Saturday, August 24, 2013

A heck of a story...

I found myself standing in a bike shop again, of all places, with a helmet in hand.   Something I had decided on the side of a trail (quite colorfully I might add) that I would never do again.

The manager had a puzzled look on his face as I hesitantly put my purchase on the counter.  Perhaps I was telegraphing my conflicting thoughts on the moment a bit more overtly than I had intended.  In the end, I handed him my credit card, signed the flimsy slip of paper, and took my bulky purchase of a new Giro helmet under my arm, and squinting in the summer sunlight, walked through the door into the humid Alabama air.

Insert cheesy rewind visual here--back to the morning of April 21st.

I stepped on the scale this morning and was down to race weight.  I felt fast.  I felt strong.  I felt like this season was going to be the best ever.  My riding workouts were getting easier by the week and I felt that I would be strong enough to really do some damage at whatever I entered this season.  Being a 40 year old guy with three kids and a job, whatever I entered would probably be one of the last strong competitive seasons I could get a hold of.  I had a big hairy goal of winning my division of the Oak Mountain Bump and Grind this year.  I know I'm not a professional and really not all that fast in the overall, but I had some speed and strength.  I had placed second in my age group the year before, and realized if I rode at the edge of throwing up for just a little longer on the climb, I might be able to pull off a win.  As long as the dude with the tree trunk legs didn't show up again...

Seriously, the guy who won was 90% leg...

It was a spring day, one of those clear days where the sky is really deep blue and the humidity of the deep south hasn't set in yet for the duration of the summer.  I had the gigantic orange Niner bike on the back of the truck and the family and I went to early Mass at OLV, which has the added benefit of being about 10 minutes from the parking lot of the Oak Mountain State Park where I planned to ride.

I think back on the irony of my conversation with Brenna as we left church.  Something to the effect of "I can't crash anymore; it's just too hard on me.  I'll be careful, but I'm totally riding the downhill section of the loop today!"  Giddy like a kid as I usually was when thinking of bombing over the drops and around the turns.  She just rolled her eyes like most of the times when I get excited about riding that bike.

We parted ways with a quick smooch that made the kids say "Eeew! Mom! Dad!", and I said I'd be back in a couple of hours since it would take me about 90 minutes to finish the loop.

The ride itself was going well.  It was cool and dry.  The trails were solid enough that your wheels weren't sliding all around in dust, but it wasn't the normal summer tacky trail where you would either confidently stick through any angle of a turn or would find a puddle from the recent rains that would cover you in muck.  I ground up the double track that led to the Lightening trail, sweat dripping on the Niner slogan printed on the top tube - PEDAL D*MN IT! I road out the narrow bridge funnel that weeds the people out that really don't have the skills to be on the trail.  Then I dropped into the flow of the hills and table top jumps with a yell and a grin.  The wind rushing.  The gears clicking.  Wheels rumbling over the terrain.

I rounded a burmed turn pedaling as fast as I could, grin still planted firmly on my face.  Had I died at that moment, it would have been an effort for the mortician to make me look like I wasn't enjoying myself even in death.  As I came off the turn, I realized I had forgotten a quick steep ramp in the trail.  I was going much to fast for it.  I hit the brakes as hard as I could as I climbed the face of the jump.  It was already over.  The suspension on the bike compressed and as I came over the top, the bike was thrown forward violently into the air.  I landed and rode the front wheel down the face of the jump for a moment and then went over the bars.

I hit hard.

First the right arm, out to catch myself, crunched as it broke, and I rolled to the left and felt the hit on my head and left shoulder.  The air went out of my lungs and the pieces of helmet flew around.  I sat up in the cloud of dust knowing I had broken my arm.  I had broken my leg just 15 months earlier and had plates removed in surgery just 2 months before that ride.  I howled into the woods.  "NO!  I CAN'T HAVE DONE THIS AGAIN!"  I was on my own in the woods on a Sunday morning.  Not many people would be by to help, and I had a way to go.  I kicked the Niner off the trail so nobody else would hit it coming over the rise, and I pushed off with my left arm to try to get up.  My shoulder collapsed awkwardly to my cheek, and what I discovered to be a compound fracture of my collar bone made my situation a touch more complicated.  I was stuck, alone on a steep winding downhill trail, miles from my car, and I couldn't use my arms.  I rolled and contorted myself to get to my knees and managed to stand.  In the cloud of pain and possibly a few tears (not that I would admit it), I started to walk downhill with my arms crossed in across my chest to keep them from shifting the bones.  I walked, searching for the main trail, where I might find a passing rider to help me.

I wandered off the trail for a while to avoid the steep sections where I might slip and fall again.  Being that I couldn't catch myself if I slipped made this a pretty wise choice I thought.  I kept the trail in sight as I walked to avoid becoming disoriented and lost in my state.  After a time, I started yelling "HELP" into the forest.  As much as I wanted to - and I tried mind you - I didn't sound manly at all.  I just was hoping somebody would come and help get me off the trail.  I luckily ran into a husband and wife riding at the exit of the downhill onto the main trail.  I had no idea who they were, but they stopped and called 911 for me.  The husband left his bike and helped me hike the next half mile or so to the double track where a ranger could get a truck to get me.  His wife raced ahead to reach and direct anyone coming.

The end of the double track trail was a flashing parade of red and white strobe lights.  A pumper fire truck (Why? I'm hot and all but my abs aren't what they used to be...) and an ambulance had come to get my miserable body out of the wilderness and into some hideous hospital.  I love doctors and nurses.  They are possibly the most wonderful people in the world, but I hate hospitals.  They stink of disinfectants, sickness, and pain.  There's something deep in the primitive portion of your brain that tells you to avoid places that smell like that.  I should try to listen to what it tells me more often.

Funny side note.  The paramedic nurse that helped get me stabilized was a skydiver and we talked about that and how much safer it was than cycling.  I only broke an arm in a decade and 740 skydives...

As they were cutting off my CamelBak that I got for my Hurricane, Utah trips; gloves that I picked up riding in Moab, my classic Motorola team jersey that my uncle gave me, my helmet was taken off and broken pieces of it fell to the floor of the ambulance.  A load of memories of my days riding were quickly becoming the last events rather than just a few in a long line of expected plans. The foam was crushed in a perfect circle that protected my skull.  I had hit a rock that destroyed the outside shell and I do believe that the Giro saved me from a severe skull fracture now that I look at the damage.

I never planned to ride again.  I just can't ride without breaking myself.

Which leads back to the start of this post.  The thoughts are still fresh, the pain in my arm and shoulder that are still quite evident when I move, and the fact I was standing there with a new helmet - unsure...

Wanting, if not quite ready yet...

To ride again.