Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light. — Dylan Thomas
Every now and then we have brief moments of clarity. One such moment came for me yesterday as I was bombing down a beautiful Idaho hillside. The crash itself, and the playback in my head, are in slow motion. I was descending down the mountain on a trail carved into an east facing slope. The descent was one we did the day before, the views spectacular, the traversing amazing. Shortly after the start, however, I found myself in a rut, riding the outside edge. The rut guiding my wheel down toward the edge, an edge that had no ending from my vantage point atop the Giant I have navigated injury free for years. For what seemed like minutes I tried to correct my path, I tried to pull my bike and myself out of the rut and back to smoother trail. Pull, push, pull, push, a battle ensued that I quickly realized I was going to lose. The bike dipped further off the edge and I launched over the handle bars like superman without a cape. Toward the smoother trail I finally headed, that in a moment would be smooth no longer, but rather harsh and hard.
I recollect my arm and shoulder hitting the ground first, then rolling through my neck on the left side. I heard a crunching sound and saw the dust, shrubs, dirt, and light of the sun spin through my vision as I tumbled less like Superman and more like Raggedy Ann. I paused, torqued on my shoulder and neck and had to force myself to roll once more to take the tension off my head, shoulder, and neck. Rolling out and now right-side up I found myself on the downside edge. I had launched into the trail, hit hard, and tumbled through and back down. My immediate thought was I messed up my shoulder but my head, neck, everything else was relatively pain free. Confirmation came quickly as I reached over with my right hand to grab my shoulder. Bone was protruding much higher off the shoulder blade than it should. My first thought went to Joaquin Phoenix, second to get up and off the trail. Unfortunately the natural defenses of the body kicked in, and although we had just rested, ate, and enjoyed the views, I began sweating profusely and bonking hard. Breathing became labored and the sun blazed on me like a desert heat, I couldn’t escape it. I was now forced to lay on the trail and try to mentally convince my body that I was going to be ok, trying to keep myself from passing out. It seemed a short eternity before the next rider of the wabbit hunters cycling club appeared on scene. When they did all arrive I made it clear I knew something was wrong but didnt want them to say anything. I needed to get down the mountain and was feeling faint as it was, descriptions of injuries would likely make things much worse. The crew was awesome, being my clearer mind and stronger body, getting sugar in me, providing much needed shade so I could catch my breath, and hauling my bike the 4-5 mile trek to the car.
I walked out, arm in a make-shift sling, each of the crew taking turns walking my bike, Claire riding ahead to bring the car closer. It probably took an hour to get out, maybe longer, I recall mostly the pulsing pain sent to my shoulder with each step. The hospital was surprisingly quick being busy as they were. Heather took control and helped me through the paperwork, x-rays, and took better notes of the doctors diagnosis than I could at the time.
The Diagnosis. Type 3 Acromioclavicular injury. Basically a shoulder separation due to a couple torn ligaments through the clavicle. A sling, pain meds, and rehab required, but hopefully surgery can be avoided. I’ll know more when I return to Bend next week and start the rehabilitation process.
Back to the moment of clarity. I’ve narrowly escaped several close calls this week, turned ankles, exited my bike before it launched twenty yards off a rocky cliff, a tree breaking it’s forward motion. After each I would knock on wood and wear my bruises and scrapes proudly, badges of a life lived on the edge. My edge. But, this time I didn’t escape unharmed, and I didn’t brush myself off and get back on the horse, so to speak. This time I was damaged. This time I lay vulnerable and helpless in the middle of nowhere. This time consequences caught up to me, and shook me good. So, as I reflect this morning not on the damage I did, but rather the gratefulness I feel. Grateful that in such a desolate location I walked out with only the injury I suffered. Grateful no internal or head damage was done, though my friends may argue the latter. Grateful the crew was there to help and guide me safely out. Grateful to walk away and take something with me.
Mountain biking is like life. You can take it easy and slow, or you can put everything you have into it. There will be times you get caught in a rut and need to fight your way out. There will always be obstacles, twists, and turns. If you keep moving forward, trust in yourself and your capabilities, you will succeed on the trail, and in life. Success being your own measurement, you alone make the ride what it is, you alone choose to make life what it can be. Life is precious, being outside with friends who love and care for you is precious, seize and enjoy each moment. Because you will get bucked, but you will rise again.
I look forward to the next ride I take on my bike, and the ride life itself presents before me. When I undoubtedly face the fear that’ll surface during a descent somewhere in the future, I’ll look back at this incident and draw strength from it. Knowing that although I lost this battle I’ll continue to put myself on that outside ledge, because that’s where the value of living is, just outside the line of comfort and risk.