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The Art of Traveling with a Broken Leg

January 5, 2011
"Are you trying to break the other leg as well?"

For the most part this takes a large dose of determination along with resourcefulness, patience and endurance. I learned this art after breaking my leg while mountain biking then finding myself unable to stay still along with a prior commitment to attend a wedding in the US mid-west. My plan had been to drive east from Vancouver through Canada for as long as I had time and return via Indiana but I could no longer depress the clutch so I sold my car and bought a plane ticket instead. Not as drastic as it may sound because I would only have 3 weeks left in Canada after being able to use the leg again, so I was only doing what I needed to do anyway but sooner.

When you’ve broken your leg you are suddenly forced to lift your entire weight using your arms and shoulders, then swing yourself forward with the aid of your stomach muscles, all of which have nowhere near the strength endurance of your legs. As for me, my first days on crutches I struggled to go further than a couple of blocks, and with that my shoulders, chest muscles, lower and upper arm and stomach muscles were painful. The next day everything still ached, along with bruised hands just to cheer me up a little more. Unfortunately, I had the underarm-style crutch which required me to grip them under my arms to stabilise them rather than them being stabilised by a ring round the arms. This meant for the whole time I also had to wear a sports-bra because otherwise my bra under wiring chaffed terribly!

With stubbornness and a “no pain, no gain” attitude I mustered on through the pain barrier to do things that needed to be done and still get around to be sociable and make the most of the awkward situation. I had a visitor from England and so wanted to show him around Vancouver. The muscles got the idea after a about a week but those bruised hands stayed for the duration. Bearing this in mind, you can imagine that adding extra weight in items that would need to be packed for a trip away will add to the above issues. Also, everything needed must be packed in a backpack as you have no free hands for the odd extra this or that.

I was packing for sightseeing, visiting friends, and a family wedding in late October. I had a faithful, roomy, 25 litre backpack with a handy expansion section on the front where it is possible, for example, to stash a coat if too hot. Here is a list of what I managed to fit either in the bag or on my person:
Travel towel, wash kit (everything less than 100ml for carry-on air travel), 4 sets of underwear, dress, trousers, small cardigan, pretty shoes (flat), 2 pretty tops, 2 t-shirts (1 worn), thermal, woolly hat, scarf, pair of jeans (worn), hooded sweater (worn or tied round waist), a book, a diary, phone charger, mp3 player, camera, wallet, phone. The latter 4 items I carried in the pockets of a long coat. In addition I stashed a sleeping bag in the expansion section of the bag. Overall it wasn’t too light, but given that I would need and use everything I took, it was the best I could do. This kit would last me nearly 3 weeks with a a few washes of course!

One advantage of the injury I sustained is that because of the location of the break in the knee, I didn’t need a cast. No extra weight there and it was fairly maneouverable into awkward spaces on planes/cramped buses etc!

After having got my muscles used to my own weight, carrying the bag was like starting out all over again with the pain in the shoulders returning and my hands were really not thanking me but I made my choice. Padded gloves may help a little but you still are putting a lot of pressure on a relatively small location (compare size of hand bar to size of feet).

For all of the cities I visited, I found accommodation that was close to public transport or had friends or family to pick me up from train/bus. The Skytrain in Vancouver has elevator/lift access to all stations so never caused any trouble. Some of the other cities’ subways did not have such easy access and so stairs often had to be navigated. I took them as a necessary challenge. I soon honed hopping down several stairs at once (handrail assisted) only occasionally finding that my sleeping bag would be shaken loose from its location, but it would never go far as I’d secured it to the bag.

As soon as I possibly could I would deposit the bag at my accommodation and set off with just my camera, wallet, phone and mp3 player upon my person to discover the city. For the most part, people on public transport were accommodating, but it was an interesting social experiment and I soon came to compare cities by how polite and courteous people were on the buses and subways. Here are my observations: Vancouver-bus drivers lower bus step and people move out of easy access seats without asking. Quebec City-as Vancouver. Montreal-I had to ask folk on subway to let me have a seat. Toronto-I had to ask folk on bus let me have a seat and had to stand up holding on for dear life on some occasions. Akron, Ohio – as Toronto.

On my journey I managed to board planes (all airlines are very helpful and provide wheelchairs and porters if requested), buses, coaches, and Amtrak trains. Boarding was probably the most tricky, but just a variation on navigating stairs but with the challenge of a narrow entrance and steeper steps. Exiting usually involved handing the crutches over to someone and using the handrails to aid getting down. Navigation of the inside of these vehicles was mostly done hopping, and I was once surprised to not be the only one doing so. One plane I shared with a lady who only had one leg, the other being non-existent apart from a stump above the knee.

In conclusion, if you can’t cope with sitting still whilst having a broken leg and want to go elsewhere, it is certainly possible. If you have a choice of where you can go, one of the easiest places to visit and navigate is Vancouver. Certainly it is a lovely city, surrounded by mountains, by the sea and packed with easily accessible tourist attractions. It was a shame I had already seen it all and wanted to go somewhere else!

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. Flights permalink
    January 5, 2011 7:44 am

    Hats off to you and post also.I like the courage you have.Awesome experience you shared about your travel.I like the post so much.Thanks for sharing your travel experience.Hope you will soon recovered.

  2. Liberator permalink
    April 6, 2011 4:44 pm

    This is the first time I comment on your site, but I’ve been reading it for a while now. I admire the passion with which you write the articles and dream that someday I can do the same.

  3. Liberator permalink
    October 9, 2011 7:08 am

    Well, this is quite interesting indeed. Would love to read a little more of this. Great post. Thanks for the heads-up.

  4. Lisa permalink
    February 17, 2012 1:50 am

    I just broke my leg and am flying
    to Mexico in two days. I live not far from Vancouver. Kelowna. Anyway, mixed feelings about
    going, bit scared but I can’t get a refund so I’ll go and tan.

  5. Pat Warrington permalink
    December 6, 2013 6:25 am

    I have broken my hip here in the UK and need to get to the north of Vancouver Island four months after the break. My hip is screwed together. Thanks for your info. I now know I can make it but my concern is the smaller aircraft up to Port Hardy. It only has wire rails on the aircraft steps. How do I negotiate them?

    • crazybikelady permalink*
      December 6, 2013 8:45 am

      If you have crutches you should make it but in any case make sure you book assistance from the airline and I should think they can help if needed. Have a safe trip.

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