walking around in tap shoes and pyjamas since 2010 - my cycling log (opens in new window)

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

I Can Do Bad All By Myself

I'd like to take this opportunity to point out the fact that, yes, experienced cyclists can be total idiots from time to time. We don't always need assistance from drivers or even other cyclists to crash our bikes and injure ourselves to varying degrees.

Take, for example, me.

I'm probably better at being a dumbkopf than most. I have not yet outgrown that adolescent love of speed and physical danger. I doubt I ever will. Likewise, I seem to lack that instinct that tells you to stop doing something stupid before it gets out of hand (I'm perfectly fine at stopping after it's already gotten out of hand!).

I'm sure you can see where this is going.

Time for some backstory.

This morning, as I left for work, I noticed that my brakes were a little squishy. They were still quite capable of stopping the bike at reasonable speeds, so I made a mental note to fix them either at lunch time or when I get home, then proceeded on my way.

I was feeling pretty strong this morning and enjoying myself immensely — there's nothing like a good riding day following on the heels of a crappy riding day to improve morale. So by the time I was nearly at work, morale was pretty high indeed.

So high, in fact, that I had entirely forgotten my brakes were hinky.

I rarely get my butt up out da saddle and really work. I rarely find that I need to — and even when I do, it's usually just a sort of a nod to the practice.

This morning, however, I 'got the wind up my tail,' or however that phrase goes, and decided to get off the saddle, tuck, sprint, and ride the corner like an ace.

Um. Oops?

I would guess I was doing about 25 - 30 MPH, maybe more, by the time I got there, rocking my third-biggest gear, feeling like the king of all awesomeness. Except, for whatever reason, I misjudged the distance and failed to ride my usual line through that corner (a line that I could probably ride at 45 MPH without wiping out) — I looked up and realized I was halfway through the intersection and hadn't yet begun turning.

The smart thing to do, at that point, would have been to abandon the turn, roll on through the intersection, and come to a stop ASAP. However, that didn't occur to me. I believe there is an inverse relationship between speed and intelligence. It's temporary, of course, and rectifies itself the minute you come to a sudden stop.

I saw the curb looming up, knew I would hit it if I didn't judiciously apply my brakes and throw my weight hard to starboard right now.

So I hit the brakes.

And the wheels just slipped on through like there weren't any brakes. There was no way the brakes were going to hold at that speed, with that much force and momentum. They were hosed, and so was I.

So I watched with that sort of surreal sense of impending doom as the curb loomed closer and closer (in slow motion, as is so often the case in these moments).

I hit it at an angle — I came off my bike right between a big post box and a cast iron streetlight pole.

The rest happened so fast I'm not even sure how it went down. My left leg struck something — either the postbox or the pole — as hard as it has ever struck anything in my entire life, but that's about all I know. Did I endo? I'm not sure. The fact that I wound up sitting on my butt on the ground with my feet pointing towards my bike seems to indicate that I probably did.

Like a good equestrian, I kept my hands on the 'reins,' so to speak — when the world came to a stop, I was still holding on to end of the right-hand grip. I was sitting up, and actually had no real idea how that happened. It's possible I didn't land sitting up. Probable, even — if I had, I'm sure my butt would hurt. It doesn't.

I remain weirdly calm in these situations. To give you an idea, the last time I wiped out — which was loooong time ago — I dislocated my right pinkie. I had been carefully assessing myself for damage and had determined that I was fine when I lifted my right hand to pick up my bike and thought, "Oh, that's not right." It was bent sideways, and a right angle, from the middle joint. I felt a bit concerned, so I reached out to examine it with my left hand — and when I moved the right pinkie just a bit, it popped back into place. Then I thought, "Oh, all right," got back on my bike and went to work. Needless to say, my boss thought I was insane.

Today, my first thought was something along the lines of, "Wow, I hope my leg isn't broken."

Followed by, "Okay, I'm pretty sure my leg isn't broken."

Followed by, "Wow, what a @#$%ing MORON."

Followed by, "Wow, I just looked like a @#$%ing MORON in front of all those drivers. During Bike To Work Week. Greeeeeat." (Thanks for that one, Little Voice!)

I sat there for a few minutes, collecting my thoughts and making sure I still had all my body parts. Bizarrely, it also occurred to me that since I recently finished a round of ciprofloxacin, it would be wise to verify that I hadn't snapped any tendons (I hadn't). It's funny what you think of when you've just, you know, narrowly missed killing yourself.

I was preparing to pick myself up when a nice fellow in a blue shirt came over and asked if I was all right. He said he saw me hit and asked if I thought I had any broken bones. I said I didn't think so and gingerly made my way to my feet.

Let me say this: at that moment, I was really glad to be part of the human race. This guy didn't know me from Adam, but he was extremely kind. He could've been like, "Wow, I can't believe you were stupid enough to dive-bomb that turn like that." Instead, he was as kind as humanly possible and chatted with me while we walked the most-of-a-block to the office. He checked repeatedly to make sure I didn't need to call and ambulance or whatever. He didn't lecture, judge, or otherwise try to make me feel bad.

Blue Shirt Guy, I am truly grateful. You took what might've been a bad experience and turned it into a great one. Thank you.

Oddly, as we made our way down the sidewalk, I found myself actually audibly wheezing. I didn't feel freaked out, but maybe I was? That settled down pretty quickly, though. I didn't even have to use my rescue inhaler, amazingly enough.

It so happens that I'm a religious guy. There are some things about this situation for which I feel really grateful.

First, Blue Shirt Guy. I wish I had thought to ask his name. He was a God-send, if ever I have seen one.

Second, there was nobody behind me — by which I mean there were no drivers behind me. If there had been, this could've been a lot worse.

Third, the light on the street onto which I was turning was red — and for reasons I don't grasp, it stayed red for quite a while. That or else the drivers were waiting to make sure I wasn't dead, in which case, I'm grateful for that as well. I was making a left from a Eighth Street (bidirectional at that intersection) onto Market (one way). My light was green — and I'm pretty sure the crosswalk light was flashing as I entered the turn. It just doesn't make sense that the light on Market stayed red for so long.

Fourth, and I'd never thought I'd say this: for the first time in my life, I'm really grateful that I have the calves of a sumo wrestler, and since the rest of me is built more like a swimmer, I've always thought that was kind of awkward. My calves are enormous — to put them in perspective, in Muay Thai class, one of the serious students who I really respected once said, "I bet you could snap someone's neck with those calves." When I crashed this morning, I struck the back of my calf, towards the outside margin of the gastrocnemius (that's the big muscle whose bottom margin appears to run horizontally when your point your toes and flex your calf muscles).

There is literally no better place I could've hit my leg — the muscle absorbed the impact. Yes, it hurts, and it's undoubtedly going to be very tight for a few days (especially since I was in the midst of a pretty intense effort when I crashed) — but if it weren't for that muscle, I suspect that whichever large metal object I struck my leg on would've broken the bone.

Thus, if you ever hear me complain about my monster calves ever again, please smack me. I'll deserve it.

Fourth — and really, this is a minor thing — my glasses remained on my face. Thank God. I can't see further than six inches from the tip of my nose without them.

All told, this situation could've been a heck of a lot worse. I'm going to have a few nasty bruises, and I managed to snap my cute litte Zefal bar-end mirror off at one of its joints. I think my neck and shoulders would be sore if I hit my head, and they aren't: but I'm not taking any chances. I'll be replacing my helmet tonight.

I might prevail upon Jens to inspect my bike with me at lunch time. I think Swift is okay -- the chain came off the big ring, so it wouldn't surprise me if my front derailer is a bit out of whack. I didn't try to fix it when I locked up, though. I was actually feeling a bit shaky by the and just wanted to get inside and sit down.

The upside is that this experience makes me all the more willing to try real mountain biking -- I figure if I can handle this, I'll be okay with most of those thrilling spills :)

Assuming Swift is okay, I am guessing I'll ride in tomorrow morning as planned. Friday is National Cike to Work Day, and I'm not missing that (unless my leg falls off, in which case I'll have bigger fish to fry — like, for example, where to find a hand-cycle).

It's worth noting that this whole incident could've been prevented through the judicious application of a little common sense.

That being said, I lived, and I hope I've learned something. I walked away from this thing much better off than I might otherwise have been.

And now I'm going to go find something to eat and some ice for my leg.

Ride safe, party people.

Edit: After a few hours, some ibuprofen (no tylenol on hand), a snack, and some caffiene, I am feeling pretty much normal again, though my left leg does hurt like a — we'll just say it hurts a lot. Less than it did, though. I'm stretching the muscles a little at a time to keep them from locking up. I was initially worried that this incident might keep me off the bike for a few days; I'm now pretty sure it won't.

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