“You don’t fall do you? I bet you don’t.”
“Yes, yes I do fall. I fall hard sometimes. You just try to get back up and keep going.”
That was one of many question and answer exchanges my wife and I had with her 5 year old nephew over the weekend. He just got a new bike with training wheels and it’s clear he’s now contemplating the ever-present risk of gravity taking him down. I can’t blame him. As cyclists you know it’s going to happen – just when and how hard.
And when you look at a bike, it’s not that far of a fall. But damn can it hurt. That’s where the 5 year old has us adults beat…. they’re plastic. They fall, bounce a bit, look up to see your reaction, and then just continue on like it was a glitch in the matrix. Carry on.
With all the “bike practice” I have, I’m at the point where I’m in control (or semi-control), even in some tight technical trail sections that others won’t ride. That said, I’m not cavalier to the risks and you’re not going to see me with a full face helmet on doing flips while drinking Red Bull. The point is, I really don’t crash – much. I see others crash and it’s pretty light stuff – a wheel slips and they spill over and scrape up an elbow and bruise a thigh. A “2” out of “10” on the bail-o-meter.
However, when I do crash, I’m typically on the other end of the bail-o-meter spectrum. In early May, my pedal struck an obscured rock in the trail at 25 mph and after a very unexpected Superman with a half-twist, I was greeted by the ground as I felt an internal crack. Busted rib. Bummer – but 3 weeks of easy riding (and, conveniently a vacation) along with pain tolerance and I was back racing. Pain is temporary.
Two weeks ago, at our local sprint track known as Over the Hump, I wastaken out quite unexpectedly (but then, why would I expect somebody to take me out?) by a guy who somehow mistook my rear wheel for the finish line. Sure enough, I’m doing the Superman. This time, I’m not sure how I twisted mid-air, but I definitely ended up twisted. I sprung up in defiance of being hurt but realized I couldn’t see. I then saw double or triple. I couldn’t focus.
I saw the guy who took me out and his front wheel is completely split in half. Bummer – but good, he deserves it I’m thinking. Mean spirited thoughts, no doubt, but at least I’m thinking! I ended up sitting down right next to my bike for 10 minutes just trying to get my head screwed on. I finally did the “couldn’t complete 1 lap walk of shame” back to the team tent and found the medical staff and had them check my eyes. They’re dilating so that’s good.
Fast forward to the next day. I’m all smiles with some bandages around some minor flesh wounds. But that’s the odd thing about concussions – the injury is hidden and the damage isn’t well understood. I can say that my smile belies how I feel. I remember being incredibly groggy, short-tempered, and annoyed with the pervasive headache. The feelings continued later that week but improved. Enough for me to race that weekend and the Over the Hump race a week after the crash. In hindsight that was a bad decision.
Perhaps the exertion and continued high heart rate during races hampered whatever healing was taking place because the days after Over the Hump I continued to have bad headaches and my balance was slightly off. I finally decided to go to the ER and I’m happy to report the CT scan was negative so there’s no blood leakage. But as I type this I’m still experiencing headaches and it’s unfamiliar territory. I know what the healing process is for a sprained ankle, a badly bruised shoulder, hell, an ACL tear. But I’m clueless about brain injuries and it’s both frightening and frustrating.