*Warning* – Some bad language ahead.
In a recent article I posted a picture of myself on the 100 Mile Wilderness with a broken ankle and one of you asked me to tell the story. Here goes…
In the last week of July 2005 I set out with a friend to hike a portion of the Appalachian Trail from Monson to Katahdin called the 100 Mile Wilderness. It should have been a straightforward hike lasting ten days; however, one misstep on the trail four days and forty miles in ended the hike.
On one of the official websites it states that the 100 Mile Wilderness is not a good place to injure yourself. Well, there’s no good place to injure yourself, but in my opinion the 100 Mile Wilderness is a particularly bad place to do it.
Skipping Ahead to Monday Day 4 – From My Journal Notes
We had been told that it would be nice right through the week, but when we woke up Monday the dark sky promised something different and as we ate breakfast in the lean-to it started to pour. We waited for awhile, but eventually the other couple set out. They were heading for Cloud Pond lean-to where we’d stayed the night before and they had a long climb ahead of them and wanted to get going.
June and I waited until about 9:00 am, but the rain only intensified. At this point we said to hell with it and set out. We hiked up one more mountain that posed little challenge and then we were on the downside of the hill all the way to the West Branch of the Pleasant River. There were thunderstorms in the area and I pushed hard to get off the mountain before we got caught in one as the last thing I wanted was to get hit by lightning at 2000 feet. We descended rapidly over the next few miles through heavy rain until we hit the river.
We forded the river with our boots on and when we got to the other side I took them off and wrung my socks out. I also got rid of the rain pants which had proven to be absolutely useless when it came to keeping my lower half dry. I shook the water out of them and stuck them to the back of my pack.
I had June check her gear for dryness and I checked mine. Dry as a bone. Our careful preparation and planning was paying off. We set off hiking and a a little later we were about three or so miles from the river crossing and heading towards Gulf Hagas and walking hard to warm up.
There was a nice straight stretch of trail and we were walking pretty fast when I hit one of the wet roots and slipped. I’m still not entirely certain what happened, but I think that as I fell I caught my foot on a root and my ankle on a small stump as I went down. There was sound like a stick snapping and the rush of pain was immediate and intense.
I hit the ground and grabbed my leg and yelled, “Ohhhh shit, I broke my fucking leg!”
“What?” June asked incredulously.
I had fallen on my left side and I grabbed my leg below the knee and lifted it off the ground to take a look. My foot swung back and forth at an odd angle and at that point I knew for sure I’d broken it. I could move my toes and flex my foot up and down, but it was bent at a curious angle in relation to my leg.
I took a minute to get the pain under control and then had her help get my pack off. For some reason I had her grab the camera and take a picture of me laying on the trail with my broken leg. (See picture. Yes, it hurt. A lot.)
I knew it was going to be tough getting me out of the woods and panic was a sure way to make it worse, so I moved slow and tried to think in small steps instead of trying to figure out everything that needed to happen all at once. The problem was easier to manage by breaking it up into bite sized chunks.
June gathered the materials I requested so I could splint my leg. First I had to straighten my foot out, which hurt quite a bit but helped when it came to splinting it. I had a yellow felt camping towel that I wrapped around my boot and leg for padding that I left fairly loose. She gave me two sticks, which I broke off so that they reached from just below my heel to my knee. I put one on the left and and the other on the right side of my ankle against the boot, and then used some cord I had in my pack to tighten it down. I figured the sticks would help hold the foot stable and I knew I’d be needing that in the hours ahead.
After I had that in place I had June cut a piece of my sleeping mat big enough to wrap around my leg from just below my knee to the top part of my boot. I didn’t untie my boot as I’d figured that would cause my ankle to swell even more. I wrapped the sleeping mat with a couple of bungee cords and my splint was complete.
June asked if I could make it back down the trail. By our estimation it was about three miles to the river, maybe an hour at a fast walk under those conditions. She gave me one of her hiking poles and along with my own we set out, but within a hundred yards I was totally exhausted from hopping on my right foot and using the poles to steady myself.
There was no way I could put weight on the ankle. If you’ve ever broken a bone you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.
June went back and brought my pack for me and set up the tent. As she was setting it up a couple of hikers we’d met earlier came by - a father/son team from Florida. The son was a through hiker and his dad had driven up to Maine to do the last 100 miles with his twenty-year old son. We talked the situation over for a bit and decided that we were doing everything right. I told them they might as well go on as June would have help back up this way in a few hours. At that point June took off to the south to get help and the two men headed north.
Once I was alone I crawled into the tent and put my foot up on my pack and took stock of the situation with as clear a mind as I could muster. It would take June about an hour just to get back to the river, and then she’d have to find a ride to the nearest ranger station or police station as there was no cell reception whatever in this area. That could take anywhere from one to three hours, then they’d have to find me out here in the wilderness. It was currently about 2:00 pm and I was looking at least four or five hours before someone made it to me under all the right circumstances. Reluctantly, I mentally prepared myself to spend the night.
To Be Continued… Part 2 On Monday
BTW: Have you ever broken a bone or been stuck in the woods like this or been in a survival situation? You’ve got all weekend to tell your story. Let me hear it.
Also: I have an interview with the Ortho Surgeon – Dr. Kevin Olehnik - who put me back together again and he’s got advice on what to do in this situation. He also talks a little about Haiti and some of the issues he’s come up against there plus some other cool stuff. I hope to have the video edited and up next week some time.