At 0800h I was standing in my room at the B & B, holding the silver emergency blanket in my hand. I gauged its weight and worked at stuffing it into my already bursting camelback. The pack was full, mostly due to the 2L water bladder, but I had also managed to squeeze in 3 nutrigrain bars, a headscarf, my mobile, a few tissues, and a headlamp. My first adventure race was only 2 weeks away, so I had driven to Westport the night before to join the training group and suss out the upcoming racecourse. In a rush I’d ‘packed’ by basically throwing all my outdoor gear into the car, hoping I’d managed to toss in all the essential pieces of kit.
“I am only going on a road ride and a run, I am definitely not going to need my emergency blanket or my headlamp. The last thing I want is an overstuffed pack bouncing on my back while trying to run” I thought.
I pulled the blanket and headlamp out of the camelback and transferred them to the larger pack that I take on hikes. This pack always contains my mitts, 2 winter hats, spare socks, earmuffs, and rain pants. Just in case.
I couldn’t have predicted that 5h later I’d be pulling the camelback apart thinking,
“Wait!!! I had an emergency blanket in there this morning…did I leave it in or put it in my other pack?? Ohhh…”
So I finished getting dressed in my long biking pants, tank top, t-shirt, long-sleeved merino wool top, and windbreaker. I usually end up overheating and cursing every layer once my heart rate gets going, but it seemed windy enough to warrant the wool shirt. I kept it on and headed out the door for what I thought was going to be a morning consisting of a bike maintenance workshop, followed by a group road ride, and short run.
Due to a miscommunication with Paul, the trainer, regarding the schedule, I ended up cycling to the base of Croagh Patrick without my running shoes. He felt terrible and offered to head back to town and collect them for me. I was embarrassed that I’d misunderstood the plan and contemplated going up in my clips, but he insisted, so I gave him my keys and waited.
By the time Paul returned most of the training group were trickling back into the parking lot after hiking to the shoulder. He handed the shoes over and suggested that I hike to the top (since that was how far I’d have to go on race day). He gave me his mobile number and said he’d go through the rest of the course with me on my own once I’d cycled back to town, later in the afternoon. I was so mortified over being the most high maintenance participant of the day that I didn’t mention that I had no way of locking up my road bike while heading up the mountain. I waited for everyone to leave and then negotiated with the elderly Irishman selling walking sticks from a stall in the parking lot. I told him I’d be 2 hours maximum and he agreed to keep an eye on my bike as long as I propped it within view of the stall.
It was noon, there were snatches of blue sky scattered amongst the clouds, but the top of Croagh Patrick was wrapped in a heavy grey fog. It was the best that one could hope for in terms of Irish weather so I struck off. I started my GPS timer and (mostly cheesy) ipod running mix, trying to move as fast as I could up the mountain, partly to take advantage of the weather and partly because I didn’t want to keep Paul waiting once he was done with the training group.
An hour later I was nearing the top of the mountain, which is mostly a rocky scramble. Despite the cold wind and scattered rain, I had long ago shed all my top layers and was down to a sweaty t-shirt. I was hammering away with Daft Punk and Fat Boy Slim blaring, feeling good.
Then I saw a small cluster of people crouched down on the trail ahead. I thought for a moment that it was just a group of melodramatic teenagers taking a breather from the sustained final push to the top. Then I noticed that one of them was lying on the trail with blood on her face.
I crouched down and she opened her eyes. I asked what had happened and if I could help. The person on the ground was a woman in her thirties with soft brown curls framing her bruised and swollen face. A cut across the bridge of her nose bled in a line down her cheek and along her neck. She was covered in a mix of raincoats and sweatshirts, visibly shaking. Her clear blue eyes opened when I asked her her name and she told me it was Maggie. A hover of teens surrounded her. They said she’d fallen and hit her head but she hadn’t been knocked out. A frantic looking middle aged man in a blue cableknit sweater and khaki pants spotted with blood approached me and said that mountain rescue had been called and that they were on their way. I asked if there was anything I could do, he said “Uhhh…I don’t think so, mountain rescue will be here shortly…”
In these situations I never know how to state my credentials, going into a ramble about being an ex-ER / arctic nurse, now 3rd year medical student, with a smattering of trauma and backcountry courses, seems a little too long-winded and confusing. So I decided to distill it down to ‘student doctor’ even though it sounded vaguely ridiculous at the time. Especially since that part of my background was probably going to help me this least at this point.
“I just want to make sure she’s ok, I am a student doctor...can I quickly check her out?”
“Wait…what?”, the man said, “oh thank God! You’re a student doctor? Once you’ve looked at Maggie can you come and see the girl? I think she is in worse shape.”
It was then that I saw a second huddle of teens away from the trail, on a steeper aspect of the scree, about 5 meters away.