No Ride is CasualA bubbling stream and warm sun bring me out of dark and sorrowful dreams. What day is it? Through the clearing haze I look at my trusty Timex and slowly process the details. It's a Saturday in July, right around 11 o'clock. The next question is a little harder - where am I? Apparently I'm crouched over a splashing forest brook with steep, sandy banks. My right hand is wet, and it hits me that I just tried to wash my face with it, although I can't remember why. It sure hurt though. Turning and stumbling up the bank, I see my little truck waiting in the dirt pullout. Information starts flooding in, and my ability to process it speeds up accordingly. My bike is in the back, I must be out for a ride....nobody else is here, I must be alone....that's right, I'm up in Hope Valley by myself....why do I feel so numb and yet sharply aware....oh wow, look at my bike, that's bad. I think it's time I got back to town. A glance in the mirror tells me that getting to a hospital ASAP would not be a bad move.
It was a typical summer weekend - no work, no school, just free time. My riding pals were tied up with various other things, so I figured a little exploring on my own might be entertaining. I packed my 35mm camera and lenses - the old Olympus OM-1 had seen a lot of action in times past, but today would be casual. Perhaps some fun alpine photography would yield some keepers. Hope Valley is a beautiful place, and in the green, grassy summer it can be a cool retreat from the hot lowlands of Carson Valley. Grabbing the rest of the gear - water, bike tools, and pack, I made certain to toss my helmet in the truck as well.
I don't remember a crash, but that shredded face in the mirror looks real enough, so let's get moving. Somehow I find my key and muscle memory takes over the job of driving. No consideration of pity, pain, or despair, just focus on the task. I have 20 miles to drive, and staying functionally coherent is mandatory. So far, everything seems to be working physically. No serious bleeding at present thankfully, but an inexplicable exhaustion surrounded by a background of discomfort gives me a strange sense of urgency. Best not to argue. I reach the highway and proceed at a manageable clip, heedless of the limit. As I wind downhill through the canyon, I spend little time in reflection - every moment is spent concentrating on negotiating my way to Barton Memorial Hospital as swiftly and trouble-free as possible.
Back then, I had even less in terms of "stuff" than I do now. My old pickup and mountain bike were some of my prized possessions, since both had the ability to give me freedom. I had recently made some upgrades to the bike that had been with me since the beginning - the most modern being some Girvin ProFlex front suspension. Even then, it was an older frame. In 1989 I had taken a year's worth of savings up to Reno and bought the best bike I could afford - a 1990 model Diamondback Ascent with 21-speed Rapidfire shifting, Biopace cranks, and a sweet gray-pearl-on-white paint job. Every kid in town wanted to ride it, and for the most part, I let them. By 1996, the bike was no longer new, but I still tried to pamper it as well as I could. I had blown through a couple sets of the poorly-designed shifters, finally going to GripShift, as well as wearing out a couple headsets and bottom brackets. Still, with the new front suspension, it was cool. Strapping it into the bed of my pickup for a trip was almost as fun as riding it.
As I mentally map out the shortcuts I need to take through Gardnerville, it occurs to me that I should reach out, and contact someone I know in case I fail in my bid to get to the ER. 1996 is not exactly the era of cheap cell phones, so I reach for my 2-way radio instead. My friend Dave should be home, probably huddled over his electronics bench making some circuitry from scratch again. I'm surprised at the sounds that come out of my mouth when I key the mic - Dave answers, but does not recognize me, or understand much of what I say. After several attempts, I convince him of my identity and the fact that I'm in trouble. He monitors my progress as I proceed through Carson Valley, and I feel somewhat reassured that I'm no longer isolated. I'm getting impatient with the drive, as more pain begins to surface, but also because I am feeling progressively weak and am tempted to stop and rest. The last cursed stoplight almost gets me, as I discover that I am losing the ability to shift gears properly. Fortunately, the hospital is just a few hundred yards further. I pull into the closest parking spot to the ER entrance and head for the door.
Cruising up Highway 88, I could feel the air getting cooler as I reached Hope Valley. It was clearly going to be a perfect day - blue sky, scattered white clouds, and a lot of dirt road to explore. I turned off on the road to Blue Lakes, and wound through the trees for a few miles. Finding a nice shady turnout, I park the truck and get the bike ready. My loose plan is to follow a dirt 4WD trail up to a nearby ridge and take some photos. I start up the road and make decent time to the ridgeline, enjoying the still air. Resting on top, I eat a snack and take some photos, including some timed self-portraits. I decide to drop off the other end of the ridge and see how it takes me back to the truck. I clearly remember setting off down the road, twisting through some trees and picking up a little bit of speed - after that, things fade out into black.
The nurse behind the admission window has her head down as I approach, most likely doing some paperwork. "I need to see a doctor" I try to say, but what comes out is something different. The look on her face as she glances up is priceless. I get hustled into the ER faster than fast, and have a plasma I.V. in along with a few other needles by the time Dave walks in to check on me. I try to give him a wry look, but can't move anything to do it. The doctor puts a metal pan in front of my face and starts trying to wash the gravel out of my mouth with a hose. I can hear some fingernail-sized pieces hitting the tin, and wonder how they are going to fix it all, and how many teeth I have left.
Fortunately, I came out of it OK in the end. I had lost a lot of blood, mostly from a shin gash that left a fair bit of skin and hair on the stem. I had a concussion, and a decent abrasion on my left shoulder and forearm, but the rest of my body was unscathed. A maxiofacial surgeon in Reno was called in off the golf course, and that afternoon he performed reconstructive surgery on my face. It took a couple hundred stitches and a bit of synthetic material, but he finally got it all back together. I had some minor fracturing of the nose and one tooth, and lost the main nerves in the lower lip. A week or two off from work was in order, and I had to eat from a straw for a while. My dignity had suffered mildly, but cosmetically everything might have been an improvement.
The bike, however, did not fare so well. The front wheel was a complete taco, the bars were twisted out of place, and both large, solid aluminum forks were bent back at a 30-degree angle about halfway up the tubes. Three of the four ProFlex cross-bolt hinges were sheared completely. It was clear that I had failed to negotiate some solid obstacle and come to a very sudden stop. I certainly got launched over the bar, catching my leg, and then hit hard on my head just on the front of the helmet, shattering about a quarter of the styrofoam. My shoulder, arm, and face then got dragged over some rough gravel like it was a cheese grater.
Somehow I carried myself and the bike back to the truck, and then went down to the stream to wash my face until the pain of that took me off autopilot. A trip back to the area a couple weeks later told me that it was probably a flooded water channel with a foot-deep cut in the road that got me, about a half-mile from the truck. Apparently I was going pretty fast and did not pull up enough.
Six months later, I pulled some savings and bought a new Cannondale Super V, racing it with success for a while around Tahoe in various cross-country events. In the ten years since, I've pulled some decent crashes, but nothing quite so spectacular. Getting back on was hard, but that's part of the game. The lessons here are clear: 1) take a friend, 2) wear a helmet, I'm sure mine saved my life, 3) no matter how much camera gear you are carrying, no ride is casual.