Saturday, August 19, 2006

Kissing pavement

Date: August 18
Mileage: 56.2
August mileage: 231.1
Temperature upon departure: 57

I'm sure seasoned cyclists begin to treat the experience as almost mundane, but for me, there's still nothing like launching off a bicycle at 20 mph to really puncture a perfectly good ride.

Even the sudden monsoon-like downpour that hit me yesterday at mile 28 of the-only-road-out-of-Juneau really wasn't that bad. It had been raining on and off all morning, and I thought, if anything, the thick drops would at least help wash the layer of glacial silt off my clothing. Deep puddles began forming on the rough and remote road. I plowed through them without even thinking about it, until my front wheel dropped into an pothole roughly the size of the Grand Canyon, completely covered by water. I felt the sickening crunch of the rim meeting the pavement through the now-flat tire. After that, all I can remember is the sequence of body parts splashing down - first my left hip, taking the brunt of the fall, followed by my elbow, and then, finally, with a loud "thud," my head ... groaning in a shower of gritty puddle water.

Every time I'm in the midst of a crash, I'm always surrounded by a feeling of unconditional calm. My thoughts turn to an involuntary play-by-play analysis of my situation ... "Road burn there ... That wasn't hard enough to break anything ... I hope this doesn't rip my coat ... Shoot, that sounded like my helmet being destroyed." Then, like an animal darting a moving car - almost mid-skid - I jump up and rush off the road, throw my bicycle in the grass, and spend several shock-filled seconds standing quietly in the right-of-way, building up the courage to inspect the damage. I usually inspect the bike first - not because I'm all that crazed of a gear head, but because it usually feels right to let the adrenaline settle down before I start tearing off clothing layers. My hip was throbbing with pain and I could see a large purple lump forming around the bone, but it moved OK and nothing seemed broken. My elbow was only skinned and my coat was intact. All-in-all, a fairly minor crash, but every step I took hit my hip bruise with streaks of pain, and I did have that nagging problem of being 28 miles from home. After about 15 minutes of standing very still and watching rain pelt that sadistic puddle, I decided that I could at least attempt the 16 miles to the nearest bus station. So I gingerly changed my flat, readjusted my seatpost and set out down the road.

I noticed I couldn't put much pressure on my left side without hitting those pain streaks, so I had to do all the pushing with my right leg. I have definitely had less pleasant rides - but not many - and the ride home was really only salvaged from a "worst ever" designation by an unexpected break in the clouds that brought the first rays of direct sun I have felt in weeks. Still, I passed the bus station feeling much less pain - repetitive motion tends to do that - and I did make it back to the hotel under my own power. But then, as I was mounting my bike on my car roof rack, I noticed papers strewn all over the passenger seat. Turns out some punk broke into my car, rifled through my glove box, and stole all the spare change out of my ash tray - including a handful of wafer-thin nickles that I once placed on train tracks in rural Ontario, which I always held on to for good luck. I tell you, this is not my month.