Whoever said ‘As easy as riding a bike’ never tried riding my bike. ~ Chatty Cathie
I am absolutely convinced that my local hospital emergency room has a file with my name on it, flagged with a ginormous red flag. Why the red flag, you wonder? What does it signify? In my imagination, that red flag reads “CAUTION: POSSIBLE DOMESTIC ABUSE VICTIM!” Well, that or it might read “CAUTION: PATIENT MAY EXPLODE UNDER PRESSURE!!” But that’s a blog for another day.
No, I’m fairly convinced they have my file red-flagged as a possible domestic abuse victim. If you read my blog yesterday, An Accident Waiting to Happen, then you have a small glimpse into why…but there’s more. Oh so much more!
It would seem that exercise equipment doesn’t like me. Not just the stair stepper, but all exercise equipment. I am convinced beyond the shadow of any doubt that exercise equipment (stair steppers, bikes, treadmills, elliptical machines, etc) are not the inanimate objects we’ve come to accept them as being. I’m convinced they have minds of their own. They see me coming and begin to plot and plan ways to convince me that I’m not that interested in using them. They may even have a network set up to warn each other that I’m coming so they can develop a plan for keeping me away. You think I’m kidding?
Sixteen years ago when my daughter was just a baby, I got it into my head that I wanted to be a long-distance bike rider. Our small town has an abundance of bike trails, and you can go pretty much anywhere in town using a bike trail without ever encountering motorized traffic. My husband, Troy, and his parents had done many long-distance bike rides over the years and it looked like a lot of fun. They’d pack up their car, toss the bicycles up on top, and take off to a biking destination with a group of dozens of other riders. It looked like fun, and I wanted to be a part of that!
At about that same time, our local TV reporter, Leigh Geramanis, was doing a story on the Ragbrai 500, a local bike ride that spans nearly 500 miles in 7 days. Doing the math, I figured I was looking at a bit over 75 miles per day on the back of a bike. I could do that! And so I convinced my husband to go in and see Honest Paul (yes, that’s really his name) at our local bike shop to pick out a couple of good bikes, helmets and a trailer for 4-month old Amber.
While there, I noticed that Troy was purchasing toe clips to put on the pedals of his bike, and I suddenly decided that I absolutely must have everything Troy had! After all, I was going to be a serious long-distance bike rider! I needed all of the bells and whistles to along with it. The problem is that I’d forgotten…I’d forgotten that exercise equipment hates me, and that the worst thing you can do when the equipment hates you is find a way to allow it to “trap” you on it so that you’re unable to extricate yourself quickly.
Things went along well for a while. Each night after Troy returned from work, we’d load up the car with the bikes and take off to a different bike path in town. Troy had been kind enough to equip my bike with a snazzy little odometer so I could tell how far we were going each day, and – after a couple of weeks of daily riding – I was up to about 10 or 12 miles each night. Somewhere around the third month, I’d been able to increase my stamina enough to take the bike path all the way to the next town; a ride of 24 miles round trip! I was so impressed with myself!
The real problem, though, is that I wasn’t a very good rider. I was never really comfortable on the bike and the faster I went the less control I had. Because I was such an awful rider, we decided that it was best if we connected Amber’s trailer to the back of Troy’s bike, and most of the time it was just “smarter” for me to ride behind Troy than ride two-abreast with him.
One evening as we were out riding the 24-mile round trip bike path to the next town, my bike took on a mind of its own. One moment I’m trailing Troy by a good 10 feet, and the next thing I know I’m within inches of hitting the back of the bike trailer with Amber inside. My bike was going too fast to squeeze the brakes enough to stop in time, and my feet were stuck in the toe clips which prevented me from jumping off the bike. The only solution, then, was to veer around them so as not to hit them. As I turned the bike’s front wheel to avoid a certain accident, I somehow overcorrected and the bike took off over the side of a very steep embankment. Suddenly, instead of trying to avoid hitting Amber in the trailer behind Troy, I’m doing my best to avoid the brush and saplings as I and my bike took what felt like a 90° nose-dive straight down. What was probably only several seconds felt like a lifetime, as saplings, tall grass and brush slapped at my face, arms and legs.
My bike finally came to an abrupt stop as I slammed into a tree. Lying there in a daze, bleeding, and feeling battered, stunned and bruised all over, I couldn’t even find the strength to call out for help. I just lay there…dying. When would Troy notice that I was no longer behind him. Would he ever notice? How long would it take him to send out the search dogs, and then how much longer would it take them to find me? It would be dark soon. Would they find me before morning, or would I remain out there in the wild; an instant meal for the coyotes and wild wolves?
A few moments passed when I finally heard it…
“CATH?!” said the voice from high above. “CATH? WHERE ARE YOU?”
“Down here!” I whispered. Somehow I couldn’t get my normally boisterous voice to work.
“CATH? What are you doing? Are you down there?”
What am I doing? I’m rock climbing! What do you think I’m doing, Einstein? All of this I thought to myself. I wouldn’t dare say it out loud or he might just leave me there!
Seconds later, Troy was standing over me with a look on his face that could only be described as amused concern. This wasn’t the first time he’d found me in a bizarre situation or location. “Cath? What are you doing? Are you okay?”
“I dunno. I think I’m dying,” I replied.
“Can you move?”
“I dunno. Am I dead? Have I died?” I asked with complete sincerity.
“You’re not dead. Can you move? Let me try to help you up.”
After what felt like forever, I was finally in a standing position. Unfortunately, I was still useless. I hurt all over and there was no way I could climb that embankment without help. Thankfully I had Troy who, after about 20 minutes of pushing and pulling, helped me make it up the side of that cliff. He then had to go back to retrieve my bike. When he returned, my first thought was that he should’ve just left the bike. It looked even worse than I did and I couldn’t imagine that they would be able to repair it. The fork was bent back about 4-6 inches and riding it was out of the question. We were one mile from the closest civilization and another five miles from the car. I’d have to walk at least a mile to civilization, and then wait for Troy to ride his bike the remaining 5 miles to retrieve the car.
After what felt like hours, Troy returned with the car and then insisted that it was probably a good idea if he took me to the emergency room to be checked out. Most of the wounds appeared to be superficial, but I’d heard a loud “POP!” at some point as I was holding on for dear life, and there wasn’t any place on my body that didn’t hurt.
It was nearly 10:00 PM by the time we arrived at the ER and, try as hard as I could, I had a terrible time explaining to them why I was out riding my bike after dark. They just didn’t seem to “get” the time involved to get back to town so that I could make it to the ER, and the looks they kept giving me seemed to indicate that they weren’t sure what they believed.
After that evening, life went on as normal for a while. Troy took my bike back to Honest Paul who assured us that it could be repaired, and the realization that I still had a bike was enough to convince me that I must continue with my goal. As soon as my bike was done and my body healed, I would return to training. And so, about six or seven days later, we picked up my bike from Honest Paul and made plans to go out the next evening to try to work back up to those 24 miles and beyond that we’d achieved. But first, Troy would need to make some simple repairs of his own to my bike by adjusting the seat.
At about 10:30 PM that night, Troy called into the house and asked me to come out and look at my bike. He’d been working on the seat and needed to know if it fit properly. I sat down on the bike in the driveway, wiggled around a bit, then said “Feels fine.”
“Why don’t you just take it down the driveway to make sure it feels okay,” Troy said.
“It’s 10:30 at night. I can’t take it out in the dark,” I said.
“You’re not going for a bike ride. Just take it down the driveway and make sure the seat feels okay.”
“Fine.” I straddle the bike and began rolling. Without much grace, I slipped my feet into the toe clips and started down the driveway and then onto the sidewalk.
“Too far,” said Troy. “Just go down the driveway. It’s too dark for you to see anything on the sidewalk.”
And that’s when it happened. Just as I was about to return to our own driveway, my front tire slipped off of the sidewalk pavement and got caught on that straight edge where the pavement meets the soft earth. With no ability turn my front tire in any direction, I struggled to remove my feet from the toe clips so I could catch myself as the bike stopped moving. But those toe clips have teeth and they were biting down with all their might. With my feet stuck on the pedals and the bike not moving, the bike began to tip over. In slow motion, I saw the earth race up to meet me and my right outer thigh landed with precision on a set of landscaping bricks that had been arranged in an upright position and tilted at a slight angle, so that the sharp side edges pointed skyward in a jagged formation. My head landed in the bushes, and there I lay until moments later Troy arrived on the scene.
“Cath? Are you okay? Can you get up?”
“I think I broke my leg,” I cried in extreme pain.
“Let me help you up.”
“NO!” I cried. “I’m dying!”
Troy was finally able to help me up and into the house where, within moments, a bruise was beginning to spread on the outside of my thigh from my hip nearly to my knee. After an hour and still unable to walk due to the intense pain, we decided I should probably go to the ER to make sure I hadn’t fractured my leg.
Heads up ladies: Two ER visits in fewer than two weeks raises the eyebrows of the ER doctors.
My first clue that there might be a problem was when they refused to allow Troy to go back into the room with me.
“Mrs. A,” said the doctor, “Let me make sure I understand what happened here. You were out riding your bike and it fell over. Is that right?”
“It’s midnight, Mrs. A. You were out riding your bike at 11:00 at night…in the dark?” he asked.
“Yes. Sorta. It was actually about 10:30.”
“In the dark?”
“Well…yeah. But I wasn’t really riding it per se. I was just testing it out to make sure it worked okay.”
“Hmmm…I see. I think. Mrs. A, this is a rather unusual situation. You’ve been to the ER twice in a week with ‘bike injuries.’ Are you sure that’s all there is to the story? Is there anything we should know about your home life?”
“Nope. I’m good,” I replied.
With no other recourse – and no broken bones after all – the ER doctor released me. But not without sending me home with an armful of pamphlets about domestic abuse and information about our local women’s shelter. Troy was not amused.
We never did get to ride in the Ragbrai. And, like the stair stepper, I was able put that bike to good use. It currently hangs from the ceiling of our garage, where its primary purpose is to test the strength of the hooks upon which it hangs. Someday, when I feel that I’ve punished it enough, I may pull it down again and give it a quick spin. But I do believe I’ll remove the toe clips first. In the meantime, I’m in the market for a good tricycle, if there’s someone out there who wants to hook me up with a deal.