Originally written 6/18/15.
All photos from Flickr used in accordance with this Creative Commons license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode
The Rangers introduced themselves. Amy appeared to be the team lead, a wiry, strong-looking woman perhaps in her forties, with brown hair and a ready grin. Duane was the paramedic, a tall, muscular man in his thirties. His physique and bushy reddish beard reminded me of a movie lumberjack, but his laid-back, friendly demeanor was more like a surfer. Mary, an athletic woman in her twenties with long red hair in a braid, seemed to be the junior member of the team. She might have been a new ranger or a trainee, since the other two would occasionally give her instructions or explain what they were doing.
Duane examined Ray’s knee and took his vital signs while we explained what had happened. Amy listened, then went up onto the rock overlook to radio for a litter team and someone with crutches.
“On a scale of one to ten, ten being the worst pain you can imagine, what kind of pain are you feeling right now?” Duane asked.
“When it first happened, it was about an eight,” Ray said, “but since I’ve been sitting here, it’s calmed down to like a five or six. It hurts most when I try to straighten it.”
“Can you put any weight on it?”
“Not my full weight, but a little. I can kind of hobble.”
Duane gave Ray some Tylenol to take the edge off the pain, and Amy came back from radioing the dispatcher. The three of them started talking about how to get Ray down the hill. It made me feel better that, even for these experts, the problem didn’t have an easy solution. They discussed the pros and cons of crutches, litters, and winches (!) with shrugs and shakes of the head.
“I don’t know if this helps,” Ray broke in hesitantly, “but I’m willing to try sliding down the hill on my butt, if you think that will work.”
The Rangers’ ears pricked up at this. “Do you think you could manage that?” Amy asked.
“Yeah, I think so. I could push myself along with my hands and my good leg.”
They discussed it. It seemed like the best solution all around, because it was relatively safe, didn’t require any special equipment, and was easy on the Rangers. This last point was the one that Ray kept emphasizing, saying that he didn’t want to be a burden to them.
“This way, we can go ahead and get moving toward the trailhead, instead of making you wait for the litter to get here,” he said. “We could at least meet it partway. I would hate for you to have to sit here for hours with me.”
“Don’t worry about us. We’re here for you, buddy,” said Amy. “But if you want to try sliding down the hill, let’s do it.”
Everybody seemed happier being active.
To my secret amusement, all three Rangers unstrapped crash helmets from their packs and put them on. It must have been required safety gear for a rescue, because the only even remotely dangerous part was the first hill, and that must have seemed like a cakewalk to the professionals. Better safe than sorry, I guess.
We didn’t have crash helmets, but Ray put on a knee brace that he had with him to help stabilize his knee (next time I think I’ll tell him to put that on BEFORE we start hiking). Amy also gave him a little rubber net studded with spikes to put on over the shoe of his good foot. She then unstrapped a rolled-up sleeping bag pad from her backpack.
Mary went down the incline to ask everybody at the bottom to please wait there for a while so that we didn’t end up with a traffic jam on the slope. Amy spread the pad out on the ground while Duane helped Ray sit down on it, and together they pushed, pulled, and dragged the pad down the hill.
It was like the slowest sledding ever. The snow was too soft for Ray to slide much, so although the pad helped, his arms and good leg were really doing most of the work. Duane waded through the snow on the downslope side of the trail, both helping to drag the pad and making sure that Ray stayed safely on the path; Amy walked along behind, straightening out the pad whenever it bunched up underneath.
I brought up the rear, carrying the backpack. This was a slightly harder job than it sounds like, since Ray had broken the shoulder strap when he’d fallen. Channeling my inner MacGyver, I’d had to jury rig a working strap using only the things in the pack: three bananas squashed in the fall, a bottle of water, a glucometer, a bottle of glucose tablets, several 100-calorie packs of nuts, a package of beef jerky, the car keys, and Ray’s runner number from the 5K obstacle course we’d done the weekend before, which still blessedly had a safety pin in it.
I wish I could say that I used the squashed bananas and the package of beef jerky to fix the strap (that would REALLY be like MacGyver), but mostly I used the safety pin.
I was also documenting the journey for posterity. I mean, if my birthday hike was ending with my husband having to get carried off the mountain by search and rescue, I might as well get photos, right?
I love that Amy is grabbing Ray’s hood here
After about ten minutes, we reached the bottom of the hill safely. Hooray! Ray stood up against the rocks to rest and let the patient hikers waiting at the bottom go by while he and the Rangers strategized the next leg of the trip.
The path at this point was snowpacked but mostly level, and there was the little stream to cross. Sliding on the sleeping bag pad was not going to work. Ray and Duane discussed it, and they decided that the easiest thing to do would be to have Ray try walking. Ray put one arm around Duane’s shoulders, with Duane’s arm around him for support, and Amy came along behind, holding Ray’s belt loops. (Ray said this was to slow him down, because he kept trying to go too fast. I thought it was to keep Ray’s pants from falling off).
It looks like Duane is teaching Ray to cha-cha
(And check out Amy holding Ray up by the belt loops!)
This method wasn’t fast, but it seemed to work fine.
We worked our way down the trail, Ray sliding on the hilly stretches and walking with Duane on the flat parts. Mary walked in front, keeping the path clear ahead of us, and every ten or fifteen minutes we’d stop for Ray to take a break. Amy and Duane kept asking if Ray was OK, worried that the hobbling might be making his knee feel worse, but the combination of Tylenol and activity actually seemed to be making him feel better. He’d been very upset when he’d first fallen, but now he was almost cheerful.
“You’re a rock star, Ray!” Amy said.
Duane agreed. “Easiest hike-out we’ve ever had. I can’t believe how well you’re doing for a guy with level five or six pain.”
“Better than just sitting there, waiting to be carried out,” said Ray.
I don’t know–it would have been fun to get pictures of Ray being toted down that hill on a litter.
“I love you, man!”
The rangers were amazing. Throughout the whole process, they were patient, calm, and very positive, encouraging Ray at every step. They were funny, too—while helping Ray slide down hills, Amy kept making jokes about how sledding wasn’t allowed on this trail.
“We just took the ‘no sledding’ signs down last week!” she said. “Don’t tell anybody we’re letting you do this!”
Once, while Ray was taking a breather, a family from India with two small children stopped nearby. The younger child, a girl, looked at Amy with wide eyes. I think it was the khaki uniform, complete with shiny badge and crash helmet, which caught her attention.
“Who are you?” she demanded.
“I’m a park ranger,” said Amy.
“You’re a Power Ranger?” the girl shouted in delight.
And Amy could have corrected her, but she didn’t. “That’s right! I’m the green Power Ranger.”
“Show me how you fight bad guys!” said the girl.
So Amy did some karate kicks and threw punches in the air, making sound effects with her mouth all the while. “Pow! Bam! Hee-YAAAA!”
It was awesome.
Near the bottom of the trail, we finally ran into the ranger coming up to meet us with the crutches (Amy had radioed him to send the litter back but bring the crutches just in case). Ray experimented with the crutches, but in the end he decided to try the new ranger’s hiking poles instead, since they had little spikes at the bottom to grip the snow. Those worked so well that he mostly walked by himself, with Mary in front, Duane at his side, and the other three of us–Amy, the new ranger, and me–at the back.
The new ranger was wearing not only the regulation crash helmet but also Yaktrax, which are like shoe-sized versions of tire chains for semis. The other rangers gave him a lot of grief for wearing them (since I guess the amount of the snow on the trail was no big deal for them).
“Hey, man, I thought it might get worse,” he said.
At this point, they sent me on ahead to get the car and drive it around to the near end of the parking lot so that Ray wouldn’t have to walk much farther. I skipped ahead gratefully. Not only did it feel good to be doing something useful, but the fancy outhouses were on my way to the car.
Seriously, by then, I would have been fine with this toilet. I REALLY had to go.
I drove around to the pick-up area near the trailhead’s ranger station, where Amy was waiting. She helped bundle Ray gently into the car.
“Great job, Ray! Be sure to go to the doctor, you hear?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Ray said.
Amy, Duane, and Mary, if you’re reading this, words cannot express how grateful I am to you.
I drove away, glad that we were safely down off the mountain but knowing that our ordeal was only partly over. Ray managed to get in to see the doctor on Tuesday morning, and by Friday he’d had an MRI and gotten the news that his ACL was completely torn and his meniscus so badly damaged that it might not be salvageable. He had surgery on the following Wednesday, and right now, he’s asleep in a lawn chair in the bedroom, his elevated leg swaddled in layers of gauze, ACE bandage, compression support hose, and a knee brace so big and uncomfortable that Ray keeps muttering about the Marquis de Sade. Despite the fact that he still isn’t allowed to walk without crutches, he has to do physical therapy three times a day at home (“Three weeks ago, I wanted to deadlift 400 pounds, and now all I want to do is be able to straighten my #$%! leg!”). The doctor says he’ll be in the brace for six weeks and doing PT for at least six months.
It’s been a whole new adventure.
On that Sunday, however, the diagnosis and surgery still lay ahead of us. All we knew was that things didn’t look so good. We drove back through the Park towards the entrance, me thinking a whole jumbled-up load of thoughts that included worry for Ray, plans for the worst-case future, and sadness—selfish sadness—for my lost birthday.
“You know what I need?” Ray said, breaking into my thoughts.
“What?” I said. I probably snapped it. It had been an emotional morning.
He put a hand on my knee. When I glanced over at him, I saw that his face was full of love and gratitude.
“I need some pie,” he said.
So we stopped at the Estes Park Pie Shop and had that pie after all.
For my 40th birthday, I got a hike, a surprise adventure, and a slice of cherry apple pie—and what more could a girl want, anyway?