Monday, January 5, 2009

Dose of Mortality

We are all aware that it could happen. We are told every time we walk out the door to be careful. We here the stories in the paper. Do we really heed the advice, the warnings, the reality that could be? Yesterday I was given a dose of this reality and realized my own mortality.

The ride was typical, nothing out of the ordinary except that it was about 15 degrees colder than the weatherman said it would be. I was sorely under dressed. I kept telling myself that this is what dedicated triathletes put themselves through, but I think I was just plain crazy for being out in the weather. The group ride that I frequent has two routes, long and short. I typically do the short ride (35 miles) but yesterday I decided to do the 60 mile route. A group of about 8 out of the 25 or so broke off at the normal split. About 20 miles in one of the riders hit a crack in the pavement and went down. I was about 1 or 2 minutes behind the group (yes I am slow) so I did not see anything happen. When I came on the scene 911 was already on the phone. The rider was unconscious when I got there and did not wake the entire time (approximately 15 minutes) even after being loaded into the ambulance. The scene itself was not as awful as one might expect but it was surreal. The scary part, and the main topic of conversation for the next hour as we continued the ride was how it could have been any one of us. It is a difference of inches when you ride in a group. Many times you cannot see the road more than a few feet in front of you. If the bike in front swerves to miss something you have a fraction of a second to react as well and this could lead to just what happened on Sunday.

As cyclists we worry ourselves over cars and trucks that may not be paying attention and sometimes we forget that there are bumps, cracks, pieces of wood, glass, rocks, etc. that can easily bring us down. Its a risk we take every time we set our wheels on the road. The old saying among cyclists is "It's not a matter of whether you will fall or not, its a matter of when". Fatal accidents and even life threatening accidents are rare but they do happen and if anything they serve as a reminder that we are mortal and the only thing separating us from the pavement is a tire that is about 1-1/2 inches wide. Thankfully I have never had a problem, several close calls with puddles of water or manhole covers but that is about it.

An additional learning experience from all this was that even though we are a group of riders that see each other on a regular basis we do not necessarily know one another. When this rider went down the only way we knew his name was because he had his wallet on him. All of us had seen him on rides before but for some reason that was as far as it went. I realized that I do not "know" anyone on the ride either. Every so often you talk to people or meet someone new but is that far enough? I forgot to bring my ID with me (which I normally do) if I had been the one to hit that crack in the road I might be laying in the hospital right now as a John Doe. Scary thought.

As a followup I did hear about an hour ago that the rider is still in ICU and is in a medically induced coma. I hope everything turns out OK and I hope to see him out on the road again soon. This time I will make an effort to get to know him and anyone else for that matter because just like in the military, if I am going to rely on the guy next to me to save my life and in turn I am to save his, then I want to know I have a friend I can trust.

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