The forest was sparse, and grass grew knee-high, encroaching the trail, which meant that sometimes I wasn’t so much reading the trail as watching for the lane in the grass, like space between rows of corn. I can’t blame reduced visibility for what happened next. Nor can I blame anything other than garden-variety technical skill.
Just as the trail leveled out from a downhill run, it arced to the right. Trails do this. There was nothing more surprising than the fact that I simply couldn’t recall what the trail did next. My entire education in that particular thread of hardpack was one previous handshake, possibly pre-pandemic. None of that was especially problematic. However, enough riders confident of their abilities had passed that way before me and failed to adhere to the exact curvature of that trail that its outside edge had broken away. It was bordered by much softer dirt and greenery that had been mashed flat.
I recall the electrical signal that fired through my gray stuff, the one that said, “Ooh, that could end badly; make sure you stay inside of that.” I suppose I could frame this as a failure of muscle memory. My eye knew what to do, but my body balked. Or something.
My front wheel drifted off the edge of the trail, rolled a few inches in the soft stuff and something beneath the impromptu green carpet stopped my wheel. Knowing what you do about bicycles, the weight of an adult human being and momentum, you’ve already guessed what happened next: My wheel turned left because my weight was inside, as we say, and I took the line that gravity and momentum agreed was the most direct route to the ground.
I’m told that several moments passed and then two of my buddies asked the question that the cyclist’s code demands we all ask.
It’s fair to observe that this question is usually a formality, but they way they asked, combined with the fact that I hadn’t yet moved told me they really weren’t sure. In the breath that followed, a sound emanated from me.
Adam was nice enough to ask if it hurt when he twisted my foot in order to release it from the pedal. It didn’t. Hurt, that is; it did release from the pedal, and then he lifted the bike off of me.
What I knew was that my elbow hurt in that partly lacerated, partly road-rashed, this-is-gonna-hurt-like-a-mother-when-I-scrub-it way. My next thought was how my right thigh had really taken the brunt of the force of my fall, call it 140 of the 160-odd pounds of Patrick. And while miles of trails in this park can be soft and loamy, I might have been able to follow the curve had the surface been a bit more, ah, heroic. No, what stopped my movement possessed the same color and texture as a pizza stone dusted with (whole wheat) flour.
Did I get up on my own or did they help me? I honestly can’t recall. I do recall at one point going to step forward and instead stepping backward. The term “unsteady” comes to mind. Later, at the barbecue, my friends related how they made a joint effort to keep me upright, like a couple of sheriffs escorting a prisoner.
The way home was mostly flat, which meshed well with my single-leg pedal technique.
I relate this because my reaction to this little event doesn’t seem like what I’d have done 20 years ago, or maybe even 10. When I feel the soreness in my right quadricep any time I attempt to flex that muscle or when my entire leg balks at any attempts to use it as a load-bearing structure, my reaction is to laugh. The foibles of being human are numerous. And injury is part of the price of admission to being a cyclist. We’re going to fall, right? It’s less a rule than an inevitability.
In the past, I’d have been embarrassed, maybe angry—probably angry—and certainly frustrated. I no longer understand why. There’s something comic about being served a big helping of humble pie. I don’t really care if that’s shaving cream or mayonnaise and not whipped cream on top.
Why laughing at my own misfortune should seem healthy or appropriate is just the sort of thing I’m inclined to devote hours of thought to; this little meditation is proof enough. What I’ve arrived at is that to laugh at the absurdity of a situation means I’m not taking what happened personally. My crash was not a referendum on my skill, a sign that mountain biking is dangerous or an indication that the fact that I still play like a kid means I’m immature.
Nope. Even though I went down, my crash really isn’t about me. Shit happens. Some of that shit happening will happen all over me. This is life. This is just one day in a long life in which standing up will cause me to make sounds that will make most people either wince or laugh. Let’s go with the laughter. We’ve all been there; we will all be there again someday.
Seriously, how many things are funnier than, “Whee! This is fun! I’m cool! This is aweso—”
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