1000 Miles with a Broken Leg

by Bill Carpenter

Near the end of a typical climbing day at Devil’s Lake State Park in Wisconsin, I wandered off to do some bouldering. After being satisfied with a little move, I slowly lowered myself to a 2ft drop and let go. Hiding beneath leaf litter in the landing zone was a rock about 6in square. The rock caught my left foot and ankle.

At first it appeared to be nothing more than a bad sprain and not wanting to inconveince my partners, I hobbled out to the parking lot, that was the first 2 miles. The next 150 miles was spent riding in a car to Chicago where I caught a flight home to NJ and at least another mile of limping through O’Hare airport.

When the flight arrived in Newark, there was still more limping to reach my car, which of course was a standard transmission. By this time it was after midnight, the roads were clear and I managed to operate three pedals with just the right foot for the last 60 miles.

The next day I visited an emergency room, where the doctor misdiagnosed the fracture. Fortunately he sent me on a follow-up appointment with a more qualified doctor who asked “How did I get here?”

He obviously meant the appointment. I told him that I walked in. He just shook his head. I didn’t tell him about the hike out and the two airports and the driving.

I acted with hubris by bouldering on my own without a spotter, with impatience by not waiting for the group to finish and with poor judgment due to general tiredness.

I got lucky, the situation could have been much worse. I have had some more dramatic encounters in the mountains, but none quite as humbling.

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