Having served in mission for several years in Chad, Paul and Teresa (Last name removed for safety purposes) and their six youngest children presently reside in France. There they will finish theological studies in view of a new assignment in Africa. They have been with LBIM since 1997. He was stranded overnight after a bicycle accident during a ride through the mountains near his home, breaking his ribs and a hip bone. This is his story.
I usually find that if I bike 1 to 2 hours every other day, my back muscles and general well being carry on well for the demand of studies. However, since the week prior to the accident was especially long, sometimes on Saturday afternoons I will take a 3 hour hike in the mountain forestry trails, as opposed to paved, official bike trails, in order to work the back especially well and then rest on Sunday and feast with the family. This has worked out very well.
This time, though, the local car mechanic told me of a new trail I had never been on that would take me through the forest to a town high in the mountains where I’ve often biked on regular roads where there is traffic. So, I took it. It WAS gorgeous. But somewhere along the way I lost the main trail, which was a nice biking trail since it was well worn by forestry trucks. I ended up on the top of a hill with only foot trails to choose from. I chose one I thought would take me in the direction I wanted to go, but it was steep and the trail covered with leaves. My speed increased too fast, I tried several times to pump the brakes but ended up, as best I can remember, hitting a sort of hole that stopped the bike and threw me into the air down the hill. I must have done a total flip, and then landed on the right side of the back breaking three or four ribs in the back and cracking the hip bone. I rolled back and forth yelling in pain but was very conscious of the ribs now loose and rubbing against each other. I also immediately had trouble breathing.
After settling down and sizing up the situation, I was able to reach up and grab the bike and pull it toward me. I was so glad I had attached a Spring-type coat to the rear carrier, as I was getting cold and had to crawl (it was a beautiful sunny day when I set out and had questioned myself whether to attach the coat). I hoisted myself up slowly, using the arms, to lean on the bike and then slowly moved, inch-by-inch down the hill. Then I collapsed to the ground next to a trail that crossed this one, found a glove in the coat pocket, and used it as a pillow and fell asleep. In the night, I awoke and strategized as to what to do. Around me were holes dug probably by wild boar. These mountains are known for the bores and I had encountered one before in the night on bike. I managed now, after some rest, to hoist myself up onto the bike and sit on the back carrier, which actually took weight off the hip and felt OK. I stretched forward over the seat and used my left leg to push and my left hand to brake, working a short distance at a time, following the trail downhill, but slowly as not to fall. I became quite exhausted and finally arrived at a wood-log barrier set up by the forestry dept. I managed to lift up the bike by my arms, leaning on the barrier, and got the bike over the barrier.
About 50 feet ahead I saw a road. It was sort of steep and I thought: if I could get there perhaps someone will pass by. As it turns out it was a gravel road to the forester’s house. I was so exhausted I had the idea to get myself up on the seat now, then coast down to the road while bearing any pain caused by being up on the seat. As soon as I got up on the seat and tried to pedal with my left foot I fell to the right — right on the very hip and ribs already injured. It was, of course, awful, and now I was immobile. I would work for hours the next morning trying to turn over so as to stand to get down to the road, but couldn’t. I imagine it was 1 or 2 in the morning, cold, and wind blowing. I asked the Lord to send someone now to find me, or to send a warm front — my biggest concern was not to spend another night in the cold. By morning the winds stopped and the sun came out. The warmth was so good. A truck with a family in it passed twice on the gravel road, but they never looked down the trail to see me. I put my reflective vest up on a pole and waved it but to no avail (I imagine it was the forester’s family).
By about noon, or shortly thereafter, I heard footsteps, I yelled. They kept coming. It was an Australian couple who had never been in the Vosges before. He was doing research in chemistry at the University of Strasbourg and they just took a ride to the mountains, parked the car, and among several choices, chose the path I had fallen on for the second time. They left to get help and then I spotted the Gendarmes helicopter looking for me but they never got over me in order to see me through the trees.
The Gendarmes were soon there, after a call and meeting up with the Australians. They had been searching since the previous evening. And my own family Sunday morning biked and walked for hours over the mountains — it now appears on a map that Nathanael and Philip got pretty close to me and the gravel road near me, but then took a different turn!
Well, I guess that’s enough detail. I have much to be thankful for.