I didn’t plan to go on a long ride yesterday afternoon after work. I just wanted to get out for 80 minutes or so, because I’d be headed out for a climb-centric road ride early this morning.
I knew just the ride for a quick ride, too. From my house, I’d climb Hogg’s Hollow, then up Jacob’s Ladder. Then — instead of caving in to the temptation of dropping down Ghost Falls and riding the fun singletrack in Corner Canyon — I’d just cruise back along the high dirt road and drop back down Hogg’s Hollow.
I have done this ride or a variation of it so many times I sometimes no longer even think about the trail as I’m riding. I let my mind wander. That’s one of the perks of riding alone; you have time to think.
I Should Just Tattoo The Word “Jinx” On My Forehead
Yesterday, as I climbed, the subject I chose to think about was what I planned to write about for this blog today. Specifically, I was planning to write about how, somehow, I have finally become a fast, confident downhiller, able to keep up with my friends. Heck, even occasionally be the fast guy.
Fifteen years into riding, and I suddenly seem to have acquired a new skill. It’s surprising and interesting (to me), and well worth several hundred words of self-aggrandizing navel-gazing.
Of course, by doing this, I jinxed myself as effectively and thoroughly as if I had gotten off my bike, built an altar, sacrificed a convenient animal (like maybe a small lizard — there are lots of small lizards on Hogg’s Hollow right now), and begged the god of bike crashes (St. Beloki, I believe) to please please please favor me with his attention.
It All Happened So Fast
I didn’t ride Tuesday — lots of doctor appointment stuff with Susan — so my legs felt fresh on the climb and I got to the top of Jacob’s Ladder quickly and still feeling fresh.
I was in the mood to show off — to myself, since nobody was around — this newfound downhilling confidence. So I blasted down the first twisty section, hardly touching my brakes, letting the scrub oak brush against me, feeling good as it scratched my skin.
This opens up in just a few short feet to a loose section, with jagged granite jutting out through the trail. On a rigid bike, I always feel out of control, but have learned that if I keep my arms loose and stay back, the big 29″ bike wheels will roll over practically anything.
Next, there’s a quick drop — no more than 12-14.” Normally, drops make me nervous, but I have done this one so many times I didn’t even really think about it.
I should have thought about it.
Instead of dropping and rolling, my front wheel planted itself, becoming the fulcrum in a catapult. The rest of my bike quickly figured out what my front wheel was up to and happily took on the role of the lever.
And what was my role? Well, I was the payload, naturally.
I flew out and over my handlebars, landing on my head and right shoulder. And yes, my right shoulder is the one that separates easily and really needs to be repaired with surgery.
My primary memory of the moment of impact was of the sound. It was a distinctly ugly sound. A crunch. Like something was giving way.
Of course, I screamed.
Then I stopped screaming, because I realized — quite rationally, I think — that when you’re mountain biking alone, nobody can hear you scream.
I hopped up, adrenaline surging. My helmet felt weird. My glasses were askew. My shoulder hurt so bad that if I had had an audience, I would have resumed screaming.
My knee was a bloody mess. I didn’t have a camera — nor a phone, which would have had a camera but which also probably would have perished in the fall — but I did take a picture of my knee when I got home.
A Little Bit of “Me” Time
What really got on my nerves, though, was that my iPod shuffle continued, during what was clearly a painful and serious moment, to pipe a fast Pete Townshend song into my head.
The iPod should know better. I popped out the headphones.
With the adrenaline rush in full effect, I nearly got back on my bike. But my shoulder stopped me.
My right arm didn’t work. This would make it difficult to ride the 7/8 of the technical downhill still in front of me.
I took off my helmet and sat down, giving myself over to the inevitable adrenaline shakes.
Once those subsided, I stood up, using — without thinking — my right arm to help.
Nearly blacking out, I sat back down.
It was time to reconsider how I was going to get home.
After my vision unclouded, I started thinking. It didn’t take long to come up with a plan. I’d walk my bike for the difficult part of the trail, then ride — if I could — to the dirt road. Then, instead of dropping down Hogg’s, I’d climb up to the Suncrest road and ride the pavement home.
Then, since that plan took roughly thirty seconds to come up with, I had time to think about more things. For example:
- I probably wasn’t going to get that early morning road ride in.
- I may not be a good bet for the Tour de Donut, either. Which is a shame, because I was coming up with a really good plan for it, involving giving the twins turns riding laps with me on it. Give them their first race experience in a really fun way.
- The sound I heard on impact might have been my helmet, because it was crushed.
- I am a 42 year old man with four kids and a sick wife. I can’t afford to be injuring myself like this. I don’t need to be a fast descender. I need to be a safe descender.
I don’t know how long I sat there, giving myself this self-evaluation, but I’m going to guess ten minutes. Maybe thirty.
Eventually, I stood up, lifted my bike, and found that if I moved my shoulder slowly, I could move my right hand up to the handlebar.
I then executed my plan, which turned out to be a good one. Once I got past the part of the trail that had lots of granite poking out, I was able to get back on my bike and gingerly coast down the singletrack, braking the whole way.
Once I hit a branch with my shoulder. That nearly brought out the scream. And once I hit a good bump — a small tree stump — and the jolt brought such a strong wave of pain that I started laughing, causing another part of me to wonder if I was now officially in shock.
I got to the road and then pedaled home, studiously avoiding potholes and bumps in the road. Then I walked in and announced, “I am going to need a camera and a ride to the hospital.”
First, though, I needed to get out of those shorts and jersey. They stank.
I took a picture of my knee and then climbed into the shower, where I cleaned the grime out of my cuts as best as I could, and took a count of everywhere I was cut up: right knee, head, backs of both hands, right hip, all up and down my back, right butt cheek.
And then I stood in the shower for a while, trying to make a decision. Should I go to the emergency room?
It’s not an easy call to make. What if I were just bruised? How embarrassing. But what if I didn’t go and something was really badly wrong? That would be stupid.
Finally I decided I’d rather be embarrassed than stupid, so my sister Kellene gave me a ride to the emergency room. There, they asked me my pain number. Oddly, I had just recently re-read an old post of mine and the comments thereto, so decided to go with 7. A strategic maneuver.
Friends in the Right Places
As I got led back to a room to wait my turn, I saw Mike Young, a good guy, very fast cyclist, and — as luck would have it — an emergency room doctor. I called out to him, telling me he needed to fix me up so I’d be good in time for Leadville (just a month away).
Mike was off-duty, but he came and took a look at the X-Rays and grabbed my shoulder in ways that made me whimper.
I have — no surprise — a first-class separated shoulder. Not much can be done about it. Mike says that there’s a good chance I’ll be able to do Leadville.
Kellene took me home, I pilfered some of Susan’s pain medication, and went to bed.
This morning, I’m stiff all over. When I want to move my right hand from the keyboard to the mouse, I have to use my left hand to lift and move it.
Worst, though, is the likelihood that this wreck will get into my brain — all wrecks get into my brain — and my hard-won, newfound ability to downhill is almost certainly gone.
I shall forever be Captain Timid, king of the slow, middle-aged downhillers.