Face First

The last time my wife, Sam, and I rode Porcupine Rim Trail in Moab was 22 years and 11 months ago. Back then, we were much fitter, a full suspension mountain bike was rare, and the trail was very different. This time we rented proper full suspension “acoustic” bikes and headed off.

If you make this journey and are nostalgic for this trail … don’t be. Go ride something else. It made for some great photos but kicked our asses. The old trail had three drop offs that gave me pause. One of those is now a 4’ drop onto more rocks and the others had me laughing … and then walking. I got off my bike more times than I want to mention. It was a little fun for me, not a bit of fun for Sam and we were both wiped at the end. To finish the day I rode the 8 miles up to get the car and barely made it before it was dark. Long shadows. Well … it was dark.

So imagine my surprise after surviving the rigors of Porcupine Rim when a little undercut rock grabs my rear tire and sends me sprawling. I landed hard on my right side trapping my arm under me and heard the distinct crunch as the wind was knocked out of me. My new friend Larry and I were barely a mile into a smooth and fun ride out near Dead Horse when it happened. I got my breath back and mounted up after Larry checked out my bike. A little spray of sealant on the rock was the only clue to what happened. I just remember flying for no reason. It hurt to breathe but I thought I might “ride it off”—as you do.

At some point I discovered belly breathing and the ride was less painful and pretty enjoyable. I still had fun, said a hearty goodbye, but when I got into the car I thought, ” I am F’d!” I got back to the camper, had a shower and assessed the damage. I figured I had at least three cracked ribs and a seriously pinched spot between my shoulder blades. When I would breathe deep I get a loud crunchy, popping sound.

I took the next day to recover a bit and then tried to ride a short paved bike trail with Sam the following. It did not go well. After about five minutes every bump I hit caused more and more pain. For the first time I can remember I did a flip turn and headed back to the car. To say I was disappointed is an understatement. That was quickly replaced by the ever-growing fear I wasn’t going to make it back to the car. I was going about 2 mph by the time I struggled to swing a leg over and call it quits.

Over the next couple days I channeled my pain into my illustration and tried not to imagine all that hard-won fitness flowing out of me like a hose with a bad faucet seal. I wasn’t worried about a punctured lung as I could do deep breathing exercises, which I remembered from my last rib crunch. No blood, no other weirdness, so I didn’t think it warranted a trip to the hospital as there isn’t really anything they do or can do about ribs.

Once I “published” the illustration of my fall on Facebook that changed a bit as friends and family urged me to go to the hospital. (Thank you Dr. Mike Murray.) Six days after my fall I finally went to the ER. A very nice nurse practitioner did some poking and prodding, which made me a bit queasy. I was sent for a CT scan and waited for the results.

When she came back in she had two other nurses with her; I think my alarm was understandable.

“I thought you might have three cracked ribs from your reaction but it turns out you have five broken ribs. No other issues and only one is slightly out of place.” The worst part was what she said next. “Stay off you bike for six to eight weeks.” Thankfully, the other two nurses were there just to give me a lidocaine patch and wrap my chest. My wife texted me to ask for an icepack from the nurses to put on the “dope slap” she was about to give me. The nurse laughed and responded “Oh no honey, just use a bag of peas. You can refreeze those for when she does it again.” 

Yes, I am a dumbass for not getting checked out sooner. As I left the hospital I felt exactly the same as before but hoped the peace of mind would be worth the hospital bill not covered by my very lackluster insurance.

About a week-and-a-half later I went out for my first easy ride just outside Boulder on some flat and smooth roads with Sam and our friend “Goose.” It went relatively well as long as I kept my heart rate low. Breathing too hard set off a cascading series of pains that instantly had me backing off. I rode once more with the same results so decided that I will actually chill out for a while. I got on photoshop and rendered the Guillermo del Toro-esque creature I feel on my chest all the time. When I do my deep breathing exercises I can really feel it’s mouth digging into my side. 

Four weeks on I am finally feeling better and from time to time almost forget that I am injured. Was there a lesson in all of this? I think the lesson is that despite my wish to heal better and faster than the statistical average, that isn’t going to happen. We get used to bragging about our resting HR, lung capacity, power output, and epic adventures but at 54 years of age Bumbles don’t bounce anymore and bones knit at a very universal rate.  

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  1. khal spencer says

    The joys of getting old, eh, Padraig? Back in 1990 when as a young man, I broke my collarbone clean through (and split one bone end into a “Y”) in a team training crash, I asked my sawbones when I could start riding again. He chuckled “when you can stand the pain”. I tried a few days after that to get on the rollers and decided that was too soon. I got back on the real bike after about five weeks and it was terrifying. My fitness had gone into the toilet and I was terrified of crashing again and re-breaking everything. Took a few weeks to get my confidence back.

    I turned 67 this year, as did Patrick “Mad Dog” O’Grady. I think both of us have toned down our more insane behavior on the bike in honor of old bones not healing too fast. At least I have. But it sounds like you have more than a decade to behave badly before you reach our stage of geezerhood and disrepair. Take care and knit back together well, buddy.

  2. dberkstresser says

    As far as I can research, a limiting factor for bone growth is boron. You get to eat as many avocados as you want!

    1. khal spencer says

      Or bathe in 20 Mule Team Borax

  3. Dan Murphy says

    Ah yes, cracked/broken ribs. I cracked a few during a guys ski trip to Alta, the skis grabbing something below the snow, somersaulting (ok so far), and landing on something very hard (not ok). After a few diagnostic checks, a trip to First Aid said it was ribs. Ever laugh with compromised ribs? Ugh. And remember, this was a guys ski trip where there is constant laughter.

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