"It never gets any easier. You just go faster." ---Greg Lemond
"Don't buy upgrades. Ride up grades." --- Eddy Merckx
"You drive like shit." ---The Car Whisperer


Breaker Biker!

It's finally happened.

I've been very lucky my years of biking not to have a serious accident (and, in this case, still am, it turns out), but if you bike, you'll fall. And if you bike on the streets, you're going to get hit by a car, eventually. No matter how defensive, safe, or conscientious a biker you are, the law of averages is going to catch up with you sooner or later. It caught me finally Thursday night.

It had been a very good last two weeks. I did three races the weekend before, increasing my placing in each until the last one, which was an extremely fast Masters race that I was just a bit fatigued for, physically and mentally. My brother was in town as well, in Indianapolis for the weekend, but staying with me earlier in the week, and then returning on Sunday after my Wheaton races for dinner and one more night in Chicago. He accompanied me to work on Monday morning, and after lunch with my friend Loren, I showed him to the Blue Line for O'Hare.

It was a week for recovery and fundamentals. After the previous weekends races, Duffy's visit and the racing the weekend before that, I had taken a lot out of the vault. It was time to hunker down and save a bit up. So Tuesday I did a fantastic sprint workout with my two teammates Leonard and Kirby at Northerly Island. They were filming the Batman movie down there, and there a show at the amphitheater, as well. Loads of traffic but were able to carefully work about 10 sprint drills up to 250 meters in an hour. Wednesday was a nice recovery/endurance ride with another teammate Chris. Chris can really hammer. That is the main reason to ride with other people. Just as racing gives you motivation to go faster and harder, other people do the same than if you were just riding alone.

However, Thursday I was riding alone. Thursday is interval day, the most painful day of the training week. It's a day to push yourself, by yourself, to the limit. Intervals are a series of timed bursts and rest, and each burst you try to take yourself to the maximum. Sometimes it is more sustained, others you work with shorter and shorter efforts and rest. It does no good to do intervals with another person, because if one of you is faster, or stronger, you will get either separated, and it's really a session of individual mental strength-building. This is the day when you put the most pain in the bank for withdrawl on Race Day, when adrenaline masks everything.

I finished up my set of descending intervals father down on the lake front than usual due to the tailwind, and then time-trial-ed back north into the wind it to the Wrigley Building to pick up my bag and head home. Tonight was going to be nothing but relaxation. Little did I know the pain from earlier was what was nothing.

My usual way home is affectionately known as the "Cool Kids Route" among Chicago's cycling community. From downtown on Dearborn going north, I head west to Orleans on Chicago, then job west on Division to Clybourn. Heading northwest I take a left on Willow, by the Goose Island Brewery, and this where you can start taking back streets to avoid the intense traffic through the near Northwest Side. From the Brewery it's north on Marcey, west on Courtland all the way to a little northwest angled street called Wilmot, with quick jog on Damen in the middle, and then you reach Armitage.

From here you can either take left on Milwaukee, or continue a bit to Stave, where you can avoid the traffic for a bit longer. I usually don't take Stave, however, as it's potholed and littered with broken glass, and the traffic on Milwaukee isn't too bad. Thursday was Puerto Rican day however, and, as Milwaukee's primary neighborhoods at this point in the city are heavily Puerto Rican, the traffic was bumper to bumper. For some reason, though, I just turned onto Milwaukee. The traffic didn't look to crazy, I could see a line down the bike lane for what seemed all the way to California, which is where Stave would deposit me anyways. So I turned right early onto Milwaukee.

I stayed to the left of the bike lane, to avoid the "door zone," cruising at around 15 mph or so. Despite the heavy traffic, drivers were calm, not much honking, nobody was trying the douche bag move of darting around to the right in the bike lane. I was happy with my tough workout earlier, and was looking forward to a glass of wine and downloading the pictures from my brother's visit and doing the write up. Then there was a flash of silver - I yelled, hit the brakes, and...

A very dangerous aspect of the bike lane, aside from the door zone, are the cars turning left into parking lots and alleys during bumper-to-bumper traffic. To motorists, cyclists are out-of-sight, out-of-mind. In heavy traffic, once a car gets position for the left turn in front of the on-coming car, the decision is made. The bike lane in this case is almost 100% ignored, and the driver hits the gas.

The silver Chevy SUV came left in front of me with out so much as a thought to yielding to the second lane of traffic. It didn't help that I was as far left as possible to avoid opening doors to the right, but the law is that the bike lane is a lane of traffic, and has the right of way. But he didn't stop as I yelled, and I had about a half a second to react, and brake to stop short was all I did.

It really did go in slow motion from that point. I clearly remember thinking, "Shit, this is finally it. I'm gonna hit this fucker." The pain as my face, body and bike hit the right side of the truck happened faster than I could register at first, but I do recall my upper lip smacking metal and the asphalt, and flipping upside down, finally landing on my side. I got up on my hands and knees for a bit, trying only to see where my bike was and make sure I wasn't spitting out any teeth. Then the pain came into my right arm in flaming arrows of white agony.

I flipped over and dropped onto my back, clutching at my arm. I was sure it was broken and I began to yell and curse. My entire summer flashed in fast forward at that moment. The racing bike and my arm broken. All the time and effort I've spent over the last three months, which had put me just 3 races from my upgrade to Category 4, wasted. From a trivial collision with a careless driver - a selfish, wasteful subscriber to the car culture destroying our society.

He just looked dumbly down at me, and in a space-cadet way, asked, "Hey, man, are you, uh...all right?" As though this bicyclist with a bloody face who'd just gone flying over the hood of his truck and was now lying on the pavement, holding his arm, screaming and cursing, was just going to get up, dust off, say, "shit happens, man. Don't worry about it!" and bike off and he could just go back to his evening without any consequences for his actions.

"No I'm not all right! Jesus, my arm hurts! Call a fuckin' AMBULANCE!"

He said he was going park his car and call the ambulance, which was fine with me, but when two cops showed up on their little 4-wheeler ATVs, among the crowd of gawkers around me, it seemed this was also a hit and run. They asked me which way he'd gone, and took of down the alley, as a waitress from El Cid came out telling me to keep still, an ambulance on the way.

The ATV cops came back, and handed me the plate number somebody had thought to write down. I was strangely gratified. The pain in my arm had subsided and I was also beginning to realize it wasn't broken. A fire truck showed up, and I could hear the ambulance siren growing closer. One of the ATV cops said into his radio it was a hit and run.

I was standing as the ambulance pulled up and the EMTs got out. They seemed a bit relieved. I told them I was sorry, that before I thought my arm was broken, but I guess everything here was pretty standard, the whole to-do and everything. The firemen took my bike and told me I could pick it up at the station at Damen and Cortland later. I was told to have a seat in the ambulance.

I climbed in and we reviewed my condition. My right arm no longer was in the agony it was earlier, but it was a bit numb, ending down in my thumb and index finger. My neck was in pain, too, and I couldn't move my head much. At that point another set of cops appeared at the window of the ambulance, apparently to file the accident report. I was surprised and happy to see it was an old friend from the Kiss n' Ride days - my old band - Mike Komo.

He was a bit shocked to see it was me who was the subject of the call. I told him I was OK, and then noticed the guy who hit me was standing next to him. He'd apparently gone to park his car, he lived right at the site, and he'd called the ambulance. The EMT asked if I wanted to go to the hospital. I thought for a bit, and said yes. When you are hit by someone else, walking, bike, or car, always to to the hospital, for insurance claim purposes. Besides, the numbness in my right arm was left over from the extreme pain minutes earlier, probably the result of a janked nerve. I once had a client when I was a personal trainer who'd had her arm paralyzed when the camera she was holding got caught on a passing Metra train, pulling the entire main nerve for the arm out of the spinal cord. The numbness was a bit worrisome, and the EMT instructed me to lay down on the back board, and they put the collar on to immobilize my head and neck. Mike said he'd see me at the hospital, closed the doors, and the siren started and we drove to Norwegian Hospital in Humboldt Park.

I spent the next 3 hours staring at the ceiling, growing more impatient every minute passed that someone didn't tell me what was going on. I had nothing to think about but the run down looks of the ceiling panels, the peeling paint of the tops of the walls, the tape pulling at my hair, and the sharp plastic edge of the neck collar digging into my chest. My cleated bike shoes were still on.

I finally got X-rayed about 9:15, I think, by a very nice technician named Fernando. I don't mind waiting in the ER. I've done it before for hours. It's the complete lack of any attention or details that I hate. Just stop by and give me a 2 second update. I then waited again for another hour or so until the doctor told me nothing was outwardly wrong with my bones and that the collar could finally come off. My neck was too stiff to move much anyways, but at least I was free from that prison. He then told me the 7th vertebra of my cervical spine (my neck) was a concern and I would need a CT scan.

Bernard helped me there, a friendly black guy who'd been a technician for 27 years, he told me. The scan took only a few minutes but I waited over an hour, again, for someone, an orderly, to even talk to me. He said he'd go find out what was going on with my nurse.

I walked out of my room a few times, just to put myself in view, to get them to remember that I was still in the ER. I asked a nurse if there was a vending machine nearby, or maybe some snacks available - I hadn't eat anything since noon save two packets of energy gel. She tersely told me to tell my nurse about it. I hadn't realized I had an assigned "nurse" let alone talked to one in over 2 hours. The orderly came back, and said they were still waiting for CT scan results, and brought me four of the best tasting, stale, dry cookies I'd ever eaten. And the first cup of juice with a foil cover on it in about 15 years.

The hospital was filthy, and understaffed. On my way up in the wheelchair to received the CT scan, I'd noticed a bloody gauze pad in the elevator. An empty juice-cup sat on the counter of my ER room. The staff wasn't lazy: they were always on the move, but every time they said even two words to a patient they would need to seemingly fill out five pages of paperwork.

Finally the CT results came back, negative, and I was free to go. I had almost just packed up and left several times during the night, out of impatience, but my logical side stopped me, knowing I would need a complete diagnosis for the insurance claim on the driver's policy. I received my orders to stay home from work, rest, as well as a doctor's note and prescription for Motrin, 600mgs.

I thanked the orderly, and once my cab came, headed off to get my bike from the fire station. They were expecting me and let me in. It was a quiet night apparently. The bike was in the back, and they'd even put the chain back on. I gave the wheels a test spin, and amazingly, there will still in almost perfect true. They are hand-build Ksyrium SSC's, however, meant to withstand brutal punishment, incredibly strong and light. The frame seemed to be OK on a cursory inspection, as well. As strong as it is, aluminum and carbon can be frustratingly fragile. So I will be taking it for two frame inspections this week, to make sure I get a second opinion.

Aside from the numbness in my right arm, and a small amount of pain that had been growing in my left shoulder since earlier after getting to the hospital, I felt fine. The most ironic part of this whole affair was that the next morning, in approximately 5 hours I was due to lead a ride of the members from work who'd signed up for the Commuter Challenge, as part of Bike to Work Week to the Bike to Work Day rally in Daley Plaza. They were all pretty nervous about riding in traffic, and here was their gung-ho leader, having survived a brush with every commuter worst nightmare.

Upon waking the next morning after 3 hours of sleep, however, I nearly screamed when I sat up in bed, the pain in my left shoulder had continued growing through my slumber into a giant mouthful of sharp teeth biting into me. I figured the sleep would do me better, and I called into work. I spent the day on the phone with Allstate and my doctors office, and out in the afternoon, taking my Trek to Boulevard Bikes for a thorough frame inspection, and to get a haircut. The pain grew bit by bit, my neck got a little stiffer and stiffer. My thumb and index finger stayed numb. My good friend Mat was back in Chicago from his year abroad in Italy, and I spent the rest of the evening at our buddy Joe's condo, self-medicating with pizza, vodka and Old Style, and also broke my True Romance cherry. The Big Lebowski was also required viewing.

This morning my left shoulder is even in more pain, and I am probably going to get that Motrin prescription filled. The thumb and finger are still numb and I hope this is not an omen of more treatment needed. No matter, for today, at least. Mat is on his way over and we're heading to Delilah's annual vintage motorcycle show, and maybe a bloody mary along the way. This weekend has already been a nice break, the pain notwithstanding. The first weekend were I haven't been completely booked with a riding and or/racing and/or show since March. It's sort of God's way of telling me to take a rest for once I suppose.

As if you needed proof, the show I'd planned to play with Shrieking Violet tonight is canceled, at least our slot. I can't tolerate the weight of the bass around my neck and can't control the pick or rest my thumb on the picks-ups, because of my numb right arm. Velcro Lewis and his 100 Proof band will likely just play a longer set.

I won't be riding to the doctor's on Monday, but hopefully will be well enough to racing soon. When you ride, you fall. And then you ride again. If not, why were you doing it in the first place?

1 comment:

Steven Vance said...

You write wonderful narratives.