Friday, January 20, 2012

Answers to all your questions

So, I broke my leg in Mexico. I have posted a couple comments to facebook and google+, and there has been the predictable flood of questions. Rather than answer the questions over and over, I figured I would write up one detailed account of the whole story, and then is anyone asks me after this point, I will either make up an entertaining new story, or direct them to the blog.

Here's the deal. Natalie has spent the last two months in Honduras, working for a Peace Corps volunteer. I flew down there around new year's day, and we planned a slow trip by land up to Veracruz, paddling where we could. I brought gear for us, but no boats.

After a few days of travelling by bus and van, we met up with a bunch of kayakers in Chiapas Mexico, at Agua Azul. We borrowed some boats, and were really happy to get on the water, especially at Agua Azul, which is like a waterfall playground, full of awesome travertine slides and cascades.

Notice that this is the first tier of a double drop. Mexico Explanation

Natalie on the second tier of the double drop. Mexico Explanation
We spent a couple hours wandering around the different channels right at putin. There were a lot of us on the water, and once we finished portaging a 50 footer into the pool right at the last observation platform in the park, we were joined by Ben Kvanli and his group, which brought the total up to something like 16 paddlers in the group. We had been hearing stories of Ben's group getting overnighted somewhere in the area, so we tried to move sort of fast.

Natalie above some random 20 footer. Mexico Explanation

Natalie dropping into a 10-15 foot drop. Mexico Explanation

From Mexico Explanation

From Mexico Explanation

In this spirit of hurrying, we arrived at the horizon line for the first of the Big 5. We had been on the water for quite a while at this point, and were starting to wonder if we would reach takeout before dark. The left side was a large single drop, maybe 70 feet or so. The right side was a 20 footer to 30 footer combo with a sliding entry. The part we were scouting was a dome of rock. On the right, there was a log leaning from the bottom pool against the dome itself, and a shallow landing. The left side of the dome was a little hard to see from where we were, but it looked like there was a pretty good chance that it was falling into some sort of crack. Plus we couldn't actually see the landing on that side.
THE drop. I tangled with those logs you see there. Mexico Explanation

We could have climbed downstream to try to see over to the far side of the dome, but we were trying to hurry. I decided that I would run right off the nose of the dome, and once I landed, I would take a look at the left side. Above the drop, I pulled the noob move, and turned the GoPro off when I thought I was turning it on. I entered the slide about like I planned, but pushed a little too far right trying to avoid the crack.

My little tiny line error quickly turned into a big error, since I had made it right on the top of the dome. Instead of sliding off the front of the dome, I slid off the right side. I hit the log that was leaning against the rock, and got knocked against the dome pretty good, then fell out from underneath it with no boof or anything, just straight vertical. I mentioned earlier that the right side had a shallow landing, but maybe I wasn't very explicit. The water that I landed in was less than ankle deep. I took a hard hit, and somehow ended up in the pool below, upsidedown, in pain.

I should have probably rolled up, but I think the pain changed my decision making process. I pulled skirt and swam, noting some strange feelings (painful ones) from my ankles as I kicked out. I stopped myself on some shallow rocks, and started giving hand signals to everyone waiting at the lip of the drop. The "crack" that I had been avoiding was, of course, totally good to go, and an easy line to hit.

The first thing that I thought of while I was waiting for help was the classic "My ankles are broke" video from when Tanner Hall broke his ankles at Chad's Gap in the Utah backcountry. I figured this was probably some karma from all those times I laughed at the techno remix. I thought about screaming a little, or quoting a couple lines from the video, but I didn't think anyone would get it. Plus, he broke both his ankles, but after a few seconds I realized that my right ankle was fine, and only the left was hurt.

I was able to keep my ankle pretty stable in the water, and I was really lucky that we had such a huge group. We got a SAM splint on it right there on the riverbank, then used a climbing harness and like 5 people to help get me up to a plateau above the river. We decided that the best choice for evacuation would be to portage me around the series of big drops, then have me paddle out 10 km of flatwater with my feet up on the deck of the boat.

Portaging with one leg, in the jungle, is hard. About 1/2 to 3/4 of the way through, we got to ground flat enough to put me in a boat and drag me, but it still took a long time. We got back to the river right around dark.
Portaging while crippled is totally easy, yo! Mexico Explanation


Once back on the water, it became apparent that the "flatwater" to takeout was actually about 4 class 3-4 drops, and THEN 10 km of actual flatwater. We managed to find a sneak past the only hard rapid, but I still fell off the boat once on an easier drop and went super deep on an eddyline. Apart from that, things were pretty uneventful. We got to takeout, where we were camping, and decided that a few hours of sleep wouldn't make too much difference for my ankle, but could help prevent us from getting ambushed and robbed on the roads.

Next morning, bright and early, Natalie and I got dropped off at the local public hospital. After a very strange experience waiting in line at the ER, we were seen by a doctor. He ordered xrays, but nobody could get ahold of the radiologist. I kept overhearing parts of conversations in spanish, and I think that they didn't have his cellphone number, or he wasn't answering, or something. Eventually somebody, probably the radiologist's assistant or a technician or something, xrayed my leg.

The x rays showed just a teensy little flake, dime/quarter sort of size, that had kind of flaked off the side of my tibia just above my ankle (that's the big bone in your shin). I felt silly for being such a wuss and making everyone carry me around the night before. We slapped a plaster support around the back half of my leg, wrapped it up in some ace bandages, and I hopped off to the waiting room. Natalie wandered around the streetside shops outside the hospital until she found me some crutches, and we got lunch before meeting up with some of the other kayakers from the day before. The crutches were about $30 US, and the hospital visit was $18.
The angle we shot in Mexico.
All that trouble for that little chip? Wuss. Mexico Explanation

For the rest of the trip, I played shuttle bunny and read a lot of books while Natalie continued to run all kinds of awesome whitewater. We traveled around with Ben and his group, and had a blast.
Natalie on the Alseseca. Mexico Explanation

Once back in the states, just to be on the safe side, I got some more x rays taken. In mexico we had shot the front and side views, but here at home they shot a third angle at sort of 45 degrees. This new shot revealed that the "little tiny flake" was actually the top of a crack that dropped straight down into my ankle joint, and that there was also a crack straight through my fibula. The cracked section of tibia looked like it might not be lined up just right, and there might be a little damage to the joint, so on monday they're going to open me up and put in some hardware to stabilize my ankle.
Oh... I see. Mexico Explanation

Taking the ace bandage "cast" off. Mexico Explanation

I have some weird feet, but this is not normal for me. Mexico Explanation

I will keep you posted as events unfold, loyal fans.

-Leif

All photos lifted from video from my GoPro HD Hero 2. Except the x rays. That might be a feature of the Hero 3.