La Donna Immobile

Pian della Bala, Monte Grappa…and far below, the Asolo Hills and Veneto plain

What beautiful riding weather we’re having these days. How I wish I were out on the road, instead of sitting here at my desk with my leg in a cast!…a broken ankle…not from a cycling crash, but a hiking accident.

The Sunday of the ceremony on Monte Grappa, I rose early, picked up my friends Marisa and Silvano, and drove a short distance to the head of Valle San Liberale, the starting point for several trails that go up the mountain. We headed up Sentiero 151, arriving at Pian della Bala, then continued on to Malga Val Vecia (a mountain dairy hut). After a brief stop, we left for the last leg of our hike. Up until this point, the trail required a lot of attention and concentration, as it was rocky and in many sections skirted the tops of sheer cliffs. I don’t consider myself a skilled hiker, so my steps are always slow and deliberate; in 41 years years of climbing and descending steep, rocky, slippery trails, I’ve never had so much as a slip.

I emerged from the forest and onto the edge of an open, grassy basin. The monument was in clear view now, just 700 ft above my head. The trail was practically level, and mostly packed earth. The fresh, cool air, a sense of well-being, and the desire to reach the summit on time for the start of the ceremony, gave me a burst of energy, and I quickened my pace. And then I made the oldest mistake in the book: I took my my eyes off the trail to look up at the mountain top. Suddenly, I was falling–not forward, or even sideways, but a twisting, flailing-every-which-way fall which must have looked bizarre and ridiculous. As I was about to impact with the ground, I felt a big snap in my right ankle, the force moving in an outward direction, and then a second snap in the opposite direction. In a split second, visions of all the wonderful things I had planned for the coming month played in my head like a little movie, and I saw them all slipping away.  A number of people immediately came to my aid, and gently carried me onto the grass. My ankle didn’t hurt unless I tried to move my foot, but I knew better than to try to stand. I saw my friends arriving and looking around for me, then spying the injured person lying on the ground and realizing that that person was me! They rushed to my side, wearing expressions of alarm, incredulity, and dismay.

The question was, why had I fallen? I looked at the trail and spied what had to be the culprit: a pair of protruding roots. I remember my right foot slipping, and think that my left boot–or trekking pole–must have gotten stuck under the other root.

I got out my cell phone and Marisa called 118, the medical emergency number. A person from the local squad called back to ask our exact location, and I was reassured to learn that it was Dr. Tommasi, who is not only our town doctor, but the doctor for the local Soccorso Alpino (Alpine Rescue) unit–and one of my heroes. Marisa read him the coordinates from my Garmin GPS. Now, the strange thing is, just a few days before, it had occurred to me that another reason for carrying a GPS is to report the precise location of an injured person. That came to mind as I was walking out the door that morning, and I actually went back in the house to get my Garmin. A premonition?

In the meantime, neighbors, acquaintances, and people I’d met earlier on the trail were passing by, and they stopped to wish me well. It felt good to be surrounded by familiar, friendly faces.

It wasn’t long before two tall, trim Soccorso Alpino men in red uniforms came striding down the path, carabiners clanking. They quickly and professionally checked me out. The doctor on duty arrived and examined my ankle, which was hardly swollen and still didn’t hurt much. “I don’t think it’s broken,” he said, but I told him about the crack I’d felt, and that I definitely couldn’t walk. The two mountain rescue men assembled the stretcher they’d carried in a big duffle bag, loaded me on it, and began carrying me back down the trail I’d just come up. It was a strange sensation, not being able to see anything but the sky, as I listened to them coordinate their movements. I had total trust in them, and felt safe and secure.  We arrived back at the malga, where fellow CAI (Italian Alpine Club) members, acquaintances and strangers alike came over to ask me what had happened, offer me a drink, and express their regrets at my misfortune. A 4×4 (the real kind) took me back down to Pian dela Bala, and continued on to Campo Croce, where a huge crowd was enjoying a festival of morlacco and bastardo, delicious traditional cheeses produced in the malghe on Monte Grappa.

From there an ambulance took me to the hospital in Crespano del Grappa for evaluation. Beppe B., a hospital volunteer from my town, did a double take when he looked down at the arriving patient and saw that it was me.  “Take good care of her,” he told the medical personnel; “è della mia classe.” (meaning, born the same year, which here is the basis for a kind of bond). Then the kind, friendly face of Dr. Tommasi appeared. I felt foolish explaining how I’d fallen; it’s not like me to make such mistakes. He didn’t think the ankle was broken either, but sent me by ambulance to Castelfranco Veneto for x-rays. A fractured malleolus. I was actually glad, because I would have hated to have put so many fine people to so much trouble for a sprained ankle. The nurse applied a temporary cast; I returned two days later for the permanent one, which I’ll be wearing until Sept. 2.

There were a number of positive aspects of this experience, the most gratifying of which was the feeling of being a part of the mountain community, where the values of solidarity, generosity, caring, and helping others are much in evidence. My heartfelt thanks go to all the volunteers who spend their holidays and free time, and sometimes even risk their lives, in the service of strangers in need.

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