Trail tales: Tree lays the wood on mountain biker, jousting him from his mount and leaving a fist-sized wound

Sean Stevens finishes the Firecracker 50. On Sunday, Sept. 18, a downed tree knocked Steven from his bike and gored his leg.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Sean Steeves’ name.

Sean Steeves did not expect a tree to knock him from his mountain bike. Neither did he expect to spend 24 hours in a hospital after surgeons plucked bark from his leg.

Sunday afternoon, the 53-year-old from Golden descended a rocky doubletrack trail called Traylor Way northeast of Breckenridge on his mountain bike. Steeves moved quickly over the loose terrain. He was familiar with most trails in the area from weekends in the mountains and racing the Breckenridge Fall Classic and Firecracker 50.

A tree had fallen across the trail, positioned like a lancer’s joust, pointing up the trail and directly at Steeves.

Unable to avoid the trunk, the tip of the tree connected with his upper thigh, “jousting” him off his bike, he said, and sending him to the ground. Frustration and anger filled Steeves, mostly directed at himself for not avoiding the tree. At first he said he didn’t feel any pain, but the adrenaline didn’t last.

He initially thought of moving the tree from the trail, but then another, more pressing matter distracted him: the fist-sized hole in his leg.

Steeves immediately dialed 911 and waited for the sirens to signal the arrival of his saviors. He feared the tree had severed an artery. The worst possible scenario felt like a legitimate outcome, he said.

Before first responders arrived, a father and his adult son biking Traylor Way came upon Steeves. The father stayed with Steeves while the son cycled down to find the arriving deputy from the Summit County Sheriff’s Office.

“It was just nice to be able to see somebody,” Steeves said.

The deputy raced up the hill on his ATV, arriving a few minutes after he called 911, Steeves said. He surveyed Steeves’ bloody wound and applied a tourniquet, carrying on conversation with Steeves the whole time to assess his cognitive abilities.

Paramedics from Red, White & Blue Fire Protection District arrived about 15 minutes after he called 911, Steeves said, along with volunteers from Summit Rescue Group. The EMT removed the tourniquet to check the wound. The good news: there wasn’t enough blood to indicate an arterial bleed. That news was the highlight of Steeves’ experience, he said.

“Until the guys on bikes showed up, I legitimately thought I was going to die alone on this … trail,” he said. “I cannot express how appreciative I am of their help.”

Red, White & Blue Battalion Chief and EMT Jason Kline says they respond to those sorts of calls one to two times a month, while the Rescue Group responds to about two to four. He and a fellow Red, White & Blue paramedic responded to the scene Sunday.

The EMT finished dressing the wound in the field before Steeves was delivered via the deputy’s ATV to an ambulance waiting at the bottom of the hill. His emergency treatment ended at the Summit County Medical Center. Doctors and nurses began plucking organic material — mostly bark and dirt — from the wound. Doctors recommended surgery to remove the most stuck-in bits.

Basically, there was lots of wood, Steeves said.

Steeves was released from the hospital around 4 p.m. Monday, following surgery and a 24 hours of antibiotic treatment.

Walking is a challenge for Steeves, but he said he can navigate around the house. He picked up a few other knocks and bruises from the fall that aren’t helping his recovery.

But, all in all, he says he’ll only be off the bike for four weeks.

“I’m gonna get on the bike — nothing’s really going to change,” he said.

But he and his wife do plan to carry their Garmin inReach satellite communication device more often.

As he recounted the events, in hindsight he realized he was lucky to have cell service at the time. Up in the mountains, cell service can be spotty, which is why satellite-connected devices come in handy for those seeking thrills.

Steeves’ wife was running in Horseshoe Gulch at the time, and didn’t have service when Steeves called her to tell her about the unfortunate news.

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