. This worked great but used a lot of energy in my right thigh to keep my leg upright. I had no choice.

Negotiating my bicycle very slowly (slower than a hiker) through trails I ride weekly was difficult on my mind. My mind knows I can ride these trails well but I kept having to remind myself that I have a broken leg. The pain in my leg was constantly there and I was fatiguing quickly.  Somewhere down the first trail Bruce and I stopped for food. I ate my package of Shot Bloks and drank half my waterbottle of water.
I knew we were making great progress but we still had a long way to go. Bruce kept reaffirming how much we’ve covered and how well we are moving in an effort to keep things positive and keep my momentum both mentally and physically. I knew I had to keep going so I tried to block out all those negative thoughts but twice I failed and broke down in tears and hysterics.

How could this happen? I am getting married in three weeks and now I can’t walk. Ginger is going to kill me. I am never going to get out of here. My foot is destroyed. Months, if not years, to rebuild myself. What am I going to do?

Somehow, as quickly as I fell into that funk I jumped right out of it and kept on moving down the trail. I kept telling myself, verbally, that things are okay.

The next turn we’ll see the medical help coming up the trail and then everything will be okay.

Out of One-Hill and onto the Blue Blaze Trail (aka: Portland Reservoir Road). This trail was fairly flat in the direction we were going (north towards Glastonbury) except one short very loose rocky climb we had to go up. I was able to clip my left foot into my pedal and actually pedal my bike on the flatter sections. I would hear Bruce yelling at me to slow down which I then forcibly told my mind to slow down. It was also pretty much dark now. Probably close to 7pm. The accident happened around 6pm and we covered 2 miles.  With the rain the previous day the fog was rolling in. Our HID lights sucked in the fog. We couldn’t see more than 5 feet infront of us.

Need to keep on moving.

Through the flat section of the blue blaze trail and all that was left is this rocky climb. Beyond that we can descend down the Singletrack trail and onto the forest service road. Need to get through this climb…

I certainly was not riding up this rocky climb. The rocks are the size of softballs. Its difficult when you can pedal and I sure as hell did not want to fumble on these rocks and damage my right leg any worse than it already is.

Best thing to be done was dismounting and hopping on my left leg whilst using my bike as a walker to keep me upright. I’d push my bike out a foot and then hop towards it while holding onto the handlebar and saddle. One foot after another we went up this climb. Partway up I had to stop for more food and to rest my left leg. My left hip was killing me from the impact of hopping on rocks. We could not see the top but knew it was coming up soon. Bruce kept giving me words of encouragement that helped fuel me to keep moving.

We knew we were at the top when the rocks slowly dissipated and the terrain flattened out. Back on the bike pushing off with that left leg. A couple hundred feet up ahead was the left turn onto the Singletrack trail which descended off this tiny ridgeline down to the forest service road.

Besides the focus on moving down trail, both Bruce and I were starting to wonder where the medical crew was that Bob went to get. We knew Bob would follow through but where was the help? By now it is dark so we would easily see flashlights and headlights of any help coming up the trail towards us yet all we saw was darkness.  This weighed on us and our frustration increased. With the two of us frustrated, we could not feed off each other to keep encouraging each other to move forward. Our mental game was falling apart and falling apart fast!

Meanwhile, as we ventured down the Singletrack trail light rain began to fall. It is now dark, foggy and rainy and we are in the woods with a hurt bicyclist. The Singletrack trail did signify that we were ultimately getting closer and closer to the service road. Getting closer to the service road meant we were out of the woods.

The end was in sight!

The feelings of just about being out of the woods drove me to move a little quicker and make mistakes. The big mistake came when I was entering a little gully in the Singletrack trail. The whole time I was descending I tried to keep my left foot uphill and my hands on the brake levers. I would let the brakes out inch by inch and crawl down the hill atop the bicycle. Going into this gully I somehow lost my footing with my left foot and my weight shifted. I now found myself tipping over to the right side. Natural instinct is to put your right foot out so I did that (forgetting about my broken leg). As soon as weight transferred onto my right leg I toppled over in pain. I fell off the bike and let out a loud scream. I laid there clutching my leg in agony. Bruce grabbed my bike and took it down the gulley (which was about 15 feet long). I regained my composure and slide down the gulley on my backside whilst keeping my right leg up in the air. A minute or so later I was comfortable enough to get back on the bike and keep moving.

By now it was around 7:45PM or so. Almost two hours since I broke my leg and we still were not at the service road. Help was no where to be found. We were also beyond the halfway point on the Singletrack trail so we knew we were almost there. Learning from my previous mistake I slowed down no matter how eager I was to get out onto the service road. A few long minutes later we were out on the service road. The rain also subsided.

I never thought I would see this gravel road. I wanted to lay down with my foot up on the bank to get the blood out of my foot. My foot was now fairly swollen and I could not wiggle my toes and it hurt to move my leg. We looked both ways on the service road and saw not one light nor did we hear any vehicular noise. Bruce insisted we keep moving. We had about a mile of smooth road that was predominately downhill. Beyond that were residential houses. We were close to help! As much as I wanted to lay down I knew the ride out on the road would be a few more minutes. I dealt with two hours I could deal with a few more minutes.

Downhill in the foggy dark. When the road flattened out I clipped my left foot in and we pedaled comfortably out into the residential neighborhood. Immediately there were headlights coming towards us and I thought ‘ambulance’. The headlights then turned into someone’s driveway. It was a car. I told Bruce to ride ahead and flag them down for their phone. I’ll catch up. While Bruce was trying to explain to this family our situation I rode up to the driveway and dismounted my bike and proceeded to lay down on the ground. My left hip was sore and I needed to lay down and get my right foot elevated.

Bruce called 911 and they confirmed there was a call out for us already. He then told them the address of the house we were at and that we were safe but needed medical attention. The family came over to ask me how I am doing. Next thing I knew two or three firefighters arrive. I was laying on the wet asphalt driveway shivering because I got cold from the rain and tired from the two hour effort to get out of the woods. The firefighters covered me in their jackets (those things are amazingly warm!). They said help is on the way. I had to call Ginger but I completely forgot her phone number. The only number I could remember was my parents’ in NJ so I had Bruce call them and I told them my leg was broken and had them call Ginger so she could me at Hartford Hospital.

The news media arrived during this time. The firefighters kept the media on the other side of the road and I covered myself up completely with the firefighter’s jackets. Everyone was in awe at our splint on my leg.  Sometime thereafter an ambulance came and they got me on their stretcher and into the back of the ambulance.

One step closer to finding out how bad I screwed myself up and one step closer to being fixed.

I had a long night in the ER and then a few days in the hospital. More of that to come....


Blogger leigh said...

What an incredible story! You describe it so well that I almost feel like I was there with you. Can't wait to see the reenactment on "I Shouldn't Be Alive..."

10/23/2012 11:36 AM  

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