This is what they always told me about avoiding crashes and why I rarely avoided them. “Aim for where the dude who’s falling was, because he won’t be there anymore by the time you get there.”
Instead, I always watch crashes like a fascinated little kid with a front row seat, trying and failing to will away that I’m a grown man with brittle bones and the front row seat is moving, rapidly, into the vortex of the blood bath.
Last Tuesday after Telo finished we were all standing around the prostrate bodies and charred carbon frames that were 100% pure carbon doing what you always do when your moaning or inert friend is laying in a twisted lump of bloody lycra, that is, you ask meaningless questions like “Where does it hurt?” and the friend urgles or maybe says “Unnnnnh,” or his eyes flutter like he’s in the middle of a seizure and as red seeps from an ear he moans “Everywhere.” Everyone is trying to figure out who has insurance, what the deductible will be, and whether it’s better to limp over to the hospital a few blocks up and sever the spinal cord or call an ambulance.
I was misdiagnosing all of Patrick’s injuries. “You were knocked out, dude, you have a severe concussion.”
He looked at me, lying on his back. “I never lost consciousness. I remember everything.”
“Oh. Well, your head took a huge whack. You still have a big concussion even though you didn’t black out.”
“I landed on my shoulder. My helmet isn’t even scratched.”
I helped him to his feet. “Where does it hurt?”
“My shoulder,” he said.
“You have a broken collarbone,” I said with great certitude.
“Then why can I do this?” He raised his arm.
“Fuck it dude, glad you’re not hurt.”
He winced in excruciating pain and clutched his shoulder.
I ambled over to the curb where other wounded warriors were sitting and evaluating their injuries, and way more importantly, the damage to their bicycles. Only Boozy P., who hadn’t fallen, seemed unconcerned. I wondered why until Alx Bns noted that “It takes a kind of genius to have a bike repair shop adjacent to the race course.”
Aaron was holding his left hand as his index finger swelled up into a giant Italian sausage. “Is it broken?” I asked.
“No,” he said, grabbing it by the end and yanking it so that it made a grinding and cracking noise as it snapped back into place.
“How’s your bike?” I asked.
“Dunno,” he said, with most of his butt cheek grated into fine mince and hanging out of his vaporized shorts. “All’s I know is my hand hurts.”
I was concerned about his bike, not because it was damaged, but because as we had come through the final turn on the final lap everything had seemed so perfect. Being on Aaron’s wheel at the end of Telo was nirvana. It guaranteed you weren’t going to win, because his finishing kick was impossible to come around, but it also guaranteed you weren’t going to fall off your bicycle, because nowhere in a bike race is safer on the last turn of the last lap than Aaron’s wheel.
Why? Because Aaron never has bicycle falling off incidents. No one has ever seen one. In fact, no one has even heard of one. Instead, people have seen magician skills, Aaron vanishing on the other side of ten-bike pile-ups unscathed, Aaron going sideways through a slamming garage door of falling racers, Aaron bunny hopping heads and butts and backs and airborne bicycles, Aaron somehow being the one who dodged the bullet when everyone else was buried in a shallow grave.
So it was with detached intellectual curiosity that I saw him come through the turn, my wheel just barely overlapping his on the outside, and then to see his bike begin to slide. As I waited for the application of the magic Aaron essence that would extricate him, and therefore me, from what was going to otherwise be a nasty bicycle falling off incident, I noted that no magic wand was ever waved. Was Aaron really going to fall off his bicycle? End times.
His bike continued to slide until his tires were no longer touching Mother Earth and, amazingly, a massive shower of sparks flew up in front of me, like July. “Hmm,” I thought, only partially considering that the next thing about to happen was going to be me hitting the pavement, “his bike is obviously not made of 100% pure carbon. Fake carbon. Alternative carbon.”
In the next prolonged time-lapse sequence, his body and bike were now in front of mine, and it occurred to me that NOW would be a great time to begin considering my next phase of this unplanned ballet. Should I tuck? Should I hit the front eject brake? Should I jerk my handlebars hard to the left? Should I aim where he wasn’t? He seemed to not be everywhere except in front of me, so there were actually a lot of places to aim for, but that assumed I could aim.
There were too many decisions to make and too little time, so I did what I had learned to do at the dentist’s office as a small child, which is close my eyes and prepare for the pain. When I opened them I was past the carnage and on the straightaway with no one in front except Frexit, King Harold, and someone else.
Behind me was the sound of more carbon and hard-earned dollars hitting the asphalt. A few riders who had survived the carnage were now sprunting full gas for sixth or seventh. They could do a u-turn and see how their wounded friends were faring after crossing the finish line. I watched them speed to the line, focused like granny glasses on nothing but the end.
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