In every crash there is a moment where the brain fails to comprehend what is happening. It’s a predictable problem: We trust our experience to be one thing (just riding along, natch) when suddenly we have all the sensory input of quite a different reality (flying through the air).
To call that passage of time a moment is perhaps generous. The fact is, just how long it lasts varies. The more experienced a rider is and the firmer their expectations of what will unfold in the coming seconds, the shorter that moment is. It may not be more than a fraction of a second. A newer rider who isn’t accustomed to the feel of a tire softened by a slow leak may go whole seconds before the sound of their rim rolling on asphalt sounds the alarm.
But experience isn’t the only factor that lights up the nervous system when things get proverbially (or literally) sideways. In fact, one of the fastest ways to alert a body that not all is going to plan is by changing its orientation to gravity. We need only tip about 15 degrees in any direction for our inner ear to blast the klaxons. Change the direction of air moving over a body and alerts go off as well. And let’s not forget sound. From the gunshot of a popped tube to the varied noises metal makes as it scrapes pavement or other metal is enough to send a shockwave of adrenaline to the fingertips.
So it was during a recent ride I stalled just before the top of a short, steep pitch. Having touched my brakes to keep from hitting the rider ahead of me in that textbook of crowding that comes at the crest of all steeps, I hadn’t raised my saddle and was over-geared for a speed I didn’t anticipate I’d be going. So I clipped out as I tilted to the right, toward the slope that fell away like a ski run.
I clipped out and stepped into air. Thus began the moment. I was listing, sinking, falling away from the benign hillside to my left and into space, an elevation occupied by the trunks of trees.
The incomprehension of what may only last a frame or two on film ought to elicit laughter, not just from bystanders (who are wont to laugh anyway if there are no injuries), but ourselves. This is us as a least common denominator. Falling down. We all do it. Everyone has done it. Everyone will do it.
In my head I had a Wile E. Coyote window of opportunity to look into the camera with beleaguered eyes and hold up a sign that says, “Bye.”
It was, like most comebacks, imagined. Of the rest of that second, all I will say, all that needs be said is: ribs heal.
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Image: Warner Bros.