Three hundred sixty-six days ago I made a miscalculation. Simply put, I went too fast through a corner. I could tell you how I thought the adhesive quality of my bike’s rear tire given the road surface, lean angle and speed I was traveling was sufficient to keep me stuck to the road, but none of what I thought prior to that turn matters. Nor does it matter that I got the bike under control briefly. The impact itself doesn’t matter in the way you might think it would.
Here’s what matters: any time I enter a corner that I don’t have as well memorized as my social security number, I hesitate. Hell, even the ones that I do know that well I find myself sitting up a bit to scrub some speed.
That one tire slip changed, well, maybe it didn’t change everything, but it was the first in a series of events that, in aggregate, served as the most colossal upheaval I’ve experienced in my life.
Under other circumstances I wouldn’t have seen the events as related in any way. However, it was that sinking feeling in my gut—the universal signifier that no matter how good or bad things may currently be, things are about to get worse—that kept coming back with each new lousy piece of news. I knew the moment my tire slipped that I was going too fast for the next few seconds (or days as the case turned out to be) to turn out in any routine manner. That feeling came back when I got the call that my stepfather, Byron, was unlikely to leave the hospital. There was the call with the ad sales guy I’d hired in which he admitted that not only was he planning to take a job with an exercise magazine but that he really hadn’t done a damn thing for the previous month.
I experienced the same feeling the day the obstetrician said, “I don’t like this,” as he pointed to a dark area in our son’s body as he performed what was supposed to be a final and routine ultrasound two weeks before delivery. I did my best to tell myself that things couldn’t be that bad, that my body was jumping to conclusions not supported by the data. However, minutes later, the feeling only grew when we entered a different office with a different ultrasound pro operating an ultrasound unit that was S-class Mercedes compared to the Toyota Tercel we’d just been on. That doctor’s first, “Hmm,” was all I needed to begin wondering how the moments go before a first experience with incontinence.
The next month served up a succession of conversations that each resulted in that damned feeling. It was as if I’d discovered some previously unknown cookbook in which Julia Child served up that one emotional response in eighty different dishes. There was Sinking Feeling Paprika. There was Sentiment d’Angoisse a l’Orange, Sensazione di Affondare Cacciatore and Spaetzle mit Flaues Gefühl. I lost track of all the dishes containing that one ingredient, but you know how the palate fatigues. After a month of chicken, all you want is beef.
Once we finally brought the 15-lb. miracle home, I headed to a doctor, one just for me, for what was supposed to be a relatively simple out-patient procedure. Weeks later I woke up in a hotel room and the sheets were red. I spent Memorial Day in the emergency room.
Each of those events is as related as a brick is to a blue whale, but they share an emotional crossroads to which I inevitably responded, “Oh no, not again.” Even as I sit, typing, my stomach hitches as I traverse the events of those days, the tone of the doctor’s voice, the color of the sheets, the leftward kick of the wheel.
Shortly after the crash I wrote that I’d soon be back on Tuna Canyon. But that hasn’t happened. It took more than six months for me to return to Decker, to Las Flores and to go 90 percent of my old speed requires an anxious, uneasy clenching of teeth. It’s not a flow state. Not currently, maybe not anymore. Maybe I’d have returned sooner were it not for the succession of events that made my life a Himalayan roller coaster. I’ve no way to know.
I’ve gained much in the last year. The Deuce is a prize beyond measure. And the awareness I have of my place in the world thanks to the beer fund is a lesson that simply couldn’t be purchased. For those, I’m grateful. But neither can change my desire to be able to let the bike run on tilted asphalt. For that, I’m pissed. There’s no road map for how to get them back.
Worse is the simple fact that I’d be okay going slower if I could relax. Just relax. My discomfort on the descent to Cazadero and on Myers Grade at Levi’s Gran Fondo made me brake enough that I wondered if maybe I was now part of the legion that shouldn’t ride carbon clinchers on such roads. The wheels, I can report, fared better than my nerves.
It might seem that a year is a pretty arbitrary way to mark a collection of days, but anniversaries are how we mark time, mark progress. Occasions are a chance to look back at who we were previously. Weddings allow us to demonstrate how our lives have improved thanks to the power of love. Birthdays give us a chance to look back on who we were, to judge how we’ve grown. Commemorating the anniversary of a crash doesn’t seem the remembrance you’d want to mark, but for me, it was the first in a series of events related by a visceral response. It is my hope that today marks a turn, a chance to move forward without each new disturbance tapping into the psychic equivalent of being tazed.
To the degree that I don’t sound more hopeful, I admit that my outlook is tentative, uneasy. While I’m sure what the shackles are, I’m less sure how to cast them off.
Image: Wil Matthews
PLEASE READ BELOW
As you know, Patrick crashed his bike. In fact, he just about tore his bottom lip off, and 9 hours in the emergency room later, not to mention the prolonged attention of a plastic surgeon, he’s got bills that insurance won’t touch.
We, his friends, would like to help him get out from under the accident as quickly as possible, so he can focus on healing and also preparing for the imminent birth of his second child.
The man himself is massively reticent about this whole undertaking as he feels responsible for the crash. It was, after all, a solo effort. So, we would like to propose something slightly different.
We have all enjoyed RKP over the last few years. In a very real way, we’ve been on a long, hard ride together, cheering and celebrating our sport, brainstorming solutions for the problems it faces, and sharing expertise on the products we use. Patrick has been the ride leader, and given there is no entry fee for this ride, we’d like to suggest each of you buy our leader a beer. Figuratively of course.
Let’s say a beer is $5. We’d like to ask each of you to contribute that to the fund to cover Patrick’s medical costs. Just $5. You wouldn’t hesitate to buy a buddy a beer after a hard ride together. Let’s do this for Patrick now.
It looks like the ambulance ride, ER time and follow up with the surgeon come to $5,000, so we’re aiming to buy Patrick 1,000 beers. Help us make this happen.
Here are the particulars:
CURRENT TOTAL = $5000+ – Thank you!
We have reached our goal! In fact, we have surpassed it. And, in the interest of complete transparency, before we do anything further, we need to get a final tally of donations and a sharper total for expenses. This has all happened far more quickly than any of us imagined, so while we started out with the goal of raising $5,000, we figured we’d have time to more clearly outline expenses before we even began to approach that goal.
Your generosity has been sudden and overwhelming.
The last thing we want to do is move the goal posts for this project, so we are working quickly to gather what bills are available and to factor in the tax consequences of taking in this money. At the moment, it appears we have all the money we need to address the Brady family’s financial consequences from the crash.
Over the next days we will put out another post with all the details of the expenses and contributions. Thanks everybody who wrote in and/or donated. We are all humbled by the way our community has rallied to our aid.
Bill Cass is the artist behind our fantastic Eddy T-shirt and as I noted in my description, Cass was a frequent contributor to Bicycle Guide. Last night, during a stroll through Facebook, this illo popped up. Bill had posted it and tagged me as a nod to my circumstance. It’s been really helpful to hear so many kind words and well-wishes from friends as well as readers, but the responses that mean the most to me are the ones that acknowledge the stakes of the game we play.
Along those lines, I was gratified to read a post by my buddy the Wankmeister over at Cycling in the South Bay; he is a talented writer who gets the value of true, which is to say he could have written something that offered flowery platitudes about quick healing or held himself up as better-than-thou with after-the-fact quarterbacking, but instead went with a shipping container of reality. Never mind the fact that the post is about me (man, I wish I hadn’t given him the subject matter), it’s a terrific example of why his is the best regional cycling blog on the planet.
I went down yesterday. It was bad. After 13 years with no deck time, my number got called, and in a big way. I’ll be okay. My mouth took the worst of it; if I’m lucky, I’ll end up with a scar that gives me some rakish charm, which would be a real improvement in my case.
A few words about the crash itself: I was descending Tuna Canyon road in Malibu. Of it I once wrote that Tuna was where parachute ripcords go for training. Several kilometers of Tuna are steep, in the 14 to 18 percent range. It is where the one-off Redbull Road Rage event was held, where a buddy of mine with a full-face helmet and motocross pads hit 60 mph. It’s a place where a single mistake can require a payment plan. There’s a point on the descent, a final switchback, after which the road goes much flatter; the pitch is more like four percent. This is the section of road I was in, well past everything any reasonable person would describe as dangerous. I was apexing a small bend in the road and suddenly hit a patch of road that didn’t offer the same grip is everything else.
My rear tire slid. And big time. It was the biggest slide I’ve ever ridden out on a road bike. The problem is or was that once I steered into the skid and stood the bike up, I was pointed 45 degrees to the road. I quickly chose to avoid the enormous (we’re talking the size of an office chair) tree stump. Unfortunately, my plan to keep the bike rolling for as long as possible didn’t really pan out; I hit a bump and went over the bar, pounding my face into the ground. I spent the next 9 hours at the ER, but at least got the care of a really ace plastic surgeon.
I bring all this up for a few reasons.
- Yes, we’re aware that there was actual news in the cycling world yesterday. I haven’t had much time to read, so I’m going to let Charles tackle it, at least initially, in his next Explainer column.
- I’m not sure how much posting I’ll get done in the next week. I’m going to be okay, but I’m on a liquid diet and Percoset, which is a detailed way of saying I’m not at my best.
- The oh-so-overdue jerseys are due here today. I’d promised everyone who’d had the patience to keep waiting all this time for their arrival that I’d ship them the day they arrived. I’m thinking I might need an extra day or two. Bending over isn’t what I’d call comfortable.
Thanks for reading.
I’ve got friends who crash so often it’s a casual occurrence to them. Two of them in particular seem so okay with it that the lost skin, destroyed bikes and even loss of control don’t seem bother them. Somehow, they make it seem routine.
To be able to take skin loss and broken bones in stride is an obviously requisite part of PRO. I was never able to relax in the face of carnage. I always flinched at the sound of scraping metal as if I’d been goosed. It was a big factor in my decision to stop racing.
A few years ago, during the Tour of California, Levi Leipheimer crashed with Tom Boonen right next to him. Leipheimer disappeared from view and Boonen never flinched. He didn’t turn his head, look down, even shudder. The event didn’t even seem to register with him.
I asked him about it the next day. He told me, “It’s natural; it’s something you’ve got. It’s the same in the sprint, and I think a lot of the riders have that kind of concentration…. The moment you panic is the moment you crash.”
He confirmed for me what I’d known for a few years; I never had the PRO’s sense for pack riding. I didn’t panic, but I definitely flinched.
Illnesses achieve routine status long before we ever get on the bike and because they come on so gradually only the worst, most surprising news can shock us.
But I got one such shock this morning. My wife woke me at 1:00 because our little team captain was throwing up with the force of a fire hose. We got him calmed down, cleaned up, the bed changed and him back to sleep. I followed suit.
Just before I was to get up for my group ride my wife woke me again to tell me how she had been throwing up ever since we got the Little Guy back to sleep (that’s what, five hours?) and needed my help. Only three questions were necessary to conclude that they had eaten tainted grapes. The three of us were in the car on the way to the ER before the city woke.
Years ago I was in a race infamous for its 180-degree turn 150 meters from the finish. I’d done the race a few times and had yet to do well, or even enjoy it. After cresting a small rise we accelerated on the down toward the turn and a rider weighing a good 30 lbs. more than me bumped me hard. To keep my tensed body from pinballing back and forth between him and a friend to my right, I reached out my right hand and put it on the small of my buddy’s back to steady myself.
Of course, just as I put my hand on his back the peloton began braking for the turn. I was certain I was about to wear multiple chainrings in my back like some sci-fi cross between a human and a dinosaur. Visions of broken frames, bars and wheels danced around my head like so many cartoon birds.
I did the only thing I could; I pushed away from his back, careful not to push him to the right at all. It slowed me just enough I could take my hand off his back and get it back into the drop even while the rest of the pack was braking hard. By the time I exited the turn I was so relieved not to have crashed I didn’t even care that I was too poorly placed to contest the sprint.
The ER visit was a race of a different sort—one that lasted 10 hours—and I can assure you, this time I didn’t flinch. The surprise came when I realized I hadn’t felt quite that brand of relief since that nearly ill-fated race; that is, not until both my wife and son were belted in and I placed the car in drive to head home.
Some of the aftermath.
This is how I got hit.
It was raining. She came by me on the left, slowly. She signaled. I thought, “Oh, Christ! You’re going to let me get by first, aren’t you?” And then she was turning right across me, and because it was raining, I was sliding. And screaming. She hit the brakes. I hit her front quarter panel and went down hard on my right side.
I sprung up, decided I was ok, and turned to berate my assailant. She peered up at me from behind the wheel of her Volvo, put her hands up and mouthed, “I didn’t see you.” To which I replied, “Well, of course you didn’t f*&$ing see me. You never f*&$ing looked.” She asked if I was ok, this is all through the windshield. She couldn’t be bothered to get out, or she was afraid I might punch her, which, given the adrenaline spiking through my system, was probably a legitimate fear. I said, “Yes, I’m f*&$ing ok,” and I rode off at top speed, leaving her and a small congregation of cyclists gawking. I may never have ridden so fast in my life.
It was only when I got home that my wrist started to ache, and I could see where I was bleeding. And suddenly I was really tired. I realized that I had been riding on adrenaline then. At the time I’d no idea. So, coming down off that hormonal high, my body sort of crumpled on the floor of the shower, and I had a brief, emotional moment there, with the hot water pouring over me.
I rode with a brace on my wrist for about a month after that. It hurt.
I imagine this scenario plays itself out pretty regularly on city (and non-city) streets, a car turning across a bike lane and a cyclist getting the worse of the deal. The injuries probably range from minor, like mine, to death. It is, at any rate, a common experience, and yet, even after riding the city for 20 years, I’d never been hit. And I learned from it, things I might never have learned otherwise.
I did what you’re supposed to do after getting thrown. I got right back on that horse and rode. At first I felt sad, like the shine had come off, like this thing I’d been doing for decades was somehow more dark and sinister than I’d imagined. After that, I entered an angry phase. I began seeking conflict with drivers, yelling, punching hoods. It was no fun.
After a month or two of two-wheeled rage, I had an epiphany. I was afraid. Everywhere I went I anticipated being crushed and killed, and rather than weeping and cowering, I was going on the offensive. If I wasn’t overtly courting conflict, I was having protracted arguments, in my head, with errant motorists. I was, I think, trying to make sense of a new landscape, one in which I could be doing everything correctly, and still be killed.
This was no way to go about riding a bicycle. I ride a bike, because I like it, not to drive myself into irrational rages. I had to change, not only my attitude, but also the way I ride. I had to be more forgiving, more patient. This took time.
First of all, I had to admit that the mistake the Volvo lady made is exactly the kind of mistake anyone could make. She was distracted. She ought to have seen me, but she didn’t. The other day I made a pot of coffee, but forgot to stick the pot under the spout, and so coffee ran all over the counter and floor. I’m no better than Volvo lady. Up to this point, I’ve maybe just been luckier.
Angry is no way to ride, or do anything else for that matter. Whether my anger is justified or not doesn’t even begin to be the point. When I’m angry, I’m the one who suffers. My ride goes to shit. I get off the bike worse than I went on. I don’t always like to forgive. I don’t always just move on mentally, but when I do, I feel better and happier. This is the hardest single thing I do on a bicycle.
Next, I had to recognize that no one is in MY way. I don’t actually own the way. It’s a public way. And, as it turns out, everyone wants to use it. Weird, I know, but true.
Third, I had to slow down. This one was hard, because I like to go fast. This one was hard, because previously, I had only one speed, which was as-fast-as-I-could. This one was hard, because it meant I missed a lot of lights that I might, in earlier days, have sprinted through.
Finally, I had to admit that I am flesh and blood and vulnerable. For a guy who used to fancy himself impervious to the predations of weather and road condition, this was a lot to ask. Here’s the thing. I’m a robot, but I have a lady robot at home who loves me. I have two little robots that scream “Daddy!” when I come through the door. I have a robot dog whose raison d’etre is walking by my side to the coffee shop.
I didn’t expect any of this. I always assumed that the consequences of a car accident would be entirely physical, but right away the mental and emotional aspects of the experience made themselves felt. I tried to pay attention. Though a minor accident relative to most car/bicycle interactions, it was a major event in my life, one that, after months of dissection and examination, I’m glad happened.
I got hit by a car and learned how large my ego had become, learned that, more than anything, I was in my own way, and that the best way to get where I wanted to go, i.e. everywhere, was to let myself be small and let the world be big. I can, if I squint, see the accident again. I’m riding along. A Volvo passes me on the left. Its brake lights blaze purposefully. I back off on the pedals. A turn signal. I brake. Nothing to prove. And then the car turns in front of me. Its shocks make a hiccuping sound as it bounces into the driveway of the grocery store. I glance over my left shoulder and then guide my bike out into the open lane to glide past the Volvo’s bumper.
And then I ride home. Whole and well.