Then morning comes, with rich California sunlight saturating another 65-degree day, and I've lost all interest in going outside. I tell myself I'm tapering, but really what I want to do is curl up in my 50-below sleeping bag on the floor of my apartment and close my eyes until this week goes away. Nervousness ferments in my stomach like bad vinegar, and I choke up at strange times. Today, after reaching into a drawer to grab socks, I randomly fished out a fuzzy pair that my mom sent to me while I was recovering from frostbite seven years ago. The emotion well burst open and I started to tear up over ... what? Warm socks? I want my mommy? There really was no reason, but I settled on pre-emptive yearning over the comforts we all must leave behind whenever we step out into the big, cold world.
On Saturday I loaded up my bike for what I figured would be the last shakedown ride. We hit the trails at Fremont Older, which this time of year are a strange combination of sticky, horse-stomped mud, gravel, and concrete-hard clay. As the bike bounced along, its strap-mounted front rack — which Beat planned to reinforce with epoxy but hadn't yet — slowly slipped downward. This was all happening beneath an enormous red bundle, and I didn't realize anything was amiss until I was descending the Seven Springs trail at high speed, where the rack nudged that millimeter too far and slammed into the front tire. The wheel stopped dead and the bike spun into a full cartwheel, pile-driving my body into the trail. It was one of those instances where I felt the G-force and saw the wall of dirt rapidly approaching my face, and had that split second to think that one thought that is always, "This will hurt a lot." At the very last millisecond I must have tucked, because I landed on my right shoulder, felt the bike drive into my right leg, and ended up on my back with the bike more or less on top of me. The impact knocked the wind out of me, and I laid there for a few seconds gasping until I could see something besides streaks of white on black.
My shoulder hurt fiercely, and my first thought was that I'd probably broken my collarbone or a similarly important bone. My second thought was that I needed to get off the trail fast, because I'd just gone around a blind corner, and another cyclist was sure to come and run me over soon. I managed to sit up and pull my bike off the trail, and after a few more minutes of shameless groaning, decided I could stand. Twilight was rapidly approaching and I didn't have lights, so I bungeed the bivy bundle to the rear rack and repositioned the empty front rack as best as I could, although I was terrified it was going to come down on the wheel again. I chose a quick exit from the park that was farther from home but only required a mile of dirt riding. Every bump sent sharp pain through my shoulder, and I couldn't steer well. I summoned all my strength to squeeze the brakes down a steep fire road, and once I'd reached the relative safety of pavement, I let the waterworks flow. If I'm going to tear up over socks this week, I'm certainly going to indulge in a good cry over my worst bike crash in years. But as I limped home, I realized that it wasn't so bad. I was, incredibly, uninjured. Sure, there were some painful scrapes and bruises, and I was sure to be sore tomorrow, but that was probably the worst of it.
The rack has now been thrice-reinforced, the bike has been polished and packed into a box, and I've been limping along, feeling like I've been in a car accident, but healing. On Sunday my shoulder actually felt quite a bit better; most pain migrated outward into my torso and neck. The helmet isn't cracked and I don't think I hit my head all that hard, but I did sustain some whiplash. My right leg is a patchwork of bruises and there's some road rash on my leg and arm. I'm far from thrilled about feeling this creaky one week out from a major endurance effort for which I already doubt my strength and fitness, but I feel lucky. I've had plenty of bumps and scrapes on my bike over the years, and an embarrassingly large number of running/hiking crashes — two that resulted in ligament tears. But I haven't experienced impact at speed like that in nearly five years. The last time it happened, my elbow ripped wide open, and it took months to recover from that injury. No, I got off very easy here. Perhaps it's fate, that after all this wheezing and crying and crashing, I'm still healthy enough to start the Iditarod this coming Sunday.
At least, so far.