There we were, hauling ass down PV Drive North into the sweeping, slightly off-camber right turn up to the reservoir climb, and sitting on the point I swung out as far as possible to 1) hold max speed through the corner and 2) show off my awesome, ‘cross-inspired cornering skills.
‘Cause when you can rip through loose sand and gravel at speed, smooth tarmac ain’t shit.
Just as I reached max lean, the front tire started to slide. “This is exactly what happens to me in ‘cross,” I thought, out-of-body as it was, feeling the pavement grind up into my hip and right elbow. “And it’s gonna hurt.”
Iron Mike, who had been far enough off my wheel to avoid the crash, couldn’t help staring slack-jawed at the carnage, so instead of neatly avoiding the mess he smacked into the median at 2 mph, tumping over like a clunky lamp, one foot unhooked.
I twisted my neck to see who was going to run over my head.
No one. The braking and hollering were in full force. Thank goodness I’d decided to avoid that dangerous ‘cross race in San Diego and stick to the safety of the Sunday Wheatgrass ride.
Timing is everything
I came to rest in the middle of the lane and was surprised to see my good friend Bruce, clad in jeans, leaning over me. “You okay?”
The South Bay Wheelmen were staging their annual club hill climb, and I had arrived just in time give a lesson in safe bike handling. The whole team had paused to watch bits of flesh, tattered kit, and a thin sheen of blood spatter up in the air.
The guy in charge of sign-in said in a loud voice. “See? That’s what I don’t want any of you idiots doing.”
The bike crash on the group ride is a beautiful thing. Everyone’s personality leaps out in high relief at the moment of crisis, and our group was no different. Neumann sprinted away up the hill with another IF wanker, thrilled to finally have a chance at getting KOM and putting into practice his lifelong motto of “All for me, and me for me!”
Patrick sequestered my bike, straightened the brake, and had soon loosened the bolts to straighten the stem. Craig and Bruce were fixing the front flat that had caused the crash, and Bob, after giving me the physical once-over, stood ready to air up the tire. Chris stood at the ready to help, and Fussy, after making sure Iron Mike was okay, provided running commentary highlighting Mike’s awkward fall. Joe stared at my elbow, in the throes of broken-joint flashbacks from the fall that had cost in excess of $75k to rebuild his elbow joint.
As Bruce carefully checked the brand new Gatorskin, he said, “Aha!”
We all looked. “There’s the culprit!” he said.
We couldn’t see anything. “Here, run your hand on the inside of the tire.”
Sure enough, a sharp pin prick was coming through, almost invisible. After more working and worrying, we got it slightly out, but not enough to grip and remove. It was a tiny piece of wire from a car tire.
I tried to pull it out with my teeth, but after scrimshanking a few deep scores into the enamel, gave up. Bruce looked around. “Anyone have a pair of tweezers?”
People guffawed. “Yah, sure, man, right next to my pedicure set.”
“Fuck, Bruce, nobody carries tweezers on a bike ride.”
Bruce surveyed the group, unfazed. “Anybody have a pair of tweezers?”
Silence, and a few more laughs ensued.
Then New Girl said, in her small voice, “I do.”
We were stunned. In a moment she produced a perfect pair of splinter-pulling tweezers, and in another couple of moments the wire was yanked.
I looked at her. “Why in the world are you carrying tweezers on a bike ride?”
“Because…” she said.
“I thought somebody someday might get a super tiny splinter or piece of glass or wire in their tire and wouldn’t be able to get it out without some tweezers. Isn’t that great?”
“No,” I said. “It isn’t great. It is awesome beyond belief.”
Onward and upward
I pedaled up to Norris, who was glumly waiting for the ride to resume. “Sorry, dude. You okay?”
“That’s gonna cost me.”
“Oh, crap. How come?”
“My front derailleur is broken.”
“Really?” I looked at his front derailleur, which was in pristine condition and appeared to be completely unharmed. “What about you? You okay?”
He pointed to his shin, where he had already affixed a small band-aid, covering up the tiniest of nicks. “Wow, dude. Heal up.”
I felt a horrible stabbing pain in my right leg, and finally looked at the gaping hole in my shorts. The skin facing the hole didn’t look so bad, but I peeked under the fabric higher up and saw a nasty strawberry smear that was going to be oozing and draining and scabbing all over my pants for the next week or two.
Then I took a deep breath and looked at my elbow. I’d gone down so fast at such a deep lean that the fall had peeled my long jersey sleeve right up to mid-bicep. The road, or something, had ground a neat hole through the armwarmer I’d been wearing under the sleeve. I bent my arm and looked. Down in the hole was something kind of white and pale looking, along with big clots of blood and bigger flaps of skin.
Did I mention I’m a wimp?
There are wimps, and then there are wimps
I have the pain threshold of a 2 year-old. The dentist has to give me morphine just to clean my teeth. I hate the sight of blood. I feel waves of pain at even the thought of broken bones, stitches, surgery, needles, you name it.
The time I got my thumb caught in my track bike chain and ground off the tip was as horrible to me as if someone had slowly burned out my eyes with coals, or forced me to vote Republican. When I had a tiny cavity drilled out in Japan, the dentist sternly told me to “stop quivering like a child.”
Yeah. I’m a gutless wuss.
Fortunately, so are most other male cyclists. No matter how brave and tough they are when attacking, or climbing, or sprinting, the minute they get a boo-boo they whine and wail and complain as if they’d lost a leg to an IED. With the exception of my buddy who broke his neck, spent five months in a halo, and then had screws bolted into his neck and never said anything other than, “I’m fine,” when asked about his condition, most cyclists are whiny hypochondriacs who milk their injuries, minor or major, into the finest whiny cream.
Nonetheless, there was a ride to finish. So we set off up the hill, and I noticed for the first time that we had a new member. He was riding an orange steel Volkcycle with cantilever brakes, rakish chromed steel forks, lazy brakes, and bar-end shifters. He was a teenager, and this was his first group ride, apparently.
“Yeah, dude,” I thought. “Welcome to cycling. We crash on the first turn, it’s just how we roll.”
Craig, Bob, Paul, Vince, and I emerged together from Homes and Gardens, and then Bob and Craig towed me to the top of the Domes. I went down to the bottom of the Switchbacks alone and checked out my elbow again. “What’s that white shit down there?” I thought. “Blood isn’t white, is it? Unless those are white blood cells…” I wished I knew more about biology.
Glass Church and home
Bob, Craig, and I escaped on the Glass Church roller, were brought back for the sprunt, and I turned off at the top of Hawthorne to go home.
“How was a ride?” Mrs. WM asked.
“It was awesome.”
“It don’t look on no awesome. How come you butt meat hanging outta that biker flap?”
“I took a little spill.”
“Don’t get all those blood pieces onna bed and carpet. How come you always falling offa bike? Every since cyclingcross you coming home all bruising and cutting and bleeding and falling offa bike. And tearing up onna biker outfit butt flaps and that’s costing big money.”
“But ‘cross is really upping my skills.”
“It’s upping onna doctor repair bills, that’s what it’s upping on. Oh goodness! What’s onna elbow?”
“That’s just road rash, but it’s a little deep.”
“Here lemme see onna that. Oh goodness! You get onna doctor now! That’s blooding everywhere!”
“I think it’ll be fine with some Tegaderm and a little peroxide.”
“You musta hit onna head with a hammer. Thatsa blood hole with a bone pieces inside I can see white bone pieces! Oh goodness!”
“Will you give me a ride?”
“Onna doctor? You fall offa your bike without none of my help, you can get onna doctor without none of my help.”
She had a point, so I showered, doused the hole with peroxide, slapped on some Tegaderm, ate lunch, and went to the Doc in a Box.
Sorry, I’m just a licensed physician with 20 years of training
The Doc in a Box wrinkled her nose. “Ewwwww!” she said, peeling back the Tegaderm. “When did you do that?”
“This morning around 8:30.”
“Why didn’t you come right here? It’s almost one o’clock.”
“I wanted to finish the ride.”
She looked at me like I was an idiot. “Didn’t it hurt?”
“Hell yes it hurt. Canyon Bob and Craig were ripping my legs off the whole way up to the Domes.”
“I mean your elbow. Didn’t it hurt?”
“Oh, that. Yeah, it hurt like hell. That’s why I’m here.”
“But if it hurt so much why didn’t you come directly here?”
“Because I don’t like pain. And I knew that whatever you were going to do, it was going to hurt.”
She shook her head. “No, it’s actually not. This wound is too deep for me to suture, especially because of all the gravel and grease down in the puncture. I’m sending you to the ER where someone with more experience can sew you up.”
On to the next one
Doc #2 didn’t flinch. “Yep, that’s going to need a deep scrub. Lie down.”
I lay down.
“If it really hurts let me know and we’ll anesthetize it for cleaning.”
“It hurts like a mofo.”
“But I haven’t touched it yet.”
“So it’ll hurt even worse once you do. Shoot me up, doc.”
“Okay. This is going to hurt a little bit.”
He lied, of course. It hurt like having a needle plunged into your elbow joint.
The numbness took over and he started to scrub. I could feel the pieces of meat being soaked and rubbed and washed and sponged. Even though it didn’t hurt, I imagined how much it would have hurt without the painkiller, which made it hurt awful bad.
“Okay, we’re done.”
“Yes. You did great.”
“I didn’t feel a thing!”
“That’s why we use anesthetic, you know.”
Crash. Bleed. Publicize.
Fortunately, I’d had the foresight to take grisly photos before the suturing and post them on Facebook. The comments came rolling in, from the heartfelt “Get well soon!” to the “Wanker!” to the prize-winning reminiscence of Marco Vermeij about the time at the Kenosha crit in ’89 when he sewed up Randy Dickson’s gaping wound with a needle and thread from a tubular patch kit. Randy, of course, needed the quick repair so that he could do the next race.
I reflected on my own frailty when compared with the broken necks, shattered elbows, snapped femurs, and on-site surgeries performed with nothing more than spit, callused fingers, and the implements found in a cyclist’s toolbox. I reflected on the faux toughness of the modern rider, equipped with all the latest stuff, but sorely lacking in the oldest stuff: Grit, tolerance of real pain, the will to keep going, and the tight-lipped contempt that tough guys have for acknowledging injury or pain.
I never had been, and never would be, one of those few men who Fields used to approvingly nod towards and declare that they were “made of stern stuff.” But maybe one day, if I kept falling off my bike and doing those nightmarish ‘cross races, I’d at least be made out of semi-stern stuff.
That would be something to brag about, wouldn’t it? And no one would have to know that I’d gone out and bought myself a nifty little set of ladies’ eyebrow tweezers…would they?