PASADENA, Calif. -- He ate dry leaves and grass, drank his own urine and was confronted by a bear.
But Luis Cruz, the 26-year-old who was stranded for 12 days with a broken back in the Angeles National Forest, said Wednesday he never lost his faith that he would survive the ordeal.
"I was never afraid to die," the born-again Christian said from his hospital bed here. "I was in real pain, real tired ... but God never left my side. I was never alone."
He wore a string of rosary beads around his neck, reciting "prayers whenever it was necessary," he said.
Cruz, a native of El Salvador who lives in the San Fernando Valley community of Arleta, said he was comforted by his father's words -- that perseverance in difficult times turns boys into men.
Unable to walk, he crawled for miles during his harrowing experience, but he could joke Wednesday about coming face-to-face with an unexpected companion only 15 feet away.
"I suddenly woke up and there was a bear," Cruz chuckled. "He was scared, and I was scared. He ran away, but I couldn't."
Cruz was rescued Tuesday afternoon after he was discovered by a hiker about seven miles from the campground where he had abandoned his disabled truck Aug. 9. He had intended to walk home.
He was flown to Huntington Hospital in Pasadena, where he was reported in "fair to good" condition late Wednesday. Doctors said Cruz suffered a fractured vertebrae, a dislocated left shoulder and numerous cuts and bruises. Andrea Stradling, a hospital spokeswoman, could not say how long Cruz would remain at Huntington.
The Valley College student, who is studying biology, was well enough to talk about the ordeal for a half-hour with a small group of reporters in his fourth-floor hospital room. He offered no explanation for his decision to walk home after his Chevy Tahoe sports utility vehicle was disabled.
Equipped with a backpack with water and books, Cruz said all was well until he fell some 15 to 20 feet off a cliff into a wooded canyon that contained a small stream.
"I landed on my feet," he said, explaining that's how he broke his back in the fall.
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