I looked at the picture of Patrick, chunks of his face torn off, blood clotted and sprayed and spread all over, and am ashamed to say my first thought was, “Goddamn I’m glad that isn’t me.”
That instinctive millisecond of selfish self-loving self preservation passed, just like it does in a race when your buddy hits the deck and you shudder with relief that you were spared. Then humanity kicked in. “What a terrible crash; hope he’s okay; hope his neck and spine are okay; hope he doesn’t have a closed head injury; hope he’s not hurt nearly as bad as he looks…”
Yeah, and like the idiot biker friends everywhere…”Hope his bike’s okay.”
As New Girl said in a terse and choked up text, “This is what I HATE about cycling.”
Don’t we all?
Forget the “if.” Accept the “when.”
Getting smashed isn’t part of the sport. It’s part of life. That hard landing when shit goes sideways and suddenly you’re taut and bracing and, depending on how quickly the trauma reaches up and grabs you, wondering how bad it’s gonna hurt and if you’re going to survive it and BAM.
We’ve all felt the BAM, even those of us who’ve never ridden a bike.
Life is punctuated by BAM’s.
Patrick’s latest BAM happened today on Tuna Canyon. Tuna’s a one-way mountain road that, along with its treacherous neighbor Las Flores, has taken lives and cracked many a bone. If there’s a more difficult descent in LA County, I don’t know what it is. John Wike holds the downhill speed record, well over 55 mph, which, on a twisting descent on a bike, is faster than NASCAR. He set it in a full facemask and body armor.
And although you don’t need to know anything more about Tuna than that it can put you in a can, quickly, you do need to know that Patrick is intimately familiar with the road’s every twist. For him it’s a road that holds no surprises except, of course, for the surprises. The new crack in the pavement or the bit of cliff that’s now laying in the road or the slick spot or the…whatever.
Whatever it was that caught him out happened on the last turn, and by the next frame he was skidding on his face in soft dirt at speed. You might not think he was lucky, but then again, I haven’t yet told you that he missed a giant log by a couple of feet. If he’d hit it, we’d be planning a funeral right now.
Crashes aren’t as bad as “crashes”
Patrick crashed, but he didn’t “crash.” He knew what he was getting into. He’s a skilled descender who few riders can follow in the Santa Monicas. More than anyone, he knew the consequences of riding a bike fast downhill.
He wasn’t taken out by a car, or a drunk, or some wanker in a pack, or by a defectively manufactured product, or because he wasn’t paying attention, or because someone talked him into something he shouldn’t have been doing. In fact, we can probably attribute the “thank dog” aspects of his injuries (thank dog no broken neck, thank dog no broken spine, thank dog no brain injury) to his superior skills. The consequences of his crash were likely mitigated by some last split-second instinctive movement on his part that meant the difference between plastic surgery, a few dental implants, or operating a wheelchair the rest of his life with his tongue.
After the fact he’ll try to piece it all together and reconstruct what happened. He may never know. The last few seconds before catastrophe are often deleted from memory.
Without question, though, this much happened: Patrick went down because he’s a writer, a writer who graduated from the school of “do.” If you’re not doing it, you lose the right to write about it. Out on the edge of the envelope marked “Possible Total Destruction: Handle with Care and Adrenaline and Fear” he was hanging his ass out, full throttle, because to do anything less might still qualify him as a rider, but never as a writer.
To thine own self be true, and he was. I just hope he stocked up on the fucking Tegaderm, and that he heals up soon.
It could have been you, it could have been me. BAM.