Could What's In Your Pack Save You?

I was tucked in the fetal position on the ground, still in my riding pack and helmet. My bike was about 10 feet away from where I crashed. I was holding my left arm just above my wrist, which looked like something you might see on a scarecrow. Not the correct anatomical position. I only looked at it once, then quickly decided I was not to do that again. You know that song: “The hand bone’s connected to the arm bone…” Well, mine wasn’t anymore. I shattered my radius, snapped my ulna and—oh yeah—my shoulder hurt too.

I was somewhere between Telluride, Colo., and Durango, Colo., on a beautiful, fun mountain trail, around 11:30 a.m. The elevation was around 11,000 feet.

There are so many things I’ve learned from being a Western Spirit guide these past seven years: How to make lasagna in a dutch oven, how to back up a trailer, how to open a beer with your pedal. I could go on all day. But there is one thing I’ve learned that stands out above the rest: You can never be too prepared. I commonly make jokes about how heavy my riding pack is, and how there are small children that weigh less. But that day, in the rugged San Juan mountains, my pack saved me. 

If you’ve spent anytime in the summer up in the mountains in Colorado, you know what it does every afternoon. The temperature drops considerably when the rain starts at higher elevations. Ironically, it started to rain that day right when I hit the ground. Luckily, I was not alone out there. I happened to be working—guiding a Telluride-to-Durango singletrack trip with my husband—and happened to be in the amazing company of seven guests, two of which were surgeons. When the rain started, out came the down jacket and Gore-tex shell from my pack. Soon to follow was 800 mg of Ibuprofen, the trauma shears to cut my glove off, since there was no way I could pull it off my hand, and the satellite phone to call for help. There is no cell phone service around those mountains, so I threw the SAT phone in my pack earlier that morning just in case. 

My goal quickly changed from getting everyone to camp safely to how fast could I get to the closest hospital. Unfortunately, I was nowhere near a hospital. Actually, I was three hours or so from the closest highway. Overall, it took me almost six hours to get to the hospital. One of the doctors ended up pulling traction and resetting my wrist because I wasn’t getting any blood to my hand. We used my SAM’s splint and an ACE wrap to support my wrist, then made a sling with my triangle bandage for my separated shoulder. The emergency blanket made an appearance as well when I started to go into shock when the doc pulled on my hand.

I’m sharing this story in hopes of making you rethink what you take on longer rides. I know it may be common sense, but these amazing mountain bikes take us to some far away, beautiful places. Prepare for the adventure!