Friday, October 23, 2009

The Fall (Part One)

On Wednesday, Jan and I drove to the William Pond Recreation Area and set off on our bikes to explore an eastern stretch of the American River Bike Trail. It was a perfect autumn morning and we were both taken with how much prettier this stretch of the trail is than the section closer to our home. After about six miles, timekeeper Jan indicated it was time to turn around and head back. I let her ride on ahead a bit as I dawdled behind.

After a couple of miles, I realized I was lagging way behind enjoying the scenery and wildlife, and that it was time to catch up. At the intersection of the path and an access road, the path began a long, lazy curve, enabling me to see riders who were a quarter-mile or more ahead. I scanned this group for Jan's bright green pullover with no success.

I glanced back to the trail in front of me and got two suprises, one small and one large. The small surprise was that I had drifted toward the center line of the bike path. No big deal, as no one was approaching in the other direction. The large surprise? The center of the path at this mini intersection was marked by a pole, three feet high, but no more than a couple of inches in diameter.

It was instantly apparent to me that I was going to hit this pole. There was no time to evade it, but there was time, strangely, to formulate the strong hope that it was a pole of the flimsy, break-away variety and that I would blast through it with only a wince and a clatter.

It wasn't and I didn't. In an instant, I was flying off the right side of the bicycle. Before I hit the pavement, another strangely lucid thought presented itself. This, I thought, is a real fall. This is not the embarrassing but harmless kind of fall I'd experienced before when my foot got stuck between the bike and a curb and I toppled like a felled redwood. Nope, this is the real deal, I thought, and whatever happens, I will have been in a real bicycle accident from this moment forward.

After that, no more thoughts. Just disconnected events. I was aware that I hit on my right shoulder, hard. I was aware of a small bounce of the helmet against the pavement and I remember feeling pleased at myself for wearing one. I remember getting to my feet instantly and pulling the bike off the path, but I'm not sure if this was done to protect myself from being run over, to protect other cyclists, or -- more likely -- to erase evidence of the embarrassing episode.

Because, really, a pole? Who hits a pole in the middle of the path? And yes, it was a bright yellow one. No pothole, no deer, no wet leaves... just one pole and one stupid rider.

In light of what I know now about my injury, the stuff that happened next is pretty remarkable to me. I paced around for a bit, fluctuating between total denial ("this did not happen, did not happen...") and the growing sense that I might be hurt for real. Still, I was convinced that after I caught my breath, I'd be able to get on the bike and catch up to Jan. The front wheel seemed stuck somehow, but in a minute, I'd gather the strength to wrench it free and be on my way. I even politely shooed away a couple of would-be helpers, assuring them I was 100 percent fine.

After another few minutes, the "I'm hurt" side of the internal debate was getting the upper hand and I decided to call Jan. After scaring her to death with the first, brief call, I called again, to tell her it wasn't that bad, but to come anyway. I hung up and waited for her to arrive.

And then things got really weird.

(Tune in next time for Part Two -- The Interlopers)


  1. In a recent issue of Bicycling magazine there was a list of cycling "Rites of Passage". One of them was "breaking a clavicle". Denise is getting pretty adamant about helmet use all of a sudden....

  2. I gotta concur on the helmet, Matt. This incident made it very easy to envision a more head-focused fall. As it was, there was a decent head bounce, so had i been helmetless, the clavicle might have been overshadowed. Besides, they are so well ventilated nowadays, you quickly forget it's on. Until you see yourself in a window... but there's no place for vanity at our advanced age!

  3. I am trying to be concerned and sympathetic here, but your description is really funny so I am laughing instead. Sorry!

    What you describe reminds me of my car accident, which happened when I was living in rural Northern NH and had not learned how to properly drive in the snow yet. I lost control of my 4WD SUV and smashed it head-on into a bridge rail. When I didn't die or fall into the water, I proceeded to disentangle the vehicle from the bridge rail, and then try to drive it away. Odd, the steering wasn't working... Only after the police and ambulance arrived, did I realise that my entire front end was totaled. The ambulance people asked me how I was feeling, and I assured them I was fine - then promptly fainted. It's funny how we process information.

  4. Very familiar to me, Filigree. It makes me wonder about adrenalin and perception and performance. We were in Normandy this summer and heard 100 stories of boys who were shot, had shattered bones and continued on with their mission... it was impressive then, but after a week of nursing a broken collarbone it truly boggles my mind.

    I love how distinctly NE your accident was. Snow-covered road, bridge rail... Even your mishaps are charming out there! I must visit!

    Thanks again so much for your kind comments and for checking out the blog.

  5. Serious problems with poles. We have them on paths around the Chicago area also. Some are the kind you can swing down after unlocking for vehicle use by the park district etc. They are steel and also about 3 feet high and 2 or 3 inches by 5 inches. This is to prevent cars from entering but watch out if a pedal hooks one which a friend did two times within 10 minutes. She was too vain to wear glasses and not too experienced at biking. Sorry you got hooked on the pole. Really one must look forward at all times day and nite for pot holes and slippery leaves etc. Two times I have gone down due to sandy type material on the road, once while rounding a corner reverse banked at too high speed at age 18 and once coming to a stop when wet calipers did not do enough slow down and at the last minute turning slightly to avoid the street and going down. Be careful out there. Eduard with no broken bones so far.