There have been many times while biking, where I thought it would be fun to have a video camera along for the ride. I’ve covered a lot of ground in the back woods up and down the east coast, from Vermont to West Virginia, and have often experienced moments that I would love to share with others. Moments of pure exhilaration as I fly down lone and muddy sections of singletrack; moments of muscle burning climbs up steep rocky grades, flashes of agility as I leap over fallen logs and obstacles, and yes, many moments of utter defeat as I spill, tumble, slam, bang, bounce, fall and crash into trees, rocks, logs and myself. Moments I wish to share, but also moments I simply wish to have for myself to see just how magnificent, or foolish, I look.
Well, tonight, as I found myself walking out of the woods of Ringwood, I found myself yet again wishing I had brought a video camera along with me, for there was a spectacular moment I wish I had captured on tape not only for my own understanding, but for all of your enjoyment.
I took a spill this evening out on the trail. And this is by no means a unique occurrence, for, as we bikers like to say, “Its ain’t biking until someone bleeds.” I often fall. I often wipe out. I often abandon my bike as I take a turn too fast, or get too much air over a log, or just cannot stay on the bike any longer traversing challenging section of trail, but tonight, I crashed. And boy did I crash hard!
Over the course of my walk out of the woods, and the ride home, and in the shower as I cleaned gravel and mud out of stinging, open wounds found all over my body, I have been attempting to piece together this splendid crash of mine. Its splendid first of all, for I am relatively alright. No broken bones, no torn ligaments and my skull remains in one piece. And splendid secondly, for I still cannot possibly fathom how one split second of total chaos could have inflicted such a multitude of cuts, gouges, abrasions, bruises and painfully sore muscles all over my body. It is for this latter reason, that I wish I had the crash on tape. And it is also this very reason that I now attempt to detail a possible blow-by-blow scenario of exactly what happened and how my body got completely ravaged. For those of you with weak stomachs, or for those who are simply bored with this story, I suggest you stop reading now. It’s gonna get ugly.
The section of the trail where this incident occurred was just at the top of steep climb of switch-backs up to the first nice downhill of the loop. The uphill was cut into the solid rock face of the mountain, the dirt of the trail being held tight by the visible roots of trees strewn across the trail. The roots and the tight switchbacks make the climb difficult, the jagged rocks and boulders make the climb a challenge. And the trail is very narrow, lined with a variety of dogwood, tulip, pine and maple trees, each one, a dangerous obstacle one must always avoid, and yet a trusted friend to rest upon when one’s breathe needs catching.
It was very hot, the hottest all year. And muggy as hell. But I felt good, and more importantly, I felt balanced. The last time I was on this trail, I was ‘off’. I did not feel right and could not navigate the switchbacks, stopped many times and even walked the bike across the trouble spots. I have since attributed this lack of balance to my cracked front rim, but this is another story.
Tonight, I felt good. I felt ready to hit this mountain and ready to fly over the crest of this uphill and plunge into the first real downhill of the evening. It was here I mangled myself.
Before I recreate the crash, maybe I will first tell you of the cuts and bruises covering my body? Yes, this will help me piece it together as well. The worse pain is in the meaty part of my right hand. You know the fleshy part between your thumb and wrist? There is a large, red welt that I am sure will be a nice bruise come morning. Being a “righty”, I often find myself instinctually thrusting this hand out to cushion my falls, as was the case tonight. Just what I slammed my hand up against, we will try to determine in a moment. The next painful thing is my right knee. Banged on something. Nothing really visible, but aching just the same.
Next, are many nice sized abrasions complete with shredded skin and a surprising amount of gravel. I was not biking on gravel?? The largest abrasion is on my left shin just below the knee, Its about the size of a coaster and has some deep scratches slanting across it. Another is located on the inside of my left forearm about the size of a half dollar. Another on my left hip which is a vertical abrasion about three inches long, as if one took the metal teeth of a zipper and dragged it across my flesh, This is a nice one. And I have a few on the fingers of my left hand. And then I have several single deep, scratches: two on the inside of my right calf, one on the heel of my left foot. And two parallel scratches just off to the left of my tattoo on my left shoulder. And I also have a bit of a headache, but I do not think this has anything to do with the crash.
So, as I try to picture myself on my bike, about to plunge into the downhill, I slow my mind’s eye down to almost a mental freeze frame, and here is what I see:
I am up off the seat pumping my legs uphill. Although uphill, I have a fair amount of speed. My grip is loose on the handle bars for them, and my front tire, are bouncing against, over and around rocks, roots and logs and I am letting it find the line to bike through. The crest of the hill is in sight bearing off to the right for the drop. I glance down in an attempt to drive my front tire through two jagged rocks. I miss the opening. The front forks kick in and bounce back at me. My hands and gloves are drenched with sweat and my left hand slides to the end of the bar and my fingers get smashed against the rugged bark of a maple tree I brush past.
Aaaaarrrghhhhh… ….my quick exclamation of pain is slowed down in my mind.
I think nothing of this pain, for I am closer to the first step of the downhill. I push my right leg down hard to get the last bit of momentum and my foot slips off the pedal. The metal teeth of the pedal cut two slashes into my right calf. My body tilts awkwardly to the right. This, in addition to the slight lean to the right I have already executed due to the approaching hill is enough to send me off balance before I even knew what was happening. To compensate, I turn the wheel and throw my body to the left. This is where I meet Mr. Tree. He gets me on the left hip. Hard. Due to my speed, I literally bounce off and start falling down the downhill. Its too late to attempt to reposition the bike directly under me, but I try anyway. But this only leads to me dragging the bike across the trail to get the rear wheel caught in an exposed root. The bike stops dead in its tracks, and as Newton would know, I do not. My right knee slams violently into the neck of my bike.
I feel my body sailing over the handle bars, and believe it or not, this is a familiar feeling. In fact, I have done this so often in my career, that I actually have gotten pretty good at it. I am so comfortable with this, that it has become an escape move on my part. In many cases, when in trouble, I can actually ‘leap frog’ the handle bars, letting my bike tumble on its own behind me as I land a few feet up the trail on my feet. Granted, this does not always work and when it does not, it is usually a bad thing. Like tonight.
My body was in mid-flight, and as I attempted to clear the handle bars, my left thigh hit the bar, which dislodged the bike from the exposed root, and took it along for the ride. And since I was in the act of attempting to ‘leap frog’, I was bringing my knees up to my chest, thus, I also brought the bike up to my chest. Well, upon further review, I did not bring it up to me, I was brought down to it. I came down with the bike. My left shin took the landing in full force upon a rock. The bike was now tucked under my left leg, and my legs were temporarily planted on the ground, but the upper half of my body was still in motion. And remember, I had just crested the plunging downhill. Thus, the upper part of my body had now a few extra feet of space between it and the earth, and had now started to come down.
So, as a mid-point review: I squashed my left fingers against one tree, gouged my right calf with my pedal, slammed my hip into another tree, smashed my right knee against the handle bars, my left shin on a rock, and it was not that I had crashed, I was still crashing. The crash was not yet over! My bike was wedged under my left knee, the front tire dug into the earth, and the rear tire lifted up higher than my head and upper body, which was finally, plummeting to the earth now two feet lower than normal ground level thanks to the steep downhill.
Its at these moments, when my head is rocketing down to the earth, that my life flashes before my eyes. I mean this. But its not like a story I can recite, or a string of visions that I can describe to you. Its more like my mind’s eye is showing me pictures of what it had seen during the course of my life, as if I was seeing them for the very first time. And it is not actually what I am seeing, but the emotions of what I am seeing. At moments when I fear the worst is about to come, I see not images and scenes replayed in my head, but the emotions that accompanied seeing everything for the first time. I see my every emotion experienced throughout my life in a visual sense. Like the split second of disorientation you experience after being revived from unconsciousness, there is a brief moment of sensory overload, then everything falls back into place and back normal. As my head began its violent decent towards the earth, my mind was bombarded with all the visual emotions of my life. But these quickly passed as I felt the pain.
Out went my right hand to cushion the blow. It came down on the very point of an angular rock. My chest came down hard in the dirt just to the left of this rock, and my helmet (thank God) my helmet bounced off yet another rock, and was then whapped by the rear tire of my bike, which then tumbled once, then twice, then bounced to a rest about ten feet down the first downhill of the evening.
For a moment, all was calm. There was no feeling, no movement in the world, and no sounds. No, wait, there was a sound. Yes, a loud popping sound. After slowly getting up, looking myself over, and collecting my bike, I realized the sound was the bursting of my front tire. It was the second flat of the night. So,
after such a spectacular crash, adding insult to injury, I was forced to walk out of the woods, beaten, but not defeated.
Wow, I just played the crash now in normal speed in my head and boy was that was nice! Man I wish I had that on tape! For, yes, I must be honest here, I love this shit! The adrenaline rush, the agony of defeat, the thrill of pushing your body to its extreme.. and then some. I mean, how much can you know about yourself if you’ve never thrown yourself down a mountain with only two inflatable tubes, a bunch of tiny spokes, and a lightweight piece of aluminum between your legs?
But, then again, if you do throw yourself down a mountain with only two inflatable tubes, a bunch of tiny spokes, and a lightweight piece of aluminum between your legs, what else do you need to know?