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Breaking Ankle

Well, it was probably only a matter of time..

After visiting 36 states and hiking hundreds of trails of various terrain and difficulty, on Friday, February 28th, while on an easy hike, Lorraine tripped and broke her ankle. And she didn't just break one bone, it was the perfect trifecta. She broke her fibula, tibia, and medial malleolus ! A trimalleolar fracture.

So this is how it all started: after leaving Yuma, Arizona (which will be a later entry), we drove to Twentynine Palms, California. Our campground was located just outside of Joshua Tree National Park.

While this park doesn't rate high on my "must see" list, it does possess some great hikes of various difficulty. And because of its many fractured rock formations, it is very popular with rock climbers.

We had done two very long hikes the previous days, the first was about 5 miles and the second was an 8 miler, so today, we decided to do a less strenuous hike.

After thumbing through the Joshua Tree Hiking Guide, we decided to hike Ryan Ranch Trail.

They had rated it "EASY":

And because it was going to be such an easy hike, we thought to ourselves: "We don't need no stinkin' hiking boots!"

We walked briskly along the flat, sandy trail enjoying the beautiful sunshine and unique scenery. It only took about 25 minutes to hike up to the old Ryan homestead.

This six room adobe structure and the surrounding property were developed by the J. D. Ryan family who came here in the 1890's to manage and eventually acquire the Lost Horse Mine, the most successful mine in the area. The ranch originally consisted of the main house, a small one room structure of unknown purpose, a two room bunkhouse, and The Lost Horse Well. Other wood and metal structures were added later to house the sixty or so miners who worked the mine.

After walking through the remains of the main house, we decided to follow a trail of "miner's trash": corroded cans, broken pottery and glass, and rusty, lifeless pieces of machinery that once brought prosperity to this desolate valley.

Our sleuthing took us across fields of scrub brush and dusty horse trails.

As we walked the grounds, we located an old rusty water tank (top right of the above picture), a small building we designated the foreman's office (right most building) and lastly the pump house of the Lost Horse Well (bottom center). Inside the pump house, I was surprised to find this:

..the actual well, which, surprisingly wasn't even capped! I called over to Lorraine to come take a look. Seconds later there came a hard THUD against the side of the building. It sounded as if something, or someone, had thrown themselves against the building. And then..

The desert air was pierced with a SHRIEK of pain! Rushing from the small building, I found Lorraine on the ground holding her ankle and crying "I heard the bone break!" As she walked up the hill, she tripped over a small rock (see below), lost her footing and badly twisted her ankle. I helped her up and we both sat on the concrete stoop. After sitting in silence for a few seconds, she tried to put some weight on her foot but the pain was far too searing.

We were stunned at our turn of events.

Slowly the severity of our situation began to sink in:

  • Her ankle was clearly broken.

  • There was no cell service.

  • We were almost a mile from our truck.

  • We were alone.

  • The sun was moving dangerously close to the horizon.

  • And Lorraine was unable to put any pressure on her foot.

With her foot beginning to swell and the flesh turning from beige to a storm of red and purple, we decided that I should return to the truck and try to find some help. She was in no condition to walk, hop or crawl.

As I hurried along the trail, I saw an elderly couple approaching from the opposite direction. I stopped them, explained our harrowing situation and asked if they would check on her once they got to the ranch. Thankfully, they agreed. We parted ways and I drove off.

Now, let me take a moment to explain that Joshua Tree N. P. is massive! It's over 1200 square miles and not densely populated with tourists. It takes about an hour to drive from end to end (following the recommended speed limit) and it seems there are only three or four Park Rangers in the entire place. That's bad news if you're in need of assistance.

Checking my phone again, I saw those dreaded words NO SERVICE.. great. I remembered passing a small campground not far from here so I drove over there hoping to find a Park Ranger, or Camp Host, or somebody --anybody-- who could help me get Lorraine back to our truck.

No luck. No one was around. Not wanting to leave Lorraine alone for too long, I drove back to the parking lot, praying the entire way. Thinking that a hiking boot might stabilize her ankle (too bad we didn't think of this before the hike!), I grabbed her boots, some bottled water, her jacket and ran back.

When I returned to the pump house, I found Lorraine sitting with those two wonderful elderly hikers.

(this is a picture of the the pump house and the surrounding terrain)

The four of us brainstormed for a bit. Lorraine wasn't able to stand because letting her foot dangle brought her unbearable pain. She would need to be carried out. Perhaps we could use a camp chair? So back to the parking lot the elderly gentleman and I went.

Once there, I flagged down a passing motorist and explained our situation and asked if they would drive to an emergency phone two miles up the road and call a park ranger. He responded "So you vant me to do vhut?" Figures I would wave down a foreign tourist! So I explained it again (slowly) showing them on the map where the emergency phone was located. He nodded his approval and drove off.

Meanwhile, my new best friend retrieved a folding chair from his truck and I grabbed a bed sheet that we carry in our truck (for emergency picnics) and a cloth tote bag that I thought could be used to stabilize her foot. And back we raced.

Although brilliant in theory, the chair proved to be too unstable and unwieldy. So we decided to try to "stretcher" her out. During this time a group of five young (strong) hikers happened nearby. I ran over and explained our situation. Their response was beyond my expectations as they enthusiastically replied: "OF COURSE WE'LL HELP!"

They raced passed me and ran over to pitch in. In the picture above you can see the blue sheet being laid out. We folded it length-wise, knotted the ends, gently laid her in it and proceeded to "baby-step" our way over cactus and scrub brush.

At one point Lorraine looked over at one of the young ladies who was wearing short pants and commented that her legs were scratched and bloody from the cactus. Her response was "Oh, it's no big deal. I get scratched all the time." --What wonderful people!

We stopped frequently to rest and rotate positions, with two at the front, two at the back and two in the middle.

(you can't see her but Lorraine is in the middle of this pack)

It was an amazing accomplishment that I wish I could have documented with video, because to watch nine strangers (young and old) working zealously and sacrificially to aid a woman they had never met, will probably never meet again, and to ask nothing in return, truly was a remarkable experience. It was an incredible "God thing" and speaks to the goodness of humanity.

As I was helping Lorraine into the truck, who by this time was shaking uncontrollably, one of the young hikers generously gave her one of his homemade power bars (all legal ingredients he assured us)! It was delicious!

It took about four hours from the time of the incident to the time we reached our truck, but we did it. We thanked everyone profusely, and after helping Lorraine into the truck, I turned back and everyone was gone. We had exchanged names earlier but in the adrenaline-rush of the event, I can't remember a single one of them. And to them we apologize because they deserve to have their names remembered and memorialized. We will be eternally grateful for their kindness. I don't know what we would have done if they hadn't shown up --because NO Park Ranger ever did!


Our mantra from the beginning of this journey has been that we are in this for the "experiences". We knew some would be great and some would be unpleasant, but we attempt to learn from each. So after returning home from the emergency room late that night, exhausted and hungry, I found a manila folder, put Lorraine's medical documents in it, and labeled it:

P.S. - We heartily thank all those family and friends (old and new) who have checked up on Lorraine so frequently and those who have offered for us to pull our RV into their driveway and allow Lorraine to recuperate in their home (they obviously don't know me very well!)..

Your thoughts and warm wishes mean more than you know.

We thank you all.

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