A Prize-Announcing Special Note from Fatty: Congratulations to the winners of the first-ever Fat Cyclist Photo Contest. With 163 photos submitted, Kenny had a very tough time choosing a winner.
So he chose three.
Congrats to the winners! Email me and I’ll hook you up with Kenny so you can collect your prize.
LanterneRouge submitted this beautiful entry, “Montrose Harbor:”
LanterneRouge says about this one: “This is not part of the contest because it is heavily altered. I’m posting it anyway because I like it a lot. In the background is the Chicago skyline. Well, it would be if it wasn’t obscured by clouds.”
Sorry, LanterneRouge, but neither Kenny nor I care about whether you spent a bunch of time Photoshopping the image. The fact is it’s awesome, and we’re going to give you a prize whether you want it or not.
JSnow contributed this beautiful image, “Winter eve ride #3:”
The winning entry is by Vanetten, and is titled “Russian Bikers:”
The caption reads, “March 2006: “Opening Day of Bike Season” in Moscow. Several hundred bikers of all ages and capabilities show up for a rally point deep in a forest outside of Moscow. These gents had been there for a day already, camping out and keeping warm with liquid fuel…”
Again, congrats to the winners.
OK, now on with the regularly-scheduled program.
I Am Just Fine, Thanks
Before I get rolling today, I should make one thing very clear: I am not announcing that I have some kind of terminal sickness. I have not discovered that my Lipoma is actually malignant or something (click here if you’re wondering why I capitalized “Lipoma,” or if you’re wondering what I’m talking about at all).
I’m just fine.
There have been three times, however, when I was absolutely, positively certain that I was about to die.
And all three times have been while I was on a bike.
Certainty of Death #1: Run off the Road
There are a lot of long, twisty road climbs near where I live. I think my favorite stretch of road, though, is the climb up from Provo Canyon, up past Sundance Ski Resort, and to the top of the Alpine Loop.
I love the climb because the descent payoff is incredible. The curves come at you nonstop as you’re descending as fast as you dare to go, making bets with yourself as to what your tires’ limits of adhesion are. If you get into a descending groove, you stop feeling like your bike is something you’re riding. Instead, it’s something you are.
Except for a brief period in the Spring when the road is clear but still closed to auto traffic, though, this road has as much draw to car traffic as it does to bikes, and for a lot of the same reasons.
And that is why I found myself face-to-face with a car as I was barreling downhill, me on the inside corner of a right-turning hairpin. Him trimming the hairpin blind, on the wrong side of the road.
As many people know, the easiest way to imagine how much damage a cyclist will suffer if he has a head-on with a car is to take the sum of your speed and the car’s speed and then imagine you riding your bike at that speed into a wall.
In this instance, I would have been hitting that wall at about 65 miles per hour.
“Dammit,” I said. Yes, just “dammit.” And it wasn’t even an outraged “dammit.” More a “dammit” of resignation. This was going to be it. You know: it.
Out of instinct — certainly not out of any higher reasoning — I jerked the handlebar away from the car.
I turfed it into a ravine, taco-ing my front wheel and wearing completely through my bike gloves.
The guy driving the car pulled over, mortified and nauseous about what he had just nearly done. It was kind of weird, actually: we both got hit by the shakes and the nausea about at the same time. So we were both sitting on the side of the road, waiting to feel like we could stand, while his soon-to-be fiancee (he was driving her up to a picturesque spot to propose, he told me) sat in the car, looking at us and wondering what was going on.
Certainty of Death #2: High-Speed Catapult into a Tree
The second time I thought I was going to die, it was nobody’s fault but my own.
I was into the final 25 miles of the Leadville 100. I was feeling giddy because Dug and Bob and I had gathered at the final aid station, deciding to finish the race together. We had finished the final big climb and were flying down the St. Kevins doubletrack. Dug had shot on ahead, Bob was staying with me.
As I said, I was feeling giddy. I was with my friends, the ride was in the bag, I still felt good.
So I started goofing around a little bit. You know, doing little bunny hops. Popping wheelies. Using little woop-de-doos in the trail as jumps.
Note to self: You are not an especially good downhiller under any circumstance, and are especially not a good downhiller after you’ve been on your bike for ten hours. And you’re an especially really not-good downhiller when you’re feeling punch drunk and exhausted.
So I hit a little rise and used it as a jump.
Which went horribly wrong.
I shot off the side of the road, riding a what amounts to a fast downhill nose-wheelie.
I should mention, I think, that the side of the road was a downhill slope with lots of both standing and fallen trees.
I should also mention that I was flying headfirst right toward a fallen tree.
I had a moment to think just before I hit the tree. Guess which of the three following thoughts occurred to me:
- “I had better protect my vital organs!”
- “I’m dead.”
- “Here comes my first DNF.”
If you guessed #2, you are correct. You are also correct if you guessed #3.
I hit the log good and hard, smashing my glasses and helmet, gashing my forehead and forearms, and knocking me goofy. Bob came crashing down through the trees, a benevolent chupacabra, checking to see if I was alive (and if not, whether my bike could be salvaged).
Again came the nausea. Again came the shakes. And then, a few minutes later, I was able to ride again.
We finished the race. With half an hour to spare.
Certainty of Death #3: Bike Failure at 50mph
I’ve talked about when my trusty 9-year-old road bike discombobulated at 50mph fairly recently, so won’t go into the whole story again right now. I will say this, though: Once again, the knowledge of immediate doom didn’t make me scream or cry or despair at the moment it was happening.
Once again, it was more of an “Oh, perfect” kind of reaction.
Hey, I’ve got an idea for a new tagline:
“Fat Cyclist: Facing Death with a Sardonic Smirk Since 1994″
What Have We Learned?
So here are the common elements I’m noticing about my brushes with doom.
- I don’t fear death until I have time to. At the moment of emergency, I don’t recall ever being terrified. That comes later, when I have had time to think about how things could have turned out.
- My life does not flash before my eyes. Does anyone really have their life flash before their eyes in moments of great crisis? It seems to me like that would be a pretty inconvenient time for a fast stroll through memory lane. In fact, I can’t think of a less convenient time to start having an introspective moment than when you’re trying to avoid death.
- There’s no crazier mix of emotions than when you feel you just evaded death. You’re sitting there on the ground, alive. You should be dead, but you’re alive. So you’re elated and relieved. And then you realize that you should be dead or maimed, and you get freaked out and scared. If someone else was to blame, the rage and indignation kick in. If it was your own fault, the shame and humiliation have their say. And this whole emotional cocktail is amped up by more adrenaline than you usually have running through your veins in a month. No wonder you get the shakes and nausea.
- Later that day: Providing I have a working bike, after a few minutes I’ve always been able to get back on and ride. It’s only a couple hours later that the full impact of what’s nearly happened hits me. And then the next time I ride — and the next time, and the next time, and the next time — I can’t get it out of my head. I’m a timid, nervous rider for weeks and weeks. Maybe the whole rest of the season.
I’m interested whether you’ve seen the same things in your scariest encounters.
After writing all this, it occurs to me that I might not know what I’m talking about (wow, that would be really unusual). The fact is, in each of these circumstances I only thought I was going to die. Maybe when the big one comes, it’ll be completely different.
I’m not particularly anxious to find out.
PPS: Today’s weight: 167.2
PPPS: I’ve worked out a great deal with the Fabulous Banjo Brothers: I’m going to be able to give EVERYONE who pre-orders a Fat Cyclist jersey a Special Fat Cyclist Edition Pocket Messenger Bag. You should note, however, that at this point well more than half of the 250 jerseys are now spoken for. And when we reach 250, we’re done (B7 contestants, don’t worry, I’m holding some in reserve for you, just in case you beat me). In other words, if you’re planning on getting a jersey, you should pre-order it. Thanks!