Climbing and Crashing – Chapter 17

As I increased my distance, I started enjoying riding with other people. It was now four years post-accident, and I felt pretty confident on my bike. I upgraded from a hybrid bike to a “real” carbon fiber road bike, and would occasionally ride my bike 21 miles to the office a couple days a week.

I started to challenge myself to see what I was capable of. I rode with a local cycling group, and was able to move from the “D” (slowest) ride group, up into the “C”s, and even into the “B” group. The “A” group consisted of people who actually raced, so I was happy to be in the “B’s”.

I rode my first 25-mile ride, and even worked on the Scouting cycling merit badge with my on, which culminated in a 50-miler. After that, I rode my first metric (62 mile, 100 kilometer) ride, and in 2007, completed my first full century (100 mile) ride, the Seagull Century, in Salisbury, Maryland. It was completely flat, but hey – 100 miles is 100 miles.

After that, I set my sights on….”The Assault on Mt. Mitchell.” It had always been a bucket list item, but now, I really considered it a possibility. The AOMM is a 102-mile ride, that is fairly easy for the first 73 miles. At that point, it starts climbing up towards the Blue Ridge Parkway, and finishes at the top of Mount Mitchell, North Carolina. Total climbing is 11,000 feet, with almost all of that in the last 30 miles.

Over the Fall, Winter and Spring, I trained, climbed, and had to walk up a lot of hills. I got stronger, and in 2008, finally got to the event. I did well for up to 85 miles…then cramps and dehydration took their toll. At the entrance to the Blue Ridge Parkway, my cramping quads gave out, and I had to take a lift to the top of the mountain. I was so embarrassed, I didn’t tell people that I quit…and let them think that I had done the whole ride.

I came home, and got back into the routine….riding to work a couple days a week. One day, crossing a street in Vienna, Virginia, I came up to a street crossing. It had big signs and flashing lights to alert the cars, but I took care not to depend on signs.

It was a two lane street, with not much traffic, but as I approached the intersection, I saw cars in the area, so I unclipped on foot from the pedals and coasted to a stop at the intersection. A car stopped on the right, waving me forward, but since I had been given bad directions before, I held up a hand to thank the driver, then looked in the opposite direction for other cars.

The car coming the other way stopped, so now, both directions were stopped, and it looked safe to go ahead. I clipped in to the pedals, and pushed forward, rolling into the crosswalk. There were now two cars stopped on the right, and two on the left, so I should be safe.

As I cleared the vehicle on my right, and aimed for the trail just a feet away, I heard the roar of an engine accelerating. I looked to the rights, and I saw a Honda Civic rocketing toward me. Even though there were only two lanes, some guy came flying around all the cars, diving into the parking spaces to pass them on the right. I had no time to react, and felt the bike being lifted up as the car plowed under me.

Still attached to the pedals, I went up on the hood. The bike and I went horizontal, and I hit the windshield with a big “THUNK!”. The car stopped, and I slid down to the pavement, still attached to the bike.

For a second, I tried to assess what had happened. I knew I’d been hit, but my first worry wasn’t that – it was whether my legs worked. I heard car doors opening and closing, and the driver who hit me tried to grab me and pull me up, while I was still attached to the bike. I was so angry, I literally growled at him to back off, while I un-clipped my feet from the pedals, pushed the bike away and climbed up off the pavement.

The bike was damaged, and I was scraped up quite a bit. The police arrived, and then the paramedics. At least this time, I was standing.  They took me and the bike away in an ambulance. I kept wiggling my fingers and toes all the way to the emergency room. Things looked like they still worked.

At the hospital, I got the usual X-rays and MRI’s. The verdict? I had a slight fracture to an upper vertebrae from the impact, but not enough to cause any lasting damage. Mostly, I was scraped up with a few abrasions. In truth, the bike looked worse than I did.

I went back to driving to and from work. I was lucky. If the guy had been driving an SUV or big truck, I might not have made it. With his little Honda Civic, I was a big, clumsy (and temporary) hood ornament.

The driver was cited for “Failure to Yield.” I figured that he’d just pay the ticket, but I got a notice in the mail that he was contesting the citation. I wondered how he that that would work, or maybe he thought that the police officer or I might not show at trial.

When I got to court, It was clear that the entire police force of Vienna Virginia was there to testify for their cases. I saw the driver for the first time since the accident, but didn’t introduce myself. I don’t think he recognized me at all.

When it came his time to testify, he said what I’ve heard a lot of drivers say – “I never saw him.” He also testified that he thought I rode out into the intersection without looking, and that he drove through the parking spaces to try and avoid hitting me.  I kept silent until the judge asked me if I wanted to give my version.

Instead of arguing against the driver’s version of events, I pulled out a series of print-outs. Whenever I rode my bike, I had a Garmin GPS with a heart rate sensor strap and a cadence sensor that measured how fast I was pedaling. As I turned the stack of paper over to the judge, I explained how the map showed my route of travel, and the data showed me slowing down as I approached the intersection; coasting as I stopped pedaling and braked; Stopping completely for over 1 minute as my heart rate dropped.

I then showed the judge the big spike in the data where I went from traveling at 5 miles an hour forward…to 20 miles per hour sideways, then all the data going blank. “That, your honor, is where the driver struck me in the intersection.”

I looked over at the driver, who was by this point, just looking at the floor. The judge asked if he wanted to rebut my testimony, but he just shook his head.

The judge banged the gavel. “Guilty, Fine issued as per statute.”

It took over 3 years to settle out the case, but I got my bike replaced, my medical costs covered, and I also got a better appreciation for watching out for other vehicles on the road.

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