Tuesday, September 20, 2011

One bad Saturday

What started as an innocently planned 75-mile ride with 300 people I didn't know (and 1 that I did) turned into a big bowl of wrong shortly after the start. As anybody who does this sort of thing knows, the photos that follow represent a large amount of money in apparel and equipment, not to mention the one at the end that represents a huge amount of pain and inconvenience.

Kevin and I had decided to do a ride from Parvin State Park on Saturday morning that was sponsored by a local cycling group. I've done these sorts of rides before, and they attract all kinds of riders. From riders who want to finish in the shortest time possible to riders who barely know how to shift gears and ride for the food and SAG support.

It had been about 3 years since I had done one of these rides, and only on reflection did I recall the vast difference in rider quality and I hadn't fully developed a plan to avoid the least experienced and/or slowest of the bunch.

We started from the park, and rolled quickly but quietly down the sparsely traveled county roads. Saturday morning was cool but manageable, and I knew that it would soon be warm enough that we would feel better. After all, it was a 75 (or 100) mile ride, and you can't judge the first half hour against the rest.

As we rode along, on some of the faster and flat spots, the familiar cry of "on your left" was said about a dozen times as riders on their high-bar bikes strolled along at about the same speed as some could run. But they paid the same $20 that we did, so the courtesy of telling them we are going to pass seems the least we could do.
We had barely gotten 12 miles out when we encountered a herd of cyclists that were taking up the entire right side of the road. I was about to tell Kevin that we should buzz this group, when one of them decided that a small encumbrance in the road justified her almost stopping entirely, and without warning she slowed to a crawl, leaving me no choice but to run up on her rear wheel.

I saw our wheels cross, and had enough time to say out loud, "This isn't good," and in a flash I was sideways on the ground. I had hit with a force that I have never hit before, and immediately felt my head hit the pavement (yes, that's blood on my helmet) and my left arm impact my chest with a force that would end up dislocating my lung from its protective casing. I know I was almost to a complete stop when I hit, because there is no scraping on my clothes or arms - just impact points and big scars. One on my forearm, one on my shoulder and one on my upper thigh. I'd have been better off sliding. To give you an idea of the force, the impact not only dislocated my left lung, but it dislocated the left lens from my Oakley Flak Jacket frames - a feat that cannot be accomplished easily.

The medical term is pneumothorax. You (and I) would call it a collapsed lung. Subsequent X-Rays would say it was 40% collapsed, and I wound up being admitted to Elmer Hospital. They found no cracked or broken ribs, so they reasoned that it was the impact alone that caused the lung to collapse. That's a lot of impact, gang; especially from 4 feet off the ground.

Shortly after 6:00pm, I would be in surgery having a half-inch tube inserted into my left chest, through my rib cage and into my thorax to attempt to draw enough air out of it to allow the lung to reinflate and rejoin its rightful place near my rib cage. By Sunday afternoon, that mission had been accomplished, and late Monday afternoon I was released from the hospital with a ridiculous amount of gause and tape on my body

The lessons we learn from this experience are plentiful:
  1. Pack a "Go Bag" and leave it in your vehicle, in case you, like me, have nobody at home to retrieve your belongings and you don't prefer to spend your entire hospital stay in a gown and smelly bike shorts.
  2. Stay as far away from strange riders as possible. Not all of them (or not most of them) know the simple etiquette of yelling "slowing" or "stopping" to let riders behind them know that they are slowing or stopping. One of those two words would have gone a long way toward keeping everyone safe. I still don't know if the rider I collided with takes any responsibilty for her actions. It doesn't matter, but it would be nice to hear "I'm sorry."
  3. When you're doing these giant group rides, pick out 6 or 8 people you know and ride with them. If you don't know anyone, find a way around the rest of them and practice "on your left" and yell it at every opportunity.
  4. When you have a plan, execute it. Don't wait for something to happen. I had a bad feeling about the group in front - emphasized by a couple of riders with hydration packs on their back - and should have just crossed the yellow line and gotten them out of my way. Several times prior, we had yelled "car back" and they just stayed bunched up on the road. That's why motorists hate us and why I hate some cyclists.
There are probably a few more that will materialize as I sit for the next 6 days waiting for this to heal.


junioralien said...

Gee!! But on your last long cycling trip you had an accident, too, right? Plus, the helmet broke or something.
So the lung is completely okay again? Anyway, get well soon!
The masses of asses are always a threat, unfortunately.

I never wear a helmet when I'm biking around here. But of course I never go on races. It's my everyday means of transport.

Anthony said...

I'd prefer to ride without a helmet, but experience has taught me otherwise.
My last major accident was on a group ride, but I've never had anything as severe as this.
I'm still working on the financial implications: Helmet, shirt, sleeves, bike repair ... all the stuff that my health care doesn't pay for!