By Christopher Cudworth
Having not hidden much of my life while writing this blog, which now totals more than 500 entries, this is probably not the time to start hiding things now. So I will immediately confess that I did what seems like an impossibly stupid thing last night. I crashed straight into a large tree that had fallen across the bike trail.
That sequence of words is exactly how it should be stated. The tree had only recently fallen across the trail. A large storm passed through yesterday afternoon south of where I live. At 12 miles into a 25 mile ride I chose to cut west on the Virgil Gilman Trail, a well-maintained route that stretches four miles from downtown Aurora to Bliss Woods, a beautiful forest preserve with lots of birds and trees and plants to enjoy.
I wasn’t exactly trying to kill it on the bike last night. But my fitness is good so I was pedaling at a high cadence on the trail at a speed of 18-20 mph. I know that because I had just glanced down to look at my pace and distance and got distracted by a creative concept that was running through my head.
I’d been careful so far on the trail because there were lots of families walking on the trail so I was careful to slow and swing around the kids toddling along and moms pushing strollers. Once you’re out of the family zone the trail opens up and there are very few people, just other cyclists and joggers as you head west toward the preserve. That is where my mind started to wander.
Again I’m not in the habit of riding with my head down very long. I’ve ridden 25,000 miles the last 10 years and have had exactly one crash. That was caused by bike wobble on a long section of downhill in Wisconsin. I escaped with only a broken collarbone. To this day I am thankful for the ability to steer my wobbling bike off the road and into the grassy ditch. Even there I was fortunate not to strike a wire cable with my head or neck. Talk about lucky. Or smart. I prefer to think the two combine well.
But sometimes I admit I am wont to immerse myself in thought while on the bike.
Last night I was thinking about a specific topic which was to conceive the right design and image for a book I’ve written about helping my wife through cancer. The book is now complete. It is titled The Right Kind of Pride: Character. Caregiving. Community. It’s about caregiving through 8 years of ovarian cancer treatment for my wife Linda, who passed away in March 2013. Pretty soon it will be available through Amazon.com where I’ve published an e-Book of my short stories titled Not Far To Fall.
You’ll see in a moment how ironic that title can be. Each of those stories is about people caught up in circumstances that they would rather have avoided, and how they respond.
Deep in thought
See life really does imitate art in a number of ways. I was thinking about the cover design for my new book and running a set of images through my mind. A cover can make a big impression on people if you design it correctly. I have a background in creative concepts, design and marketing as well as being a writer.
So the subject had my brain occupied. My head was down as I pedaled along. Like I said, I had just checked my speed and trip time, so I don’t know how long I was thinking and not looking ahead. It must have been 8-10 seconds. Suddenly something appeared in the upper periphery of my vision and my mind woke up just in time to react to the tree lying on the trail. I pulled the bike sideways and crashed into the limbs at hip height. Which hurt. A lot.
It was a pretty solid tree. The trunk was about 10 inches across and the branches not much thinner at the point where I struck them with my bike and then my body.
Miraculously the bike was fine. My reaction turned the wheel so that it didn’t collapse. All that happened was a minor “adjustment” to the handlebar. They were pushed to a 45 degree angle and the one brake hood was tipped in. Other than that, the bike was fine.
I stood there bent over that tree groaning for about 30 seconds. My lower back was convulsed from the impact and my chin was feeling a bit sketchy too. Those were the two points of impact.
Pulling the bike free from the shattered limbs, I stood there feeling like a broken scarecrow for a minute. At that moment a couple rode up on their bikes and asked if I was okay. They must have wondered how on earth a cyclist could smash into a downed tree in plain sight. I did not try to explain. Thinking about a book cover is a pretty odd explanation for a bike crash.
Obstacles and stumbling blocks
I’ve had plenty of opportunity in life to crash into things in the past, and largely managed to avoid them. Sometimes cars seem to crop up on the streets when you’re least expecting them. I’ve hit nudged one of those before. But managed to miss quite a few more.
Then there are tarsnakes on hot summer days to grab your tires and make you flip if you’re not careful. I’ve stayed upright through all of those, too.
I can’t make excuses for taking my eye off the trail last night. It’s one of those things that happens sooner or later to us contemplative types. Lost in thought, they call it. Well, the tree found me for myself. One of life’s very real stumbling blocks reached out and made itself known. And yes, I was wearing my bike helmet. What I forgot to wear is that Star Wars gear mountain bike riders prefer when crashing through the woods. But I was not expecting the woods to come and get me.
The couple that found me offered to walk with me a bit and get my bearings. Fortunately my head was clear. My stomach was a little woozy. And how ironic it was that my crash site was about a mile before the spot where my companion went down in a sliding wreck last July when the trail was wet from rain and plant debris caused her front wheel to skid out. Later in the evening when I finally talked with her, she suggested we avoid that trail altogether from now on. “It’s cursed,” I think she said.
There were practical considerations to address in the minutes following the crash. “Your chin’s bleeding pretty badly,” the woman told me. “And you might be in a little bit of shock.” Meanwhile gentleman with a Felt bike (must be a good guy, I ride a Felt too) suggested “You should still walk around a little bit.”
“Yeah, I feel like barfing,” I laughed. Adrenaline. Can’t live with it. Can’t live without. Fight or flight. Might makes right.
So for the moment it was enough to get off the trail and start pedaling toward the house of some friends about three miles away. I felt fine on the bike and it was working properly so I pedaled along at 12 miles and hour and focused on getting to some help.
While stopped at a traffic light I pulled out my iPhone to call ahead and ask if they were home. The phone seemed to be working. It was lit up and the Contacts list showed up. But when I tapped the number to dial it just sat there. It could not make calls. Or send or take texts.
I pulled the phone out of its protective case and looked at it. The iPhone was literally bent in the middle. I know. That seems impossible. The case was fine but the phone was most definitely dented. I put it back in the case and rode on toward my rescuers.
They were not that surprised to see me a little banged up. We’ve known each other for 30+ years and all my running and riding has provided plenty of adventures over time. One of them drove me home with an offer to take me to the hospital but I declined because I knew it would take a while to be seen and it would get late.
In the car on the way home I felt something odd on my chin for the first time. Dabbing at the trail of blood coming down my chin I could feel a pretty big slab of skin hanging loose. Stitches, I thought to myself. I’m going to need stitches. My back also hurt pretty bad. There were big contusions and swelling had already started. But I could walk. That’s all that counts.
Sure enough, the Urgent Care doctor sewed me up after a good, stinging batch of numbing medicine on the chin. Getting the stitches in didn’t hurt. That always amazes me how fast you can get numb when they want you to feel no pain.
I’ve had more than a few numbing experiences in my lifestime. Over the years I’ve had a tooth stuffed back into my head from a baseball injury. Gotten stitches in my noggin from being pushed into a cement ditch during a pickup football game. Had a laser coterize my retina from a small detachment. Had ribs broken in adult soccer. Tore an ACL in that sport too. Then tore it again playing soccer two years later.
In 2012 I busted a collarbone when my bike wobbled going 40mph down a hill in Wisconsin. Then last fall there was surgery on my hand when a sliver caused a potential bone infection in my knuckle. That sliver cost me about $2000 in deductible payments. The entire pricetag was $25K. All because of a tiny sliver in my middle finger. F That, I say.
Life is freaking random, people. Better get used to it.
Some accidents are your own fault. Others just seem to come out of the blue. In either case I’ve always believed there’s some kind of cosmic message being driven home by sudden trauma. This time it was simple. Pay attention, dummy.
Thinking back even further, to episodes long ago when I was still very much a kid in elementary school, my history of bashing into things is rather colorful. Pretty much every other week my poor mother would have to come to school at the request of the nurse because I was constantly running into the swing set while chasing down a kickball or baseball to prevent someone from getting a home run. My intensely focused competitive streak resulted in an absentmindedness of a sort. Call it the price of early drive and creativity. My mind was not always where it should be. And so it goes.
Truth be told, after a while my mother simply quit coming to check on me at school. She knew I had a hard head and the goose egg would go down given time and a little ice.
Perhaps there was a concussion of two thrown in there, but most likely not. The nurse would give me an ice pack to carry to class and I’d sit there with a cartoon-egg bump forming on my forehead. It was hard to concentrate on schoolwork between the pain and the dripping ice pack and the giggling stares of other kids trying not to laugh at me lest they get in trouble in class. I was quite the package alright.
Sharing the pain
I always felt really guilty when my athletic antics caused pain to other kids on the playground. I was the product of a highly competitive family and growing in a family of four brothers taught me to play sports all out, all the time. Not every kid on the playground could handle that level of intensity. I could throw a ball so hard some kids could not catch it. As a result a throw I made to second base from the catcher position struck a kid in the eye socket and detached his entire retina. His eye was still red from the trauma a year later. Another kid named Jimmy got in the way of my efforts to catch a fly ball during a game of 500 and bit clear through his tongue. He never had it fixed and could poke a pencil through it. That was really gross.
So I’ve gotten it from both ends of the attention spectrum.
And I’m rather proud of that actually. There’s really no reason to be embarrassed about kicking your own ass or busting up your own head once in a while. It means you’re alive. And thinking.
But if you’re going to judge this person by his cover, you’ll have to look a little deeper first. To find the scars. The bumps. The bruises. And the will to keep on going despite all that.