LOGAN PASS – Joe Stone lives by his goals.
His first goal following the accident was to simply breath on his own again; then sit up on his own again; and finally to be on his own again. Each time he has achieved his goals with remarkable speed.
And last Friday morning – at just under two miles per hour – he was doing it again. As he rounded the corner his most ambitious goal yet was before him: Logan Pass.
As the sun jetted down mountain valleys, illuminating wild flowers and snow piles, Stone slowly biked his way up the steep road, his arms working like a locomotive’s pistons: in and out; in and out; in and out.
“Baby steps,” he whispered to himself between heavy breaths.
Almost a year to the day that Stone was paralyzed in an accident he was biking the Going-to-the-Sun Road.
On Aug. 13, 2010, Stone, who was born and raised in Minnesota but moved to Missoula to be closer to the outdoor activities he loved, was about to make his forth speed-flying run of the day from the face of Mount Jumbo, a sport similar to paragliding. Shortly after 8 p.m. he ran and jumped off the mountain and began to descend. Moments after he took to the air, according to witnesses and news reports, his chute got tangled and he began to plummet to earth. Stone estimated he hit the ground anywhere from 50 to 60 miles per hour.
The crash knocked him unconscious, broke four ribs, seven vertebrae, punctured his right lung and liver, and damaged his heart and spinal cord.
“I actually don’t remember anything from that (day),” he said. “My knowledge of this is through what eyewitnesses said.”
As Stone lay there, lifeless in the tall grass, witnesses ran to his side and called 911. Soon he was being loaded into a helicopter destined for Missoula’s St. Patrick Hospital where he spent the next few days in the ICU. It didn’t look like he would survive, according to his childhood friend Tyler Sweeney.
“We thought for sure he was going to die,” he said.
Stone was put into an induced coma for three and a half weeks following the accident, before being moved back to his native Minnesota, so both he and his girlfriend Amy could be close to family.
“My personal story doesn’t really start until after I came out of my coma,” he said.
And when he did, Stone found that he was paralyzed from the chest down and unable to move his legs. He began eight months of therapy, which started with just sitting up. After a few months in the hospital, Stone moved into a new home with his girlfriend in Minnesota.
It was during this time that Stone realized there was a major void in his life.
“My whole life was my hobbies,” he said. “I loved the outdoors … Every weekend I was off in the mountains.”
Stone was determined not to let the accident, which could have taken his life, alter his lifestyle. Just a few months into his therapy, Stone came up with the idea of hand cycling Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park. It was the perfect plan, he thought, because biking the road was something he had always wanted to do.
It was a plan that surprised Sweeney.
“When he said he wanted to do it this summer I was shocked. I mean he was still in rehab,” Sweeney said, remembering back to earlier this year when his friend first proposed the idea.
In the spring of 2011, planning began for a return trip to Montana and to cycle the iconic 50-mile road. To bike the road Stone found a hand cycle and soon after his physical therapy was complete he began training endlessly for the trip, which was to take place before the first anniversary of the accident.
Last week Stone gathered with a group of friends and headed into the park, starting the trip up and over Logan Pass early on Friday morning. Shortly after noon, Stone came around the corner and was able to see the pass across the valley, another two miles away on the twisting and turning road, jammed with summer traffic.
It was a long way from his accident 364 days earlier.
Patrick Kinville, a childhood friend who was also biking, couldn’t help but smile as he watched Stone slowly roll up the road.
“Initially it didn’t look like he was going to make it,” he said, thinking back to the accident. “So this never crossed my mind.”
Stone said that biking the road was the first step in getting his life back.
“It’s cool that I’m doing something I wanted to do anyway. Now I’m just doing it with my arms rather than my legs. I’ve done a lot of big things in my life, but none of it compares to this,” Stone said. “It’ll be the biggest moment of my life.”
And even as his newest goal was within reach, Stone was already thinking of the next.
Stone has been blogging about his recovery and hopes to turn it into a nonprofit group to help him reach out to people in similar situations. Stone may make the same bike trip next year as a way to raise money for others and eventually he wants to open a camp in Montana.
“That’s the big dream in the end,” he said. “But it looks like it’ll be a lifelong thing.”
As he biked past a long rock wall, high above the valley floor, Stone began to turn the hand cycle toward the side of the road to catch his breath and let traffic pass.
But he wasn’t about to give up.
“There’s no quitting now,” he said, pointing to the road behind him. “Not after that.”
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