Crashing is part of the game..
Like many good stories; this one begins with the protagonist ignoring warnings of prudent origin. El Chefe had cautioned me; riding the Thrilla loop backwards was almost pointless compared to riding it in the usual counter-clockwise direction. “It just doesn’t flow; it doesn’t feel right,” he offered in a questioning tone. The awkward pause almost asking me to join him in a ride mutiny. I let the moment slip away.
Geoff has been our faithful and kind leader on these journeys and he seemed to really want to ride it backwards. I felt inclined to support him (or at least try it so I could know better in the future).
With a scheduled evening departure we were all carrying powerful headlights. El Chefe and I were sporting the Maglia Bruno and Geoff was clad in his Roosterwear. Doug’s attire reflected his apparent strong need for autonomy. The backwards route starts off by climbing up heart attack hill three minutes after you leave your car. The short approach is beneficial because as soon as you see what you will be climbing you start to question yourself. The climb ascends to the horizon at an alarming grade. There is a gate at the top that gives perspective to how steep the climb is. Because the approach is so short, you find yourself riding up it before you were able to talk yourself out of it.
Like a poker hand containing four of a kind, we four idiots climbed the long, loose slippery grade which averages 18% without any of us stopping. Your forward/upward momentum started and stopped with each pedal stroke. If your wheel spun out you would be doomed to climb the rest on foot. I didn’t say walk because it is too steep to call it a walk.
At the top I likened the climb to the Zoo Hill climb in Issaquah; I can do it, but it isn’t fun. The route continued up the somewhat monotonous Tolt power/pipeline trail. The route would climb a hill and then gave back half of the elevation only to climb another hill and again give back a portion of that climb as well. Continuing east we steadily gained elevation on the roller coaster road. On one of the short descents we were creating a wake of leaves that flipped over like dominos as we passed. It was the highlight of the day. This trail is fine in fulfilling its purpose of getting you back to Red Hook after doing the fun parts of the Thrilla, but on its own it wasn’t a party. I was yet to be impressed.
When we finally turned and dove down into the forest it was completely black and our lights had been on since heart attack hill. The flow was reversed and the portions that are a blast to ride as a curvy, flowy, gradual uphill now required braking and since we were travelling slightly downhill, the braking wasn’t as effective. The trail was covered with huge golden brown leaves so the route itself wasn’t as obvious as normal.
Can I again stress that we were riding it backwards (I prefer backwards to reverse because backwards implies there is a different, clearly superior, direction). The turns required a little more care and we were wisely going slower than our usual throw-down speed. The loose leaves and wet ground also made the corners a little more adventurous than usual.
El Chefe' on the Volcanoes trip
El Chefe and I were zipping along and I went just a little wide on a left hand corner covered with yellow leaves. The leaves made it hard to judge where the edge of the trail was and what was off the trail. As my front wheel was about to be back on the “proper” trail the wheel and front of the bike unexpectedly dropped. I could now see the trail had a buried plank of wood on the edge to prevent erosion and my wheel was on the wrong/downhill side of the plank. The trail continued level across a small depression and my bike continued down the “off ramp” to the right. My weight was now over the trail and my bike was on a divergent trajectory to the right. The hinge point in this equation was my left knee against the edge of the plank. The bike didn’t lose traction in time (damn those awesome Clement MPX clinchers) and my knee bent in a direction it is not designed for. If you imagine your left foot is supposed to hinge at the knee in the north and south directions; mine went west.
El Chefe was behind me when I rolled over in last Sunday’s race and I attribute this crash to him as well. Why did he MAKE me crash AGAIN?? He was, however, perfect in coming to my aid. He let me sit on the ground for a couple minutes while I went through the “WTF” phase and gathered myself. I tend to jump up and this time I was very content to sit still and wait. With both hands I slowly took hold of my knee which hurt like hell. It felt strange, like it wasn’t mine. It felt warm and cold at the same time. I ran my fingers up, down and around like I was feeling for something. Nothing was sticking out or bleeding. Cautiously I held my knee and flexed my heel toward my butt. If you imagine getting hit from the side you would naturally bend your knees in to limit the side to side deflection which I had just experienced. Even though it was too late, I pulled my knee toward my chest and hoped everything would align. Isn’t it funny how our minds work?
Oooooooohh Shit !
After what seemed like several minutes, El Chefe helped me to my feet, commencing the “Okay, now what?” phase. He offered to help me out of there and then offered to guide me back when I said I thought I could ride. My leg could bear weight but flexing was another matter. I figured the route back was generally downhill with only minimal climbing so I decided I could make it. This really was more of a hope than a determination based in fact or logic.
Our teammate "Hot Pants" out of gas in front of Casa de Chefe' last June
The crash had caused my wheel to move in the dropout and after realigning it the bike was ready to go. Me; not so much. I stepped over and gingerly clipped in. I started pedaling using my right leg for all the power and just having my left leg along for the ride.
I should know better..
Then I entered the “Just how bad is it?” phase and decided to see how my left knee was working….
Light downward pressure on the pedals. Left knee feels…….okay (I lied to myself).
Heavier downward pressure on the pedals….My whole knee hurt. Everything from my lower quad to my calf muscles felt a burn. Let’s stick with light downward peal pressure….
Then I thought I would try light pulling on the upward pedal stroke…Holy mother of shit!! I felt a make-you-want-to-scream level of pain and all of it in one tiny spot. That is not good. That is way bad. Torn ACL was my first thought. I’m not even sure that is where your ACL is, but that was the thought that was running through my head.
The blessed virgin had not blessed my bike or this ride..
I felt old. I am a grandfather and I was riding fast, on wet gravel trails, in the dark, in cold weather. What could be more stupid? Why don’t I try it with a blindfold on? I am lucky Hottie indulges my foolish priorities and allows me to pretend these things are relevant. On the upside I am too old to spend much time in the “Regrets” phase and am quick to adjust to the “Acceptance” phase.
My brain switched to survival mode. The night was cold but we had dressed for it. I was pretty sure that whenever I stopped pedaling my knee would stiffen up. Already my range of motion was limited. I knew that the adrenaline that was helping me would soon expire as well. “Don’t stop till you reach the car” I thought to myself. As we emerged from the watershed, Geoff was stopped. “I’m going to keep riding,” I muttered without looking toward him; I turned west toward my car and the end of the ride.
Cool French tombstone
El Chefe escorted me and I took a squirt of hammer gel. Man that apple cinnamon has some flavor! A few minutes later Geoff who had ridden ahead was stopped to add some air to his rear tire which had a slow leak. Once again I mumbled something as I rode past not even considering stopping.
My mind was racing. The adrenaline had to go somewhere. I guess my Cyclocross season is over. What was the name o f the guy who did Hottie’s knee surgery? Man, my knee hurts. Aren’t El Chefe’s knees cold? I’m going to hurt tonight. I’m glad I don’t shave my legs. My knee hurts. I guess if it is tendon or ligament damage there isn’t any rush to get it treated tonight. The air smells fresh. Gawd my knee hurts. My toes are cold. El Chefe is a stud. My knee sure hurts. I wonder if I should call my doctor tonight or wait until morning. My knee feels okay when I’m coasting downhill. Maybe it is just a strain? Here is a short hill. Holy shit my knee hurts. I am so screwed.
Just before emerging from the hills onto the Sammamish River Trail there are some downhill gravel corners that aren’t all that sharp, but are pretty loose. As I got out of the saddle my left leg feels….unstable. I settled back in my saddle and ease around the corners.
I knew the rightmedication could help me.
Soon I am on the trail and without a word to the others I pedal northward toward the car. I am alone for a bit and I look skyward at the moonless night. I try and freeze the moment in my mind as I assume I won’t be riding again for a good while.
My hands are cold and the grass on the side of the bike trail sparkles like a sea of diamonds, the beads of dew reflecting light from the beam of my headlight. El Chefe pulls alongside and I thank him for his help. He says it was nothing, but I know that he fully realizes that I needed help. Geoff and Doug stayed away sensing that I was not feeling social tonight.
At the car I load the bike in and angle myself into my seat without bending my leg. Now that I can let down my guard my knee really throbs. I am distracted but make it home without killing anyone. I tend to Hottie’s misbehaving bike and stupidly test ride it. Her lower saddle increases my knee angle and it feels like an ice pick in my knee. My injury doesn’t seem to be making me any smarter.
I shower, eat and begin my Aleve and ice treatment. I can’t find a position that is comfortable for my knee. My legs are sore from the heart attack hill climb which adds insult to injury (literally). Once in bed it takes a while before I fall asleep and I wake often during the night. Turning hurts more than when I had knee surgery. This sucks.
The next day I saw my doctor who listens to my story and pokes and pushes with the care of a good friend and exceptional doctor. In that very room he once told me the best way to avoid surgery is not to visit a surgeon. After completing the exam he tells me to set up an appointment with an orthopedic surgeon. It appears I have injured my medial collateral ligament (MCL). I could be okay and not need surgery. Time will tell.
Any post that includes an image like this is generally bad news
Today I called and made the appointment.
Someone told me this morning that I “must be devastated.” I’m not devastated. Today is one of the best days of my life. Today my oldest son and his wife welcomed their first born, Alexander Joseph, into the world. You can keep calling me Grandpa, but I am still not ready to grow up.
My oldest son Zach, and his oldest son, one hour old today..
Please say hello to Alexander Joseph !