My 9/11 Story

09.11.2006 | 5:41 pm

A word of caution from Fatty: I’m not at all certain that this kind of post belongs in a goofy cycling humor blog, but it’s what I want to write today. For what it’s worth, there is a part about biking, so this story isn’t entirely out of context here. Of course, I understand you may be coming to Fat Cyclist for relief from today’s 9/11 media inundation, in which case I recommend reading Review of Several Items I Recently Purchased from the Hammacher Schlemmer Catalog, which I just posted in the Random Reviewer blog.

A Progressively Bad Drive to the Airport
Back in 2001, I worked at Fawcette Technical Communications. I lived in Orem, UT, but made frequent trips to Seattle to meet with Microsoft. On September 11, I was driving to the airport for just such a trip, listening to the morning show on an alternative music radio station. I had only gone a mile or so — I wasn’t even on the freeway yet — when the DJ said a twin-prop airplane had hit the WTC.

That barely registered with me. I don’t think I thought anything more than, "Stupid pilot," and continued on.

Then, during the next traffic report, the woman said a second plane had hit the WTC. "We already talked about that," said the DJ, thinking she had her story mixed up — there was no way two separate planes had hit two separate towers.

They finished the traffic report and then went on to their "Really Stupid News" segment.

I changed the channel, surfing for a real news station on the radio. Turns out there wasn’t anyone with a better idea of what was going on. Lots of conflicting reports, lots of confusion.

So I finished my drive to the airport.

At the Airport
By the time I arrived at the airport, parked, checked in, and found my gate, it was obvious that something was going on, though I had no idea what. Flights were being delayed, but not — technically — canceled. Everyone was standing around the TV monitor at an airport bar, transfixed.

And that’s where I saw Dug. He also worked for Fawcette, was also scheduled to travel that day, from the adjoining gate.

So at least I was standing by someone I knew when I saw the first tower collapse.

I called my wife, who I knew for sure would not be watching the news at that moment — eight months pregnant with twins and getting two boys ready for school, she’d have her hands full with other things. "Turn on the TV," I said. "Doesn’t matter which station."

I went to the gate counter to confirm what I assumed was obvious: flights would be canceled for the time being. I was behind a woman who was completely panicked — she was demanding a refund immediately; she was never going to fly again, she had to get out of there. I remember feeling bad for her, but also a little bit amused. If my flight had been available, I would have gotten on without concern.

Things hadn’t really sunk in, yet.

Back Home
I drove home, switching radio channels. Now they were all talking about what was going on, but the quantity of misinformation was incredible. Cars were exploding. The White House was on fire. No, the White House wasn’t on fire, but something in DC was. Another plane had crashed, this time into a field.

I got home, and my wife was crying, watching the towers collapse, over and over. Watching the smoking hole in the Pentagon. Wondering what the deal was with the plane crashed in the field. Wondering what was coming next.

We watched for a couple hours, then I said I may as well go to work; we weren’t going to learn anything else. I got there, and an hour or so later, Dug got there too. Like me, I think, he didn’t have the stomach to watch any more.

Of course, neither of us got anything done. We either surfed for news — I remember that news sites were slow because of being overwhelmed with traffic — or talked about what we knew. Which wasn’t much.

Get Away
Eventually, I had had enough. "How about we leave early and go ride Timpooneke," one of us suggested — I don’t remember which of us it was, but it sounded good. Of course, we channel-surfed the radio as we drove toward the mountain. Of course, we didn’t learn anything new.

We got to the parking lot, got dressed, and got our bikes ready without saying much of anything. Then we started the four-mile dirt road climb.

And I started feeling better. Somehow, getting away from the media, being in the mountain, on a mountain bike, on a beautiful late-Summer day, helped things. I started going faster. Dug did too. I don’t think we were racing, but we were both going for it.

By the time we got to the top, I felt clear again. I hadn’t forgotten what was going on, but I no longer felt like I was in shock.

The descent down the Timpooneke singletrack requires your full attention. Hairpin turns come out of nowhere. Waterbars surprise you. You’ve got to descend through gauntlets of loose, fist-sized rocks.

It was just what I needed. Forty minutes of insanely good singletrack downhill, punctuated by three gut-bustingly-difficult climbs, is a good reminder that life is good. When Dug and I got back to the parking lot, we were both smiling.

We put away our bikes and started driving home. I didn’t turn on the radio, and Dug didn’t ask me to.


  1. Comment by barry1021 | 09.11.2006 | 6:14 pm

    One of the best "Why We Ride" stories ever.

  2. Comment by Unknown | 09.11.2006 | 6:47 pm

    I remember going out for a ride that day, too.  I wanted silence, and I got it.  In fact, the silence was so deafening that I almost lost it.  I became abruptly aware of no airplane noise in the sky.  For the next three or four days, the skies were erily silent.  I couldn’t escape, even in my best places for escape.

  3. Comment by BIg Mike In Oz | 09.11.2006 | 7:34 pm

    I was working on the computer that night (9am east coast is 11pm in Australia).  I got up for a stretch and as I walked past the TV room I saw the first tower burning.  I picked up the TV guide to see which crappy old disaster movie I had missed the start of, but I couldn’t reconcile what I was seeing with anything in the book.  The picture quality seemed like a 70’s disaster movie but it never changed from the "newsreel in the street" footage back to the real actors.  Then the second plane hit.
    As soon as I realised what was happening I immediately woke my wife with the phrase "world war 3 has started".  Then the phone calls started.  I had a friend who was working in the WTC.  He was the youngest of 6 children and 2 of his brothers had died in recent years so another loss would have been catastrophic for that family (and me).  It was over 48 hours before we made contact with him.  He was in the WTC that morning, but left at around 7:30am.
    What happened that day, happened on US soil, but it happened to the whole world.

  4. Comment by Unknown | 09.11.2006 | 8:08 pm

    An airliner crashes into a field in Pennsylvania.  Another one crashes into the Pentagon.  It’s still unfathomable to think that these were the sidebar stories on that terrible day five years ago.  Your last paragraph sums up my feelings regarding the anniversary.  I’m staying away from the news today.  It’s just too gut wrenching to re-live. 
    I remember the days of eerie silence, too.  At the time, we lived right under the approach path for the Bountiful Skypark, so we had a non-stop stream of Cessnas and Pipers flying overhead.  Normally it was annoying, but I actually took comfort hearing them once the flight ban was lifted.
    BTW, I’m joining the dark side, Luke.  Starting work for a mostly Microsoft shop next Monday and will be migrating to C# development in the process.  Hope you’re enjoying the fall.

  5. Comment by Unknown | 09.11.2006 | 8:09 pm

    We had a long ride scheduled (vacation day) for the next day.  Debated whether or not to drive out to Noble Canyon given the respect due the victims.  Rode anyways.  My buddy is in the Naval Reserve and thought (rightly) that he might get called up.  Better ride while there was still time.  My daughter was going to fly to New Mexico to see the grandparents (she was 9 at the time) but her flight got cancelled.  She was staying home, so we figured that would be safe.
    We had a great ride, forgetting the events of the day before, what with the hard climbs, high speed and technical descents.  We were reminded that this was a special event when we noticed the complete absence of air traffic.  Still a hard ride can calm a troubled mind.  A scary descent can completely clear it, at least for a little while.

  6. Comment by regina | 09.11.2006 | 9:53 pm

    I was in boston, and I remember thinking stupid pilot when they thought it was a cesna, I was there for ATGDynamo training, supposed to leave on tuesday, did not get away till friday.  What a scary twilight zone kind of town it was, where only the odd were on the street, our hotel had no restaurant so we had to venture out.  Every time we left the hotel we took our plane tickets and identification and anything else we could not live without, because they were storming hotels left and right, and once they did you could not go in again, they would send you your stuff, later.  A bike ride would have been great.  Heck if I had had a bike I would have taken it out of there.  The news has nothing for me today.

  7. Comment by JET(not a nickname) | 09.11.2006 | 10:09 pm

    I remember just being angry. To this day it still seems completely senseless to me what happened. I won’t watch the news today like most of you because I had all I could take of the images back then and choose not to relive them today. I’m also outraged that hollywood has 2 movies out about this day and justify it with saying "we can’t forget about that day so this is why we are making the movie". I think it’s obvious from our comments here as well as just about anyone else you talk to that we haven’t forgotten, and we damn sure aren’t gonna. How could we?
    Like B21 said FC, that was the best "why we ride story" I think any of us could put up.

  8. Comment by Kevin | 09.11.2006 | 10:29 pm

    isn’t bike related, but Fatty suggested I share this one here.
    I was in an offsite with a senior exec and other "leaders" of my
    company. We are West coast and the offsite started early, so the planes had
    hit, and one tower had fallen. We were all sitting around some conference room
    with the TV on. The second tower falls. Shortly after, our exec gets up to talk
    to all of us who have, understandably, not started the meeting yet. He asks
    what we think we should do, vis a vis the ALL DAY offsite.  He’s getting the "we’re really not into
    this" vibe pretty heavy from everyone. Then he let’s it go. I shit you
    not. Not
    two hours into the post 9/11 world, before I knew whether my brother who worked
    downtown was safe, while NYC was still in major chaos, I heard this argument for the first time:


    “If we don’t have this
    meeting, the terrorists will have won."

  9. Comment by Unknown | 09.11.2006 | 11:00 pm

    Funny, I thought the same thing.  I was just getting up and my wife ( now X-wife) says a plane crashed into the world trade center.  Being a United pilot I assume it’s just some little airplane that crashed and think "what an idiot". Then I go downstairs and turn on the news.  Today I won’t be watching much knews, but tonight as I fly to Sydney, I’ll be thinking about it.  Glad I got my ride in today.

  10. Comment by Unknown | 09.11.2006 | 11:03 pm

    Sorry I mispelled news!!!

  11. Comment by Robert | 09.11.2006 | 11:39 pm

    I was on a long bike ride in Seattle when the planes hit. As I approached work, I wondered if it was some kind of holiday because there was so little traffic. I remember thinking back that the whole city felt deflated, but I think I was revising my memory a little. When I got into work, the first email message said something about how the people in the San Jose towers should clear the buildings, and the people in Seattle and elsewhere should go home and be with their families, but they didn’t say why. I asked a guy in the hallway what happened, and I think he misunderstood me. He just said, "Probably Bin Laden." Then he realized that I knew nothing about what was going on and he explained that terrorists had hijacked planes and crashed them into New York buildings. I went home and parked myself in front of a television until the wee hours of the morning. What a helpless feeling.

  12. Comment by Unknown | 09.12.2006 | 12:35 am

    Thanks for that story. Same experience for me as for most people. Got to the boatshed that morning, and tried to train whilst watching the carnage and confusion. Watching it, and realising that but for the grace of God go we.
    Work and university were a complete washout that day as we sought companionship and some sort of understanding of what the hell was going on. But like you, we came down in the evening to sort something out in that closed space that is training.
    It still didn’t make sense, and still doesn’t, but keeping on with what we do somehow seemed to be the most appropriate way to deal with it. Le Monde said the next morning that, "we are all Americans today". I think we still are, five years later.

  13. Comment by Jsun | 09.12.2006 | 2:37 am

    It doesn’t take an anniversary for me to remember the events from that day, as is the same for everyone I am sure.  Since that day, I have been all the more grateful for the smaller things in life and the opportunities that come with living in the free world.
    I agree with B21 - excellent riding story.  No wise crack comments needed today.
    thank you eldon


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