Fish Tale-ing

Any crash whose injuries are soothed by application of ice and ibuprofen might not be a proper crash, which is disappointing for the person (me) with the bruises and aches, but you can’t get too carried away every time you fall off the stupid bike. And so, in order to make myself feel better about the bruise blooming in my palm and across my lower abdomen, I give you a hyperbolic re-telling of my recent encounter, while riding my gravel-style bicycle, with the ground.

First, it bears saying that I have been in the flow. I did three days of hard, technical mountain biking with about two dabs and nary a close call. I’ve ticked off a series of hard obstacles I’d previously thought beyond my skill. My confidence has been high, and perhaps this is the root of the event I’m about to recount.

Wax wings. Warm sun. Big splash.

So there I was, on a trail new to me somehow snaking between two other stretches of dirt I know fairly well. I suspect there is a roving group of middle-school kids working this patch, doing their damnedest to become amateur trail builders. It explains just how janky this new trail was, and why my friend Bruce, who loves a janky, pirate trail, had pointed us in this direction.

We split ferns and leapt stumps for a minute or two before coming upon a bridge, perpendicular to our path. To call it a bridge is generous actually. It was more like a series of pallets placed in a row, off-kilter to one another, the slats pretty far apart, none of the edges quite matching up. With a quick glance I reconnoitered the sketchiness of the whole contraption and resolved to approach carefully.

Here my bike handling skills shone bright for a brief moment. I rolled up to the bridge’s entrance, and I skitched my rear wheel around behind me to face the bridge head on. Probably I was congratulating myself for being so slick, when I rolled the pedals over to engage the bridge’s entrance. And this, my friends, is when things, including me and my bike, started going sideways.

For some reason I can’t quite reckon, my front wheel caught on the slight rise where the wood of the bridge met the dirt of the trail, and my rear wheel began the process of rising skyward, the equal and opposite reaction to the sudden arrest of the front wheel. This is rather like when the horse you’re riding gets stung by a bee. Everything is placid and calm, and then it really isn’t, and you’re flung into the air like the flesh and blood ragdoll you are.

Why didn’t my front wheel just roll over the first slat of the bridge? I don’t know. Maybe there was a dip there I’d failed to perceive. Maybe I needed to lift ever so slightly to smooth my entry. Maybe some omniscient being just reached the apt conclusion that I needed some comeuppance. If you ride enough, you’re gonna fall off.

So I went over the bars and off the side of the bridge. At this point, it’s worth examining why there is actually a “bridge” here. The reason is a boggy low patch, the sort of spot that never dries, even in high summer, a moist morass of dead leaves and rotting organic matter. This charming amalgam of unpleasant items became my destination. I quite literally had it coming.

Two strange things happened on my way to the mud pit. First, I bent my right pinkie finger back to the point that I think it might have touched my elbow. Second, my handlebars seem to have entered my body just above the groin, delaying there for a moment before realizing they didn’t belong. The upshot is that my hand hurt a hell of a lot, and my guts felt violated. Fortunately for me, I was overwhelmed by the sensation of fetid moisture soaking through my shorts, and so I bounced right back up out of the muck like a 6-year-old at a bouncy house birthday party.

My friend Fez pulled up promptly behind me and said, “You ok?”

What is ok though? I have yet to see a cogent definition. My hand hurt like hell and my ass was soaked, but I was standing upright, and I knew my name still. Does that clear the high bar of ok? At any rate, I said, “Yeah, but maybe my finger is broken.”

He said, “Really?” And I said, “No. Probably not.”

I took a second and got myself back together and then walked across the stupid not-really-a-bridge. Then I climbed on my bike, shook my hand out (because that helps, I guess), and rode off up the trail, where Fez and I met our other companions. Here I relayed a mercifully abridged version of this story and said I was probably done riding for the day, which is cute, because we were miles from home and standing in the woods still.

Chapman said, “What if we just went and got coffee?” And I said, “I can drink coffee.” Being able to drink coffee is probably a sign you’re ok, if anyone is writing these things down. That I also consumed an apple Danish might be dispositive as well. Then I rode home one-handed, more because I felt sorry for myself than because I had to.

Have you seen the TCI none-more-black t-shirt? And if so, why are you not currently wearing one?

Join the conversation
  1. dr sweets says

    Despite how mountain-bikey gravel bikes have become they are nowhere near as forgiving as a dual suspension mountain bike. The skills badassery afforded by riding that rig doesn’t necessarily translate and it’s easy to forget just how much nonsense we can get away with on a bouncy bike. Heal up soon.

  2. Dan Murphy says

    Tough summer for you, big guy, isn’t it? Hope the finger is pointed in the right direction by now.

    Years ago, when I was mt biking a lot, I was riding with two guys in a place I had never been. I’m doing all I can to keep up with the local guys. I turn a corner, and *bang* there’s a “bridge” right in front of me. Like your bridge, it was minimally built. Being 25+ years ago, details are sketchy. It was a board or two wide going thru a swampy area, water on both sides. Maybe 18″ wide???? And it went a ways, like 50′. And I think there was a slight bend at one point. No time to think, just ride and hope for the best. I’m actually glad they never told me about it, because if they had, my head would not have handled it well.
    Sorry, no bent pinkie or soggy shorts. That time, anyway.

    1. Emlyn Lewis says

      Dan, I drag myself along despite the frequent mishaps. I steadfastly learn no lessons. The scars are everywhere, mental and physical. This, though, is the price of remaining at least partially feral. And I’m into it.

  3. TominAlbany says

    Skinnies still get in my head. Even if it’s dry all around them.

    And it’s always nice when you have someone to witness your crash. Both truly. And not.

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