Recently something went very wrong and very unexpectedly. It took me awhile to find a positive purpose.
I was biking along the Welland Canal with over two hours of free time ahead of me. It was a pleasant morning, I was biking on a scenic and dedicated bike path, feeling exhilarated. Unfortunately the great feeling and the ride only lasted about 3.5 km.
As I was approaching the Garden City Skyway, designed to allow vehicle traffic to not be detained by laker and freighter traffic, I misjudged a turn in the path. In my attempt to avoid losing control I made the mistake of grabbing the front break, which any cyclist would know, put me totally out of control. The bike flipped and I landed hard on my left knee and hands. This left me more shook up than injured, though I didn’t know that till after I had a chance to assess what had all happened in those 2.5 seconds.
In hindsight I learned several important and helpful things because of the upset. However, in that moment I recalled the cyclist on the 2013 tour who broke her leg on the first day of the tour. I realized how being so close to the start date of the tour that I have dreamed about since 2005 could have ended right there. It’s not hard to imagine what different injuries could have happened in those 2.5 seconds.
Fortunately the lower part of my body absorbed most of the impact, though not hard enough to cause serious injury to my knee. By misjudging the turn in the path I had fortunately landed in the grass and not on asphalt. Also a secondary benefit to wearing cycling gloves saved my hands from being chafed.
There was damage to the handlebar, damage to the back rack and the tire had popped right off the rim. When I realized I couldn’t get air into my back tire I figured my two hour ride was over.
I learned several things as a result of a momentary lapse of caution:
- watch my speed
- choose my speed according to conditions, not according to how I’m feeling
- be extra attentive in unfamiliar territory
- glad I fared better than the cyclist a friend mentioned who was distracted and hit the back of a truck, breaking his femur, pelvis and thumb.
- make sure I know how to use the equipment
- my bicycle pump didn’t fit the valve on the tube. Found out later that my pump had an adjustment for the two different types of valves
- make sure all equipment is in good condition
- I couldn’t fix my flat because the rubber cement in my repair kit had dried up
So I spent the better part of my remaining free time getting to a bike shop for replacement parts and then getting my bike back in working condition. At least I know I am able to trouble shoot and do my own basic repairs.
The first ten minutes after flipping my bike I was having serious reservations about doing this Sea to Sea bike trip (7000 km in 67 days). While I managed to keep my level of anxiety in check it took it’s toll on me. An added challenge is my lack of mental flexibility; having to change gears from an anticipated two pleasant hours of cycling to figuring out how to get my bike fixed.
An interesting thing was happening after I flipped the bike. While working my way through this unfortunate combination of challenges and trying to assess what was going on, I also found myself being my own spectator. By that I mean, I was watching how well I was able to deal with the sudden and unexpected change in my day and the myriad challenges, some minor, some more significant, that I needed to deal with. If I had totally fallen apart it would raise serious self doubt about doing the Sea to Sea trip.
In reflecting on this with my brain injury support person, she pointed out that I had assessed the situation, called for help, found a good bike shop, bought the parts I needed, put the bike back together, and was riding again a few hours later. (I did two short bike trips later in the day to keep my knee moving.) On top of that, I had sorted this out on my own, whereas on the tour there would be other cyclists there to offer support and advice.
It seems like the longer something goes well, the less one is aware of the diminishing margin of safety in the routine and procedures as one is riding. After doing about 3000 km of riding without a mishap or bike breakdown, flipping the bike was somewhat humbling. Despite the fact that I had watched several bike safety videos a few days before, I guess experience is the sterner teacher.
Accidents have causes
I’ve heard that most accidents happen when there are 3 or more contributing factors. That left me wondering whether I had actually breached the number 3.
- Speed was a factor
- Unfamiliar bike path
- Misjudging the situation
- Mishandled equipment
The last one needs a caveat. I had just gotten the brake pads replaced. As a result it is hard to undo the brake cable which I need to undo to remove the front wheel when transporting my bike. So, to help remedy this problem I have been using the front brake more than usual, always in situations where it wouldn’t cause problems. However, the habit of using the front brake resulted in an unfortunate reflex when I entered the turn in the bike path too fast.
So I guess one additional lesson learned it to be mindful of each habit. Be methodical about using the equipment in a way that ones reflexes don’t contribute to a potential problem.
Having this mishap so close to my departure date was like being given a last minute opportunity to run through a mental checklist of a variety of items so that I am physically and mentally a bit better prepared for the ride.
The timing allowed me a few days to do a number of shorter and easier rides to make sure my knee would be in good shape and avoid possible complications from the full day rides ahead.
Doing several easy rides made me realize that despite exerting a lot less energy, my average speed dropped very little. This could be the answer to the nagging question that emerged following my four day ride from Cobourg to Sarnia. It took me two days of sleeping around the clock to recover from that four day, 600 km ride. Riding at an easier pace on the tour looks like the answer – a slower pace with 6 days of cycling and one day of rest. That should be manageable.
I realize that despite all the training, careful packing, and mental preparation, at some point one just needs to get out there and start the tour and pray it goes well.