Around town, he’s generally referred to in shorthand — usually with a wide smile. That’s because “Doc PJ,” aka Craig Louis Perrinjaquet, MD, MPH, is one of Breckenridge’s most beloved locals, an appealing blend of altruistic green adventurer and quirky mountain athlete packaged into a lithe, sprite-like frame. Think Albert Schweitzer crossed with the world’s kindest elf and a Tarahumaran Indian.
Doc PJ commutes by bike every day, throughout the year, unless the temp has hit 15 degrees below zero, at which point his freewheel tends to freeze up and his bicycle fails to “start.” He’s run 18 of the 20 editions of Breckenridge’s challenging Breck Crest Trail Marathon––each time in homemade sandals crafted from recycled tire tread and climbing webbing. In 2004, when half the field was turned around at treeline due to a howling blizzard, the good Doc still ran in his sandals, but acquiesced to adding a pair of socks.
He plays stand-up bass in a local bluegrass band called The Pine Beatles, often slinging it around his back as he pedals through town to the band’s latest gig, He only heats his house when visitors are coming, and prefers to take cold showers in empathy with economically impoverished individuals around the world. At sunrise each winter morning, he pedals his mountain bike up to Peak 8 with his skis tucked alongside in a PCV pipe to skin up to the Vista Haus. Then he whizzes back to town to stop in at his favorite local bakery and coffee shop, Amazing Grace. In appreciation for their delicious pastries, he’ll grab the dented Russian bugle he keeps atop the Grace’s aging fridge, leap out onto the Grace’s listing front porch, trumpet out a few sputtering notes, then pronounce, with glee: “Fresh blueberry scones! Come and get ‘em! They’re really, really, gooooooooood!”
Twice a year, Perrinjaquet misses his local morning ritual in order to deliver a different kind of message. For the past twenty plus years, he’s spent six to eight weeks traveling the world during Summit County’s shoulder seasons to provide free medical care to people in poor, remote communities around the world.
Most of the trips require the same upbeat pluck and sense of adventure that guides his life at home. He’s canoed up remote rivers and hacked his way through jungles with a machete to provide basic medical care to thousands of indigenous Hondurans. He helped provide emergency medical care to Haitians after the 2010 earthquake. He funded the medical education of a promising young Nepalese student, then created a successful clinic with him in a remote Himalayan village that treated thousands of Nepalese villagers each year. He’s trekked deep in the rainforests of Cameroon in order to provide vaccinations and basic dental care to Baka Pygmies, and huddled in foxholes surviving a bombardment of the hospital he was serving in the Nuba Mountains of Sudan.
What motivates a ‘skinny gray-haired guy,’ as he often refers to himself, to voluntarily travel to some of the worlds’ most underserved, remote communities to offer medical care?
“Doing things for people who really need help is just more fun than having things that only help me,” says Perrinjaquet. “And, the need is so compelling. Larger organizations are not able to go to many of the places I go to.”
The world-traveling adventurer, grew up, improbably, on a farm in the tiny town of Edgewood Iowa, He left to earn a medical degree at the University of Iowa and a Masters of Public Health (MPH) from Harvard, landing in Breckenridge in 1981 to do a medical externship at the Breckenridge Medical Center (BMC). The beauty of the local mountains and the community captured his imagination, and he returned several years later to work as a newly minted doctor. Later, he helped create the High Country Healthcare Clinic where he still works as a family practice physician, offering the same thoughtful care to locals and visitors that he offers to people in need throughout the world.
While Doc PJ hopes to continue his international work in communities around the globe long into the future, Summit County is the one he loves to return to, and the one he calls home.
“I love the community here. I love the community spirit. People appreciate the affluence they have and they use it to help others. There are a lot of people here doing good work in the world.”
Doc PJ’s Perfect Breck Day:
“Wake up, meditate, ride my bike to the ski area, stop for a scone at Amazing Grace, blow the bugle to let people know that they are fresh out of the oven, dash through a cold shower, pedal off to work. End the day jamming with a Pine Beatles in the living room. After a soak in the hot tub and a few hours sleep, I’m ready to do it all again.”