July 16, 2008

The Crash

I still feel a little sick to my stomach. There was a pretty nasty crash tonight on my regular Wednesday night group bike ride. I somehow managed to stay upright, but many others weren't so lucky. I think around 6-8 guys went down in a chain reaction at 23 mph. I didn't see how it started, but I saw how it ended.

I've ridden with this group for about six years. While there have been a couple of minor crashes over the years, I haven't witnessed this kind of carnage before. A few riders broke bones (collarbone, wrist, ankle?, rib?), others were just left bloody. A few non-injured riders turned around immediately to go get cars to transport the injured riders to the hospital. Others called family members to pick them up. Apparently nobody thought their injuries warranted an ambulance. Interestingly, an ambulance actually drove past the scene of the accident at 55 mph without so much as a glance. It was kind of horrible standing on the side of the road in the middle of several injured (and somewhat pissed off) people and not really being able to do anything to help them. Hopefully everyone has a speedy recovery.

In my cycling "career" I have crashed four times. Of course, this doesn't count all the times I've simply fallen over at stoplights from not clipping my shoes out of the pedals in time.

I got my first road bike at age 15. Just a few weeks later I was riding around Danville like a real hot shot. I was in the street on Winter Ave and I turned onto the sidewalk on Vermillion. I took the corner way too fast and overshot the sidewalk onto the grass... straight into a fire hydrant. The bike came to a screeching halt, but my body didn't. I flipped over the handle bars and nearly landed in the road. I was fine. The bike was mostly fine. My pride, on the other hand, was not. This is one of the busiest intersections in town and a lot of people saw this. I got back onto the bike as quickly as I could and fled the scene with my head hung low.

It would be another 12 years before I would crash again. In my mid-20's I got into racing triathlons. Then I injured my knee running, so triathlons were out. Next I decided to give bicycle racing a try. My very first race was the 2006 Cobb Park Criterium in KANKAKEE. It was challenging and a little scary, but I was handling it reasonably well. About half way through I saw the guy two in front of me hit the deck, then the guy right in front of me. I had enough time to think to myself "oh shit," but not enough time to do anything about it. I hit the guy in front of me at 24 mph and went down as well.

I hit the pavement and it took my breath away. I was fine, but in a little bit of shock. I crawled off to the side of the road and made sure I still had all my body parts and they were functioning correctly. I could have gotten back into the race on the next lap, but I wanted no part of it. What a first race. My knee & elbow were bloody (I still have scars on both). When I got home I realized that my buttocks were also scraped up and bloody. Nice. I took a day off then started riding again on Monday. I was down, but not out.

A scant two weeks later I found my self in a similar situation. Near the end of a Saturday group training ride we were really hammering the pace. We hit an uneven stretch of pavement. Martin was riding in front of me and he hit the lip in the road at a bad angle and crashed. I plowed into him, flipped over the bars, and rolled onto the concrete. Fortunately, this time I did see it coming and I was able to slow way down so this was almost a fall rather than a crash. I wasn't injured, though Martin had to get stitches in his chin.

Last October was the most serious crash I've had. I was training for the Deuces Wild Duathlon alone on my time trial bike. I was hauling ass on my way back into town. I was doing about 25 mph on Bradley Ave west of Champaign. I crested a (very) small hill as I approached Rising road from the west. As I got to the top of the hill I could see a car heading south on Rising pull up to the stop sign at Bradley and stop. At this moment I hesitated a bit in my peddling because I was expecting the car to pull right through the intersection, as most cars would do in this situation. I was approaching the intersection, but there was still time for the car to make it through. I waited, and waited, and waited. The car didn't go.

Alright, the car is waiting and properly yielding the right of way to me (I did not have a stop sign), so I start peddling really hard again. Right before I entered the intersection the car took off straight towards me. Shit. They didn't see me. I slammed on the brakes, but at that speed they simply locked up and I started sliding out of control, so I let go. If I took no action I would have hit the side of the car at high speed and it would have hurt. Bad.

Onto plan B. I veered right and peddled faster. At this point I was heading directly in front of the car, but it seemed like the lesser of two evils. Had I continued straight I would have definitely hit the car. At least this way I had a chance to either completely avoid getting hit or maybe simply get knocked over. I looked to my left and saw the hood of the car coming directly at me, but it was still a few feet away. I breathed a huge sigh of relief as my torso completely cleared the vehicle, but I wasn't in the clear yet. The car hit the rear wheel of my bike, knocking me into the ditch at the corner of the intersection.

Had this been any other ditch on any other road I would have simply coasted upright to a stop. This ditch was insanely deep (4 feet) for no apparent reason. My front wheel dropped straight down and I flipped over and landed on my head, cracking my helmet (kids, always wear a helmet). I slid and rolled to a stop in the grass while my bike flew about 20 feet into a corn field. I immediately noticed a huge pain in my right leg and in my neck. This is bad. I laid there trying to figure out which body parts were working and which weren't. I have to credit the driver for doing the right thing and rushing to my aid. My situation could have been a lot worse had she not done so. After a brief exchange of words she called an ambulance for me.

The next thing I knew I heard a voice call out, "Rob?" It was my old next door neighbor who was out for a jog. From a quarter mile away he witnessed the entire incident, which he promptly explained to the paramedics and police as they arrived. He even offered to take my bike home for me, as I would be going home in an ambulance.

I laid on my side in the grass until the ambulance arrived. With the pain I was having in my neck I didn't want to take any chances of making it worse by trying to move around. They loaded me onto a hard, uncomfortable wooden board, which I rode all the way to the hospital. Actually the most unpleasant part of the ride was that my cell phone was in the back pocket of my bike jersey and I was laying on it the entire way.

It took an eternity to get to the hospital. I don't know how it could have taken this long. I seriously could have ridden there faster. And with the sirens on we don't even have to stop at stoplights. Wait a minute. Why are we completely stopped? We must be at a stoplight. Wait a minute. Why don't I hear any sirens? Crap. The sirens weren't on and we were stopping at every light in town.

At the hospital, after the x-rays and examinations, I had the unpleasant duty of calling Melissa to confirm her worst fear, that I had been hit by a car while bicycling. Ring ring. Ring ring. No answer. Next I called my parents. My mom freaked out, justifiably. She and my dad immediately rushed over from Danville. They got in contact with Melissa on the way and they all arrived soon enough. Everyone was relieved upon seeing me. Apparently I wasn't as mangled and ugly as they were expecting. That's a plus. As I was leaving my mom asked me about the large swollen lump on my leg. It was my muscle. I ride a lot :)

My injuries turned out to be pretty minor. My leg was just bruised (presumably from hitting the handlebars). My neck wasn't injured at all, it was my shoulder. There was enough pain that I couldn't initially pinpoint where it was. My bike didn't have scratch on it. I stayed home the next day and started riding to work again two days later. My leg healed in a few days. My shoulder took quite a bit longer. There was some spraining/straining/stretching of some tendons. I'm not exactly clear on that. It took a few months of physical therapy (on the other side of town in the dead of a horrible winter, of course I rode there) and a cortisone shot to get back my full range of motion. I still have a small amount of pain in that shoulder from time to time, but I'm an endurance athlete. I eat pain for breakfast (that and Raisin Bran Crunch). My only concern was being able to swim again, and I can.

Interestingly, I returned to the scene of the accident a week later and found my water bottle (which had been flung off my bike) lying in the corn field.

These are horrible stories. If you're still reading you're probably horrified and depressed. Keep in mind these are only four crashes over the course of tens of thousands of miles of bicycling, including a number of races (which are inherently more dangerous than regular riding). Regardless, cycling is still far far far less dangerous than riding in an automobile. That definitely necessitates a helmet.


Melissa said...

yes, i am horrified and depressed. whenever you are out on the bike, i generally pace around trying to avoid hyperventilating by breathing into a paper bag. that's what scares me so much about road bikes. you can have great technical skills, but if the person in front of you drops their chain and spins out of control at 24mph, you have little other option but to crash. i am so thankful that you are okay after tonight's incident. i hope thomas and martin et al heal very quickly, i will be thinking of them and wishing them well.

Anonymous said...

What an INTERESTING blog, and SCARY to say the LEAST--- BUT, since the AUTHOR is my 'son'- I read it holding my BREATH and FEARING the WORST...... I am sorry about your biking friends, and pray they will recover quickly-------- it's YOUR last line that bothers me......... somehow, I know CARS are DANGEROUS, however, the SIZE and COVERAGE of them makes me 'feel' safer than a BIKE!!!! Maybe if they would REALLY make JUST BIKE LANES..... to allow the safety , I would feel much less queasy----- and the photos in the hospital are quite good, HOW COULD SOMEONE WHO HAD JUST BEEN "HIT" AND THROWN IN A DITCH, be sitting so CALMLY , and smiling through his pain???? You're something else...... A true ATHLETE..... pain and raisin bran crunch/// hmmmmm. You're funny!!! stay safe and did you ever think of inventing some biking armor to wear???? luv and hugs, nan

Anonymous said...

What a horrible and depressing chain of events...
THANK GOD you are alright.

gutzville said...

I'm going to set you up w/ a mini first aid kit for your bike, w/ some 4x4s, tape, blood stopper gauss, foldable splint... Standard stuff. It seems like you need it. Although it may weigh as much as the rest of your bike.

Scott said...

makes me want to take up a safer summer sport, like base jumping