Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Crash

In the moment of the unfolding the brain’s most primitive, most knowing, self registers a change which radiates out as instantly as light, and our stomachs confuse with the drop of an elevator: Something is wrong.

Whether the event is a yard sale of our cycling self strewn with the force of a wet dog shaking itself dry or the seemingly accelerated zoom view of the single fence post growing as we slide toward it, our first real thought is: I can get up, get back in the race. It’s not so bad.

What defines this event as either comedy or tragedy is the very nature of PRO. When a mortal crashes, the race is almost always over. Give up any more than a thimble-full of blood—the proverbial pound of flesh—and witnesses will do whatever is necessary to prevent us getting back on the bicycle. Quitting a race for any injury that can be addressed with Bactine is comic. However, the very nature of PRO, what it means to be PRO is to get back up and get on the bike. For a guy, there is nothing more PRO than dripping blood and being fast at the same time.

For a PRO, there are no choices. When a PRO doesn’t get up it’s because getting up simply isn’t possible. When they pedal away in pain so obvious we turn away from the sight, we know the meaning of tragic.

In the knowledge that we are crashing, the reptilian brain takes over. Glands fire and a hormone simple as sugar and effective as gasoline takes over. Time slows down and we have time to think: I just bought this jacket. I knew he couldn’t hold his line. I’m going to shred my skinsuit. I have a presentation on Monday. I promised to anchor the leadout.

The world stops moving, seconds pass and then reality takes over. I need some help. Oh wow, this means a trip to the hospital. If the crash isn’t too serious, you make the call to your significant other yourself. If someone else calls, well, that’s more stress than they deserve.

Through the process we have but one choice to consider: Do I fill the prescription for painkillers? Gritting it out with Ibehurtin is PRO, and we all want to be PRO. But the simple fact is we each have our price, the point at which we say, Drugs? Yeah, give me the drugs. Now!

The lifestyle of the crash victim is unlike that of the cyclist. We discuss the merits of Tegaderm, how we sit when we drive, which parts we need to replace. The bottom line on the cost.

The first ride back is a contradiction of experience. Riding is both familiar and somehow alien. The legs rarely enjoy the first full revolution of the pedals. And yet being in the saddle, feeling the air pass is a sign that the world is improving and that familiarity is comforting despite being the cause of so much pain. The physical exertion reminds us of that pain and we often cut that first ride short. How often we overestimate our post-crash capability.

We measure our progress in increasing flexibility, pink skin, disappearing scabs. Gradually, rear wheels lose their power to inflict claustrophobia, turns seem less like hidden skating rinks.

There comes a moment in a ride, sometimes weeks or even months after the crash. It may pass unnoticed at the time and is only recognized hours later. In that moment we push; it is a push, a dig, an effort that we do not temper in the knowledge that going hard hurts, hurts at the site of the injury. No, there comes a day when we forget the pain, forget the injury and instead what our body remembers is the former self, the cyclist we have worked so hard to achieve, the person we’re meant to be.


Anonymous said...

And then you are down again and the cycle starts once more...

WheelDancer said...

I feel your pain, I remember the healing and the day it no longer colors my actions. As a commuter, my post crash drive isn't to get back into the race, it's to get back into life; less immediate but otherwise the same cycle.

Thanks for great post and a view into the life of a PRO.

sma said...

Ibehurtin, lol. nice post.

Anonymous said...

"I just bought this jacket."

Love that. It's so true. In my very un-PRO mountain bike crash last summer I was thinking, "I just bought these glasses." as I careened face-first towards the earth. The possibility of breaking bones in my face was entirely secondary.

It's amazing what sort of inane drivel will pass through your mind in those suspended moments before impact.

Jim said...

I always think, "Awwww, sh1t, this one's gonna hurt." Same thought every time. Last time, a 20+ MPH mountain bike crash face first into a tree, I also thought "I hope I don't die." Crashes are amazingly elemental in the way mountains or bunch sprints are; they strip away everything and just leave the rider, the pain and the danger. I don't relish crashing but without the specter of crashes and pain racing (and mere fast riding) wouldn't be the same experience, probably not as addictive, just as base jumping wouldn't be as exciting if there wasn't a real possibility of becoming a human tent stake.

Anonymous said...


grazie mille

Anonymous said...

The way to tell if you are Pro,
when the Doc asked Ti or stainless,
I asked for stainless.

A Pro would have gone for Ti.
Me, I prefer polished stainless.

Scott G.

mogley said...

the first shower, the un-sticking of flesh to bandages and sheets.

how can so much shit fly through the air from a pipe bomb.

Art said...

@brent: That first shower has to be the worst part of a crash. When the damage is still fresh and the adrenaline has worn off. I have seriously debated whether it would be worth stinking for a few days to not have to face that.

Eric Wright said...

beautiful writing-though reading it brought back some phantom pains at the sites of former crash injuries.

db said...

Yeah, Tagaderm. And it kills me how expensive those hydrocolloid bandages are. Talk about salt in the wounds...

Bluenoser said...

For me it was sitting up and immediately saying, "I have to go to the hospital and it has to be right now."

At least I got to watch Lance win number three while laying in bed for the whole tour. Worth it. A good crash and shaved legs lets you in the door of the clubhouse.


Anonymous said...

Yeah, I can relate...ruined a jacket shoulder a little over a year ago but still ride it. The thing that hurts is the separated shoulder.

The bad one was waking up in the hospital last July to see my mom (she lived 800 miles away at the time). Lost 3 days, about half my hearing in one ear and my sense of smell in that one.

Sometimes crashes help you realize what you should be thankful for, like being alive and having good family.

Bicycle Repairman / Shaggy said...

I'm just getting over my most recent crash, which involved hitting the deck at 31.29mph according to the computer.
Tagaderm is my friend.
Killed a Ti Seiko watch, ate a hole in my messenger bag (I was on the way home from work), flat-spotted my cell phone, destroyed a Catlike helmet, and all that's before the trip to the hospital.
Concussion number 9.
Went on a ride w/a buddy tonight after work, 3 wks to the day, and just rolled along on the fixed gear, just enjoying the company, and being back on.
The thing about crashing that makes you PRO, in my opinion, is getting back ON.

jb said...

Any cyclist that both rides, and watches PROs, can both sympathize, and read with respect for PROs.

This was a beautiful post. A lovely synthesis of knowing thoughts and poetic prose.

It's the reason I read BKW.

Melissa said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Melissa said...

There is that point of no return when you know you are going down and everything just goes quiet and slow motion. I have been told by those close to me that if I spent that time thinking about how to land my clavicle wouldn't be z shaped.

It makes me happy to see that I am not the only one who thinks about their clothes, and work responsibilities while I am about to hit the deck

Anonymous said...

When you lose consciousness, can you ever re-trace the moment of impact? I was on a solo hilly ride last Thursday and settling in to the last 15 miles of descent when I awoke flat on my back to the sound of medical personnel and a helicopter. Do our minds protect us by going dark during the most intense parts of trauma or do the memories slowly come back over time? I have foggy, fragmented recollections before I went out. Almost lost an ear and underwent 4 hours of surgery and more than 100 stitches after my helmet and my face absorbed the force of a launch off my road bike.