Shattered Ankle: A Story of Offroading Adventure

January 12, 2020 @ 09:00 - Michael

Categories: life offroading

After recently picking up my brand new 2019 Ford Ranger, aptly name GLaDOS, I made a trip from Los Angeles up to San Luis Obispo to meet with a friend, Josh, and do some long overdue off-road riding. It's been many years since we've been relatively close to one another, and both had off-road capable vehicles that we could get off the beaten path in. We had scheduled this trip about 2 weeks prior, and were closely watching the weather the week of due to potential rain and storms that were supposed to move in and we didn't want to get rained out, nor spend most of our trip in mud/slick conditions (this is important later). However, we're both from Michigan, and a little bit of rain isn't going to cancel our plans, it's absolutely manageable. To add, while GLaDOS is stock, Josh's Jeep Wrangler is not, it's lifted with mud tires and a winch, a very off-road ready and capable machine.

Josh had done his homework and found us some really nice trails to take, nothing treacherous, avoiding as much of the mud/clay/slime as possible, as we're both more into just enjoying the trails through woods and and the scenery rather than getting absolutely filthy. As such, I managed to take nearly all of the trails we found in 2wd without any real issues. However, on the last trail that we were on, the rain had started to pick up pretty good for a while, and starting to turn some of the top coat in the trails into a bit of slick mud. The trail was still easily passable though, some slick spots, but nothing we couldn't handle, just needing to use 4wd for some "insurance" if you will. This trail also had a very interested caveat, in that it unexpected went from a highway-vehicle trail to a dirt-bike only trail without warning, at a spot that had a slick corner (due to previously mentioned rain) with no place to turn around. Our thought was to make this corner and turn around just down the hill where there appeared to be a maybe intentional flat area to turn around in, head back out and continue our adventures.

Of course, nothing could be that easy (also if it was, we wouldn't have this story!), and the stock tires on GLaDOS were a little less than up for the task in the slick surface. In trying to get around this corner, I was taking my time but the rear end started sliding down the slight hill to the point that continuing under my own power would lead to sliding off the road into the culvert ditch beside it and almost certainly rolling the truck. We got out to survey the situation and determine what we could do to get my truck anchored/moved and get going the proper way. The gotcha at this point, was that I was blocking the trail, there was no way to get behind me, and no way to continue through the trail to come around another way (it was a steep hill on one side and metal pipe railing on the other as you'll see in the photos), so we had to come up with something that would work while his Jeep was in front of me while it was the rear-end of GLaDOS that needed help. This photo should help clear it up, though it doesn't properly convey the depth of the ditch nor the incline we were dealing with.

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We got out to survey the situation and see what we could do, looking for winch or anchoring points for a snatch block, thinking we can run the winch from the front of the jeep, to an anchoring point behind GLaDOS and pull the rear end to the right and up the hill to get things going. This, however, is where our story takes a turn. While determining what our options are, and walking around GLaDOS, I slipped in the mud, going down hard, and heard a nice cracking sound in the process. (It was at this moment he knew...he fucked up.) I didn't know at the time, but I broke all three bones that hold the ankle in place (malleoli - a Trimalleolar fracture), which immediately rendered me useless to the recovery. I couldn't put any weight on it, I couldn't move it, and to top it off, it was my right ankle, so I couldn't drive either. However, I could feel my ankle floating in its joint which was quite the experience. I believe my only saving grace was the Hawx hiking boots that I had just purchased for the occasion, being tall enough to help stabilize my ankle a little on the way down, while also preventing my ankle from completely dislocating or breaking the skin. To top it off, we were in a location that had no cell phone service, and as previously mentioned, no way to get back out of the trail. Getting out of this situation was now down to just one of us, Josh, because I couldn't do anything on my own.

Luckily enough, Josh is an experienced off-roader and good at what he does, and he was able to find a wood post that was wedged into the far side of the culvert under the trail that could be used to run a snatchblock from, and run the winch to the rear of GLaDOS (running underneath) to get things going again. Here's some pictures of the full predicament as well as the rigging:

In the middle-lower-left (between the grass and the wood piece) you can see the slide marks where I fell and this whole thing went south. However, with this setup, we were able to get GLaDOS aligned correctly to get turn around. Josh managed to get his Jeep turned around as well as GLaDOS and hopped back and forth between the rigs to get them out of the worst part of the trail here until it was more stable. At this point I was able to get my mangled ankle out of the way enough to drive with my left foot. It took about 3.5 hours from original break until we managed to get to the ER in San Luis Obispo, which was a 50 minute drive from the trailhead, not to mention the 30 minutes to the trailhead itself.

I had ankle repair surgery on December 11th, and have approximately a 6-8 week recovery until I can be truly weight bearing again, with up to 16 weeks until I'm no longer assisted by any devices (including splint). I'm lucky that in almost 30 years of all my shenanigans and being a monkey, off-roading, biking, etc, this was the first time I've really ever injured anything.

And here's the xrays of what they had to do to put my ankle back together again.

-Michael



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