Well, it finally happened. I injured myself while out hiking. Not that injury while hiking is an eventuality, injury can happen anywhere... but I think the chances are a little higher when you are consistently placing yourself out in the elements, bouncing from uneven surface to uneven surface. My life has undoubtedly changed over the course of the last month, and like most accidents... it all happened in an instant.
I set out for a late afternoon/sunset hike on Dec 21, 2016. Rattlesnake Ridge is an easy (for me) off-season hike that I like to do a few times a year. I like it because it's only about 50 minutes from Seattle and it's a wide, well traveled trail with few obstacles. I dislike it because it's incredibly popular and if you hit it at the wrong day or time (which is more often than not) then you'll just be one more in the giant parade of people heading to the top. But if you time it right, it's a great little hike with a lot of bang for your buck.
While I was driving out to the trailhead, I realized that two important pieces of my hiking equipment were forgotten... my poles and my microspikes. Typically they are in my car, but I'd taken them out a few days earlier to join a friend on a wintery hike and I'd just forgotten to put them back in. Let me just say this right now, I'm pretty confident that if I'd had them with me, I would probably be able to walk right now. It sucks to say that and to know my injury was preventative, but forgetting things is just something that sometimes happens. This wasn't the first time that's happened, and it most likely won't be the last. I kept driving though. I figured I would just see how conditions were and turn around if I needed to. Once I was on the trail I noticed tons of people coming down from the top, some wearing no more than running shoes.... "ok, I'll be fine." And I was. There were a few patches of compact snow/ice on the trail, some big, some small, but for the most part the trail was dry, and I made it up A ok. I even saw one guy trail run the whole thing.
I pushed myself and made it to the top in good time, took some photos, met some lovely ladies (Amanda and Kui) and we watched a beautiful sunset from the top, but the fading light meant it was time go. I took off first with Amanda and Kui close behind me, and hit a small patch of snow/ice and slipped in the classic 'feet out from under me' kind of way. Embarrassing, but whatever. At that point the girls put on their microspikes (because they are wise) and I got up and took off down the trail. I wanted to get to the bottom ASAP. It would be dark soon and the temperatures were probably somewhere in the mid to upper 30's, but would be dropping soon.
It was only a few short minutes later that I hit another patch of snow/ice and well... I don't entirely know. I think I started slipping and sliding and when trying to recover my balance I rolled my ankle and fell to the ground. It happened so fast, it's hard to say exactly went down (other than myself), but what I remember the most was the sound. It sounded like I'd stepped on and broken a stick. I actually looked around for said stick, but surprise surprise, there wasn't one. I know I cried out in pain... I mean just rolling an ankle usually hurts enough to warrant a yelp. I sat on the ground for a moment, waiting for that initial pain to subside, and it did a little. I tied to get up, but it didn't work. I started to try again and realized my ankle was... floppy. It was just limp and my second attempt at getting up failed just as miserably as my first. I couldn't get up... but I could scoot. So I scooted down the trail about 20 feet before giving up and waiting for Amanda and Kui to find me. I checked my cell phone and had no service. Not a great feeling in a situation like this. A couple minutes later the gals showed up and I said "so... I think I injured myself. I may have broken my ankle." Both gals immediately sprung into action. Amanda stayed with me, asked me questions, took a quick look at my leg (she's in the sports medicine field) and found a relatively suitable walking stick. Kui took my backpack and headed down the trail, originally with the idea of just grabbing a splint out of Amanda's car and coming back up to us. With the help of leaning on Amanda and maybe a little help of the walking stick, we were able to hobble down the trail. We probably only made it 3/4 of a mile over the next hour+ and it was exhausting. Thankfully, Amanda got cell service and received a text from Kui saying she made it down to the trailhead, called 911 and that Search and Rescue were on their way. Immediately I felt like an asshole. It's hard to not think about the "what if's" in a situation like this... "what if I hadn't forgotten my gear, what if I'd stayed home, what if I'd been hiking slower and more carefully?" Well, most likely I wouldn't have a broken ankle, but as we all know.... ya can't go back.
Once we knew SAR was on the way, we took a seat. We probably should have kept going, but I was worn out and it most likely would have taken another two hours to make it all the way back to the parking lot. Amanda gave me a vest that was in her pack to keep my legs warm and she even broke out a jetboil and Top Ramen and we shared some hot broth and noodles! So basically, I hit the jackpot in regards to having the best possible person there to help me through this situation. Amanda had also called her husband Jon to help coordinate getting my car back to Seattle. See what I mean...? Jackpot. She was/is wonderful!
Search and Rescue showed up at about 7:15pm and it was overwhelming. There were about 20 of them, all volunteers. They asked my name, age, what happened, etc. They were able to get my boot off (amazingly) and splint my ankle. I remember starting to cry... first, because it hurt, but second, because my foot/ankle were SO swollen. SAR built a gurney for me and attached this single off-roading tire to it, and after getting me all strapped in and covered up, groups of men, and one woman, took turns steering me down the trail. It was a bumpy ride, but overall they did a pretty great job of keeping me level and stable. Silent tears streamed down my face as I stared up at the trees going by.
Once at the bottom of the trail, I was greeted by even more people. There were tons lights and vehicles (including an ambulance) and finally they set me down in the middle of all of it. A sheriff was there and took my information down. I was asked if I wanted medical treatment and to go to the hospital. I declined. Why you ask? I knew I had something majorly wrong, but Amanda and the volunteer SAR medic both said that most likely, all that could be accomplished due to the swelling were x-rays. So instead of going to the hospital... in a very expensive ambulance, I decided on visiting my nearby Urgent Care first thing the next morning.
Eventually I was discharged and we were free to leave. Amanda drove me home, while Jon and his friend Matt drove my car back to my apartment in Seattle. They all helped me get upstairs to my apartment, which was an ABSOLUTE DISASTER. Word of advice: You NEVER know when three complete, but incredibly kind strangers are going to be carrying you into your apartment... so make sure it's at least somewhat tidy. Amanda even helped me take my pants off, because yes, I couldn't do it by myself. All I could do was painfully hop around, lay on my bed and think about how different my life was going to be over the course of the upcoming weeks/months.
The next morning, my buddy Jason came over and took me to an Urgent Care only a few blocks away from where I lived. I hopped inside...
Me: "Hi, I think I may have broken my ankle"
The receptionist: "Ok. Do you like... for sure... know it's broken?"
Me: "....noooo, that's why I'm here...."
Seriously? Come on dude. Aside from that though, everyone was great and seemed competent. X-rays were taken and I quickly discovered that I was correct. I had a bimalleolar fracture, which basically just means that I broke two bones in my ankle. I broke the lower end of my tibia and fibula bones, and would absolutely need surgery. Again, silent tears streamed down my face yet again when I got that news. I was given crutches, a hard boot, a prescription for pain meds, a referral for an orthopedic surgeon and I was sent on my way. Due to the how enormous my foot was, no surgery could be performed for nearly two weeks.
That was the worst part. The waiting and knowing that I wasn't healing. During that time, you're just injured. Every little aspect of your life is affected. You're sad, in pain, medicated, you can't wear normal clothes, getting dressed is challenging, can't bathe normally, sleeping is tough, you can't drive, can't run to the grocery store, can't take out the garbage, etc. I mean, hey... it could have been WAY worse, and I remind myself of that regularly, but it's still a difficult life change. There have been some things that have really helped to keep my spirits up, my motivation high and just some things that have just made a difficult time in my life, a bit easier. It's all about adapting right? I'm just incredibly thankful for Amanda's help and that she and Kui were there on the trail that afternoon. Had I left the top of Rattlesnake Ridge after them, my night would have looked a lot different. I'll be investing in a spot beacon very soon...
Here are a couple pictures showcasing some of the swelling and bruising that I dealt with. Yikes.