I love my family and fortunately, I am able to earn enough money so that my wife can stay home with the kids, run the household, and have some fun keeping them busy. We get a beach pass to a nearby lake that the kids love, and they spend a large number of days there each summer swimming and digging the day away.
One sunny Saturday, I woke up early to head out on a long training ride. The plan was to divert from the course later in the morning and meet my family at the beach. I made it to the beach on time, but the pain in my arm from the crash made it difficult to enjoy the day.
My friend and neighbor joined me that morning and we both joined up with my cycling/fundraising “team” for the ride. We set off together from home and headed to meet the team at a nearby high school. From there, we rode a circuitous route that served to add miles and time on the bike. A few hours in, there was a reasonable break point that allowed us to head toward the beach where both of our families were now arriving.
Just the two of us, we cruised along trying to find our way by the maps on my phone (Later I would learn about Betty and her terrific audible directions which would have saved us many stops to check my phone). In a town with a name that I have forgotten, Kevin, my neighbor, said he’d like to call his wife and that we should pull over somewhere to do so. I remember this part well.
We were approaching a gentle bend to the left. On the right was a large triangle of grass, surrounded on all sides by intersecting roads. This seemed like an ideal location to pause and make the call.
Because I choose to ride a mountain bike everywhere, and not a fragile road bike, I did not slow down. My plan was to simply hop the curb and ride down the grass to a stop somewhere in the middle of the triangle island. The local public works department had already made other plans for me that day.
At approximately 17MPH, I hopped the curb and relaxed back onto the bike to allow bumps to be shaken out in my arms and legs. This turned out to be a mistake. The grass only looked smooth. Whoever had cut it must have driven the deck of a large mover directly over the three foot wide whole that my front wheel was now disappearing into. As it connected with the flat side of the far wall my bike came to an abrupt halt and my body did not (thank you Newton). The wheel turned left about 20 degrees before I could get some muscle into the bars to hold them straight.
The best choice in these situations is to attempt a graceful dismount over the handlebars. But it was a little too late for that. Next, my stomach impacted the stem. I think. I don’t remember it happening, but later I would have a decent bruise just below my sternum.1
The real trouble turned out to be the angle of my front wheel. My left arm was now very close to my body and the wrist was angled out severely. All while trying to decelerate my, not so slender, 200 pound frame. Something popped.
It may surprise you to know that I was happy when my momentum began to transition over the bars instead of into them. I welcomed the notion of leaving the bike for the open air and soft grass beyond. Unfortunately, my feet were clipped to the pedals.
As I rolled upside down and over the bars, I could see Kevin, looking down at me from the side of the rode. No point in telling him to watch out for the holes now.
My landing wasn’t graceful, but it wasn’t terrible either. My feet unclipped from the pedals, but only after they pulled the bike along with me for most of the flip. As I rolled over my shoulder, the bike came down on top of me.
Miraculously, none of my man parts impacted the bike before the flip, nor were they impacted by the bike as it came down on top of me. For this, I thank The Lord. Your lord. All the lords. And the luck of an Irish person that may have been near by at the time.
After brushing myself off and ensuring a local concerned citizen that all was well, I inspected my bike for issues. Surprisingly, the front wheel was still straight, brakes were doing their thing, and all of parts seemed to be in working order. So, we made the phone call and set off on our way again.
My bike may have been OK, but something with me wasn’t right. My arm wasn’t broken. But it also wasn’t not broken either. I mean, it worked, but it hurt quite a bit. I thought it was a pulled/strained muscle. I thought it would go away. I took some ibuprofen because, well, that stuff is great. I put some ice on it. These things helped temporarily, but the pain persisted.2
We took our usual bike vacation to Martha’s Vineyard a week later. I couldn’t carry kids in that arm, but I could carry a bag or something hanging from my hand. When we rode, I favored the arm and held it against my body, or rested it lightly on the handlebars (this kind of lopsided favoritism causes other problems, of course).
About a month later I participated in PMC 2012. The pain was much less. My arm worked better. But certain actions would set things off in a bad way for an extended period of time. After day #1 I wrapped my entire forearm up in a ice bag. This felt fantastic but led to a large number of questions and concerns from my fellow riders. I didn’t write anything about my arm in the PMC 2012 Review because the event, and my arm pain, was a bit overshadowed by the death of my niece, Meg. What’s an arm compared to a life?
Time passed and the pain diminished, but not very quickly. Maybe this is typical of the recovery process for this type of injury (whatever it may have been). But one day, almost 14 months after the crash, I realized that I had felt no discomfort for the entire day. It was only in noticing that I had not noticed any pain that I realized how long I had been recovering for. Thankfully, the trend has continued and the number of contiguous days of zero pain has increased steadily. Once again, I realized this milestone by way of noticing that I could not recall the last time my arm had given me some discomfort. This was great.
Two things happened recently that brought my attention back to my long lost arm pain. First, almost 16 months after the crash, I started fixing the wheel that I damaged in the process.3
Second, I crashed again, on my way home from work. Nothing quite so severe as before. But whatever happened, some minor pain returned to my arm. My hip was far worse off, as it impacted a tree root on the way down, but my arm got the majority of my attention.
Shortly after Meg’s death, the frequency of emotional pain was quite high. Almost anything could set it off. As time passed, much like my arm, the pain diminished, both in frequency an intensity. Now, over 15 months later, I can get through a short discussion about her without completely breaking down. I can look longer at pictures of her. And I can write all of this with memories of her in mind and feel generally OK.
Every now and then I fall down and the memories of pain and loss come flooding back in. But unlike the recurrence of physical pain, I am happy to have her back any way that I can.
For my arm, knee and ankle4, I will continue to welcome the ibuprofen.
- I am attributing my abs of steel to years of couch-height knee drops from my oldest child. Thanks, boy [↩]
- You’re probably wondering when I went to the doctor. I didn’t. But you can hold back your critique. Doctor’s don’t have magic potions. If my bone was broken, I would see the doctor so they could set it. Short of that, they would likely prescribe what I was already doing: ibuprofen, ice, rest, then some light exercise, and so forth. If you still want to scold me, go ahead. [↩]
- I realize that I said the bike was OK. But that was immediately after the accident. About a week later, the rim deformed. The impact bent the rim, but the spoke tension held it back for a short time. This is, apparently, fairly common. [↩]
- The knee and ankle are another set of stories. [↩]