I have to first say that before I begin my account of yesterday’s bad bicycle crash descending Soapstone Mountain, I do care about my mother’s feelings. Mom, if you are reading this, I know that you worry about my fast-paced outdoor adventures. You worry about my fast-paced work life. You worry about everything I do. I Skyped you in advance of publishing, so you know what happened, but without all of the gory details. I understand what I might not have understood before Debbie and I had children, and when I was racing bicycles all over the world. I’ve branched out with my outdoor pursuits, but they are no less risky than before. You don’t have to read on. There are photos and details that might make any mother cringe.
It could have been worse.
In this story, there are some good lessons. I can’t justify why I ride, run, and compete with such vigor. Simply put, it’s who I am.
It’s what I do.
Yesterday, the plan was to ride roads for five to six hours. I was coming off a long week of travel with more travel scheduled for September, and I had been targeting the middle day of Labor Day weekend for a long ride to clear my head and prepare for the Vermont 50 and cyclocross season. I started the ride solo from Bolton at 10:10 A.M. and was planning to meet Randall Dutton near his home in Tolland shortly after noon. I was riding my favorite bike, my Seven Axiom SL supercommuter. I rode it for a few hours yesterday, and it’s the bike I rode up Mt. Washington two weeks ago.
I rode north into Somers with the idea that I would ride up and down Soapstone Mountain in Shenipsit State Forest via the paved access road, and then loop back to meet Randall. I’ve ridden up Soapstone many times during the past 23 years and know the road well. It’s one of my favorites. I was just up there last month for the Soapstone Assault. Soapstone, at 1,075 feet, is more of a hill than a mountain, though the access road does rise a couple of hundred feet in .75 miles from the Gulf Road parking lot. It’s the character of the road, with a few good switchbacks, that makes it fun and unique in this area.
As I rode by the picnic area, a family of five was out for a Sunday stroll. I rode past them, said “good morning,” and looped around the upper parking lot where the road ends just below the summit. I headed back down the hill. After the hard left hand hairpin, I came upon the family again. They were spread out across the road. I called out, “on your right,” and braked lightly as the woman on the far right shifted over to leave me room to pass. I swung wide to the right, and that is when the ugly chain of events started.
I must have carried too much speed from the turn and drifted a little too far to the right. After a hundred feet or so, my front wheel slipped off the edge of the road. To my right was a wooded slope that dropped off. I thought nothing of just steering back on to the pavement, but there was a lip going back up to the asphalt and it jerked my wheel. I made it back on to the road, but at that moment, I wobbled and suddenly lost control. I went over my handlebars, but remained attached to my bike, and cartwheeled down the road.
My left shoulder, back of my head, left elbow, and left hip took the brunt of the initial impact. I skidded on the rough pavement for a moment before I flipped again and skidded some more on my other side, until I came to a stop. I ended up on my right side with my head pointing uphill and feet down. My left foot was still clipped in to my Speedplay pedals. I had been listening to Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged in New York album on my iPhone and “On A Plain” was still playing. My Garmin GPS says that I was going 29.3 miles per hour when I fell. That isn’t that fast, but it is fast enough.
The family had watched the whole episode play out. I was already in shock and adrenaline was coursing through my veins. I surveyed the damage in a split second and glanced uphill as they walked towards me. I don’t know if they initially said anything because Nirvana was playing in my ears. I calmly reached into my back pocket, removed my iPhone and paused the song. My sunglasses (clear lenses) had been knocked off my face by the impact. Broken parts from my rear rack light and handlebar end lights were scattered about the road.
I finally heard the people and they asked if I was OK. It seemed like 30 seconds went by before they reached me. I was sort of sitting up but was still connected to my bike. My only response was that I needed to “collect myself.” I unclipped from my left pedal and someone lifted the bike off of me. The handlebars were twisted 90 degrees and my shift/brake levers were bent inwards. My fenders were rubbing my tires, but my wheels seemed true. The rear rack had deep scratches from dragging on the road, but the frame and fork were intact and seemingly unscratched. It’s amazing, how for a moment, you seem more concerned about your beautiful bike than about your battered body.
They offered to help, but I was already thinking about my comeback. I told them that my plan was to call my wife and have her pick me up. They helped me gather the broken lights that were strewn all over the road. I recall attempting to reach for something and realizing in that moment that I couldn’t move my left arm. Something was horribly wrong. I couldn’t raise it an inch and couldn’t turn my hand. Everything felt numb. I just pulled it in to my chest where it felt most comfortable. I supported it with my right hand. My Horst Engineering Verge kit was shredded in multiple places. My left shoulder was a bloody mess where the jersey had melted off. My shorts had a big hole on my on my left hip where there was a large contusion.
Someone handed me my glasses and I shoved them in my back pocket along with the various plastic bits and LED bulbs. They were standing around checking out the carnage and I called Debbie. It was 11:29 A.M. and 1:19 into my ride. It had been about four minutes since the crash. The call lasted 54 seconds and I told her that I had a bad fall and needed her to pick me up. I mumbled a bunch of other stuff, but it was pretty senseless. I think she understood the urgency of the request. I described where I was and that was that. Less than one minute later at 11:30 A.M., the phone rang and it was Randall, but I missed the call while fumbling for my phone with my right hand. He was calling per our plan to meet up. I called him back and our discussion lasted 48 seconds.
He launched right into the planning about where we were going to meet, but when I stopped him and told him about the accident, he switched to rescue mode. I told him that Debbie was coming, and he announced that he was on his way too. The family offered to stay with me and I insisted that I would be OK. I reminded them that my wife and friend were coming. They started to walk back down the road and I mounted my bike. I got off to adjust the bars and levers again. After I got everything lined up, I rolled forward a bit. The tires were still rubbing the fenders, but there was nothing I could do.
On my bike again, I rode one-handed the half mile to the parking area with my left arm dangling. I passed the family for a third time before I got off, leaned my bike against the fence, and sat on a rock at the entrance to the park. They checked on me one more time with one of them sharing his first aid credentials. He was holding gauze bandages and offered to help stop the bleeding. I don’t know if it was pride, shock, or both, but I once again declined the offer. He suggested that they call an ambulance, but I said again that my wife was coming to get me. I never once thought about going to the hospital. I figured that if it was my collarbone, I would let it heal and be back riding in 10 weeks like everyone else I knew who suffered that common injury. The shoulder and arm hurt so much, I couldn’t figure out where the pain was originating. It did seem to be more towards the back of the shoulder than the front.
I figure it was about 20 minutes after the crash that Randall arrived from Gulf Road. He jumped into action and surveyed the damage. He asked about my head and took a good look in my eyes. He offered me water from my bottle and I accepted. It was a warm and muggy morning and I had been sweating a lot. Within minutes, Clinton Morse arrived, though he came down the access road in his vehicle, which was odd. I thought that he might have been trail running, as he often does in Shenipsit Forest, but he had a bag stocked with supplies, including a sling, so I knew that Debbie had phoned him. He had taken the quickest route to reach me. Even in the fog of pain, I was thankful to have friends like this.
I never moved from that rock. They put a small sling on me to stabilize my arm. Just having them there was good enough. They insisted that I would be going to the hospital. I remembered that when I summited the hill, there was a Connecticut State Police officer sitting in his SUV in the upper parking lot. He arrived at the bottom of the hill and saw them treating me. He offered to call an ambulance, but Clint and Randall told him that my wife was going to transport me. Shortly after that conversation, Debbie and the kids arrived in our van. I didn’t have any racks currently mounted on our vehicles and wanted to be able to put my bike inside the vehicle.
She jumped out along with the kids and we devised a plan. Randall suggested that Johnson Memorial Hospital was closest, but we discussed Manchester Memorial and Rockville General. I wanted to go to an ECHN hospital because I know the network well, so we ultimately decided on Rockville. I knew that Sunday on a holiday weekend was going to be a challenging Emergency Department experience regardless of which hospital we went to. Debbie had left the house in haste and didn’t bring any clothes or supplies.
Clint had a Shenipsit Striders shirt and Randall had fleece pants and some trail running shoes. We are identical in size and have traded clothes and footwear in the past. I chose to stay in my bib cycling shorts, but they helped me out of my shoes and into the sneakers. I removed my helmet, but didn’t notice the damage. Afterwards, Debbie told me that Randall had noticed immediately, showed her, and given her instructions to inform the hospital staff that I hit my head. I didn’t see the helmet until we got home Sunday night.
Debbie and the kids got me to the hospital shortly after 1:00 P.M. I went through triage and was admitted. The paramedic delivered me to an emergency room in a wheelchair. It was freezing inside the air-conditioned hospital and I got very cold. I didn’t want to bleed all over the sheets and blankets, but eventually, that is what happened. At some point, Debbie got me out of my cycling shorts. I had planned at least five hours of “chamois time,” and I got it, just not all in the saddle. They put me in hospital johnnies that were five sizes too large. I was in agony with waves of pain pulsating through my arm and shoulder. Any time someone moved me or bumped the bed, I shuddered in agony. I couldn’t recall my last tetanus shot, so they administered one.
I had my vital signs checked multiple times. I was questioned repeatedly, especially about my back, neck, and head. I never felt woozy, but the shoulder pain was so bad that at times, I felt like I would just collapse. After about two hours of waiting, we mutually decided to delay dressing the wounds until I had the x-rays. The kids were good, though restless, so Debbie took them to lunch at Nature’s Grocer. While they were out, the nurse rolled my bed to radiology and I stood for about 25 images of arm, shoulder, neck, ribs, and back, before they put me on the table for closeups of the shoulder.
The lab technician returned me to my room and a I rested in the bed. Debbie and the kids returned, and they brought back my favorite blue corn tortilla chips, and a hummus sandwich, but I was instructed not to eat until a determination was made about surgery. The Physicians Assistant tending to me apologized for all of the waiting. She said the E.D. got “slammed” just when we arrived, though it didn’t seem that busy on the floor. There was a sick child in the room next to me and he was wailing on and off. That made me feel worse and it got our kids agitated. I told Debbie to take them home and wait for me to call. The PA said it would be several more hours. The doctor had taken a look at the x-rays and concluded that she wanted a closer look at my scapula.
I had forgotten about the scapula. The collarbone break is one of thee most common broken bones in cycling relate crashes, but the scapula is up there on the list too. That explained all of my upper back pain, rib pain, and arm pain. That bone is attached to a bunch of other stuff and any movement causes it to radiate pain. They dosed me a couple of Percocet during the afternoon in an attempt to take the “edge” off, but deep breaths still left me wincing. My family departed for home and another lab tech picked me up for the trip to a different lab. They helped me on to a hard table that was draped in sheets to keep the blood from contacting the machine. They slid me head first into the CT scanner. I’ve had an MRI before and they are more claustrophobic than this was. The CT scanner rotated around my shoulder. They took two passes and then helped me back on to the rolling bed. I was returned to my room.
Eventually, the doctor showed up in person. She explained to me that I had a comminuted fracture of the scapula, which she defined as “a break that was splayed out in multiple directions.” She said it was a non-displaced fracture, and she had spoken with the orthopedic doctor that was part of the on-call surgical team. They decided that I would have to see a specialist on Tuesday, and that today, there would be no immediate surgery. She said that these types of fractures require subsequent surgery about 50% of the time. After another grilling about head and neck related pain, she concluded that the worst of the injuries were the shoulder and the various cuts. She said it was OK to eat, so I devoured the sandwich and chips.
The attending nurse returned within an hour and finally worked on my cuts. She soaked them with wet compresses, though she suggested that the best results would come if I took a hot shower. She said that the wounds were cleaner than ones she had seen before. From what I could see, I agreed. I’ve had worse road rash, but it was the shoulder that was bumming me out. She wrapped the cuts in gauze, but I told her “not to go crazy” considering that I was planning on a shower as soon as we got home. My iPhone battery had long since died, so they lent me a cordless phone to call Debbie. I had thought about phoning Randall again, but they were prescribing me pain killers, anti-inflammatory’s, and muscle relaxants. All were optional, but I needed my insurance card and credit card from my wallet, so I asked Debbie and the kids to return.
I was fitted for a better sling, given a johnnie top, and a bag with a bunch of extra supplies. The final instructions were to immobilize the arm and to schedule a visit with the orthopedic doctor. I had been thinking about the cost of this treatment. Whenever it comes to health care, my wheels start turning. As a business leader, I deal with complex health care matters on behalf of Horst Engineering’s more than 145 USA based employees. We have massive insurance premiums. For many years, our family has been part of a high deductible insurance plan (HDIP), and this accident is sure to be a “deductible-maxer.” I pride myself on rarely incurring a medical expense, but accidents happen, and that’s why we all need insurance. The quote of the day came from the nurse. She said, “We have no idea what any of it costs.” Well, that proves the point. When neither the suppliers or customers know how much money is required for treatment, irrational decisions are made.
The PA told me that she did her first triathlon at Winding Trails this past summer. Winding Trails is one of my favorite events. The 10 race series was a big 2014 objective, and now it is one of my big comeback goals for 2015. They allowed me to walk back to the lobby after my discharge. I waited outside for Debbie and the kids to arrive. It was fitting that a wicked thunderstorm was rolling through Rockville. Sunday was a day that had dawned so promising with a long bike ride on the docket, and it was ending in the pouring rain outside of the hospital. We visited a Walgreen’s and two CVS’ before we found a pharmacy that was open. On the third try, we filled the prescriptions and stocked up on first aid supplies. We got back to the house around 7:00 P.M., with more than half the day spent dealing with my crash. The kids were exhausted so we got them in bed before pausing for some dinner.
I made calls to Randall and Clint to thank them. I had previously made a call to my friend and colleague, Arthur Roti, to fill him in. My parents are traveling, so I rang my sister, Stacie, to get her up to speed. I have her to thank for telling me how much my adventures make our mother worry. I made a lot of apologies yesterday, including the one to my sister about the impact on Mom when she gets the news. I’m resigned to the fact that mothers worry about their children.
I thought about our friends, Todd and Sue Holland. Earlier this summer, Sue had a horrific bicycle crash that makes mine look minor. After a lengthy hospital stay, she rehabbed at another facility, before finally returning home. She injured her face, neck, and back, which is serious. I don’t know how much her helmet helped. I know mine did. I got a good look at it this morning, and it has at least four cracks through the shell, but it remained intact. It did what it was designed to do. They are meant to take the shock and break, releasing the energy away from your head. I have some whiplash, but no head injury and I have my helmet to thank for that.
So, what about those lessons? The helmet is the first lesson. It’s a no-brainer to wear one. Look at the photos. I was wearing my Road ID. Make sure you have identification on you. I didn’t need it, but if I did, I had it. You never know when you are going to crash alone. It happens. Tell people where you are going. Make sure someone knows your plans.
My athletic year has already been a tough one. I haven’t run in 13 weeks because of a stress fracture/bone spur in my left foot. When that injury hit, I spent a few weeks on crutches and in a walking boot. My triathlon and trail running seasons were a bust. Now I have a real reason to see the orthopedist and I plan to discuss the foot too. The kind folks at the Pumpkinman Triathlon Festival (my original 2014 “A race”) transferred my sprint registration to Debbie and had switched my half-iron registration to aquabike. The event is this coming weekend and it is up in the air whether or not we make the trip to Maine. I know I won’t be racing. This fall, I was planning on 15-20 cyclocross races with the first in two weeks. I was already pre-registered for 10 races. Cross is postponed for now.
After more than 500 bike races, I avoided road racing and criteriums in recent years because of the crash risk. It’s ironic that last week, I did my first criterium in four years without incident and then proceeded to crash on a solo ride. That fact will be the source of much disappointment and frustration in the months to come. Yesterday, I experienced a wide range of emotions.
It could have been worse.
It’s what I do.