(Lander, WY) – Gabe Joyes, running coach, professional athlete, and virtual teacher in Lander, didn’t intend on his recent trip to Italy being a normal vacation, but the 50k he planned to compete in there had to be put on hold after suffering a near fatal accident back in May, which required emergency assistance from Lander Search and Rescue.
Joyes is an endurance runner who competes in races that are “50 kilometers, 50 miles, 100 miles, sometimes more than that,” and has been doing it for 10 years, training mostly in the Wind River mountains, Southern Winds, and Sinks Canyon areas.
On May 22nd, Joyes was training in the Fairfield Hill area (one of the limestone peaks above Sinks Canyon), for the 120k in Italy, which was less than a month away.
However, disaster struck toward the end of the 20-25 mile training run, “one of the last big runs” he was doing to train for the 120k.
Joyes commented that he was using trekking poles on this run, which are very common for endurance running to aid with uphill portions of the trails.
“Typically when I run downhill, my poles can fold into three pieces and I can strap them onto my pack,” Joyes commented, adding that is what he does 90 to 95% of the time when he runs downhill.
This time, his pack was covered up with an extra jacket he brought due to the 45 degree temperature in the canyon, so he decided to carry the poles during the downhill portion of the final two mile stretch before returning to his car.
He stated that while he never normally runs with the poles out because it “feels dangerous to do so,” it is a pretty common thing to see among trail runners.
Joyes then added that it was hard to watch some fellow racers doing the same thing at the 50k which he ended up having to experience as a spectator.
“I was just watching cringing, but it’s totally normal.”
While descending the trail on that return, Joyes kicked a rock and fell forward.
Gabe said that falling is a relatively common thing to happen while trail running, but this time knew something was wrong as soon as he felt the impact of the fall.
As he fell, the handle end of the pole lodged into the ground, and Joyes landed on the spiked end with the full force of a downhill momentum tumble, which punctured a vein near his femoral artery in the hip flexor muscle area, where thigh and hip meet.
Joyes described the shock of seeing blood “gurgling and pulsating” out of the wound “like a faucet.”
“Pain, panic in the brain; everything was wrong.”
At that point the wilderness training Joyes had undergone over a decade prior kicked in.
He applied pressure to the wound by shoving his hand into the puncture hole, later using his extra waterproof jacket to do the same.
Gabe then raised his feet and head, and wrapped himself in his extra jacket to avoid hypothermia from the combination of blood loss and sweat in the cold and windy conditions.
He then used his teeth to open his backpack and retrieve his phone, all while maintaining pressure on the wound with his hands and jacket.
Two bars of service were all he had.
Joyes instinctively called his wife first, explaining that in the moment he felt he could better describe his location to someone he knew was also very familiar with the area.
(It should also be noted that John Gookin, now former Lander Search and Rescue commander, later commented on their Facebook page that, “If Gabe had dialed 911 with his cell phone, dispatch would immediately get his grid coordinates to give to responders, getting us there much sooner. Thanks to Gabe for being so open about learning from this unfortunate accident.”)
The initial phone call lasted 15 seconds, and he gave his wife enough information to get the ball rolling on a potential rescue.
She called back after about 10-15 minutes to get more details, and after that call ended Gabe attempted to phone 911.
“This is 911, what’s your emergency?” were the last words Gabe heard before service ran out, and he had no contact with anyone for over an hour.
During the time before he heard any signs of potential rescue, Joyes began feeling the effects of the cold, wind, and blood loss, and began shaking to the point where holding pressure on the wound was becoming difficult.
Concerns of passing out were also on his mind.
The first sign of help was a volunteer Search and Rescue Worker who Joyes said happened to be in the area on their ATV, but medical aid was still a while away as the volunteer didn’t have any aid equipment on them at the time.
The volunteer did have a tarp that he wrapped Joyes in, the first moment of relief from the cold, and he also sent their location to the Search and Rescue helicopter awaiting their coordinates.
15 minutes later the Search and Rescue emergency responders arrived in the helicopter, and began addressing his situation.
After receiving the initial narcotics that sent him into a “magical melting ice cream world” of relief, the next thing Gabe remembered was flying over Twin Creek on their way to the hospital in Casper.
At the hospital, Joyes learned that even though he suffered an extreme amount of blood loss, he still had enough of a red blood cell count to avoid receiving a transfusion, and was also able to avoid any kind of surgery.
Gabe was released the next day, but then discovered his calf muscle had also been torn in the fall, an injury that has since taken longer to heal than the actual puncture wound.
Despite the lack of surgery and further complications, recovery has been slow for Joyes, who commented that a subsequent half-mile walk with his kids felt like “summiting Everest.”
Gabe then began taking slow bike rides with his daughter, was eventually able to start running again after receiving more physical Therapy, and has since returned to almost normal.
He is now training for the “El Vaquero Loco 50k” in Star Valley in August, with plans for a 100 mile race in September.
In terms of anything Gabe would have done different, he shared that two items were not in his bag that would have helped immensely: a space blanket he thought was there but wasn’t, and a Garmin InReach GPS locator that he chose to leave behind since he was in such close proximity to his car.
Gabe now advises others to never leave life-saving items like these behind out of convenience, even if you will most likely never end up using them.
“Having that extra thing or two with you that can make a big difference in a nasty situation is prudent and worthwhile, if not for you then the people that love and care about you.”
That GPS locator is now in his pack for every run.