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Works and Days

The Unforgiving Moment

May 18th, 2014 - 10:50 pm

Stock photo of mountain bike crash by

Life is turned upside down in a nanosecond.

This weekend I missed my first posting at PJ Media since beginning in 2006.

Why? Let me briefly explain the lapse — if I can be forgiven for comparing a bike accident with what I have seen on the farm the last 50 years (sliced off fingers, crushed legs, herbicide poisonings, manifold burns, etc.).

I was going on a usual morning bike ride — safe stuff with like-minded older folks. I’m 60; so is my biking partner and fellow Hoover Institution associate Bruce Thornton. We are hardly reckless. (Not like sulfuring at midnight recklessly in one’s 20s in the old days without goggles or mask.)

We usually go deliberately during off-traffic hours when cars are rare, on little-traveled roads and bike paths. We always follow the same direction over the same 32-mile route. After nine years we have memorized every bump, cracked bit of pavement, bad stop light, etc. We bike slowly, about 14-15 mph, always in single file.  We are, after all, 60 and hear daily horrific stories of injured and dead bikers.

In nearly ten years of rides, I have had some scrapes but only two bad spills (a homeless person once jumped out from the bushes on a Santa Rosa bike path; I swerved to miss him and ended up going over the handlebars: slight concussion; broken shoulder, three ribs, and collar bone. I was also attacked and knocked flat once by a pack of dogs with no licenses, shots, or English-speaking owners).  So we must be doing something carefully, for our sixtyish group of three or four to usually avoid problems.

I lead a yearly tour on May 17th, so usually quit riding one week ahead, just in case. Friday morning was to be last ride until I came back on May 30.

About four-fifths of the way home, suddenly the front wheel locked and I woke up about 15 seconds later with my face on the pavement. Four hours later at the emergency room I discovered that I had four ruined teeth (three shaved off, one split down the middle into the root), a concussion, a broken nose, 65 stitches for facial and gum lacerations, and a sliced-apart lower lip (with broken teeth shards sticking into my upper lip).

What happened? Apparently a hairline fissure around the carbon bike fork failed, and the fork bent and locked up the front wheel without warning. (Yes, I know I should inspect the bike thoroughly each time I get on, but the crack was invisible.)

Seven days after falling, I am leaving for Europe and the tour this week, a bit dizzy, fearful that my ogre-like appearance will turn off audiences. I’ve been getting out of bed to rush off to various doctors to extract a split abscessing tooth, do a bone graft, grind off jagged teeth points that have lacerated my tongue, have stitches removed, etc. — and feel both foolish and very lucky.  I had a jammed neck and was a bit disorientated, suggesting to the ER staff a fracture and perhaps serious neck problems. But the CT scan came back normal. After sitting under bags of ice and gobs of Neosporin ointment the last five days, I have reflected on the unforgiving moment that changes everything.

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Top Rated Comments   
My dear cyberfriend, VDH...I am so sorry to hear of your injuries and wish you a speedy and full recovery.

I've had a few of these unforgiving moments. I once tried stretching a single into a double and slid into second base, thereupon discoverin that someone the week before in the field maintenance division had left a steel base spike in the ground a foot in front of the current base. I tore off a filet mignon hunk of my calf. Sewing it up with a mountain of stitches wasn't the problem, scrubbing ALL the dirt out with a wire brush was the test of the moment. The medical staff was a joy to deal with.

At our age (I'm born the same year), I see runners and bikers on my walk past the dive bombing pelicans along the marina. Our fathers would not have jogged, biked or done yoga exercises in neon spandex. They had chores to do and then a family picnic or visiting the older generation.

Forced to buy inferior insurance, forced to accept neighbors who don't have the manners of even a pack of coyotes, forced to be ruled by's not a hidden spike or fracture in a bike that causes the greatest fear, VDH.

At 60 it is a fracture in the very foundations of this land of ours. At 60, our fathers would have considered it a solemn duty to fix it. For this is an injury to our freedom from which we may not recover.

Fate can be cruel and unforgiving in a moment. But the collapse of liberty is an erosion.

Get well, my countryman. We need whatever fight there is left in us...for our father's memories and our children's future.
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
Reading about VDH's accident and the ER experience makes me wonder if we are all expressing wonderment that the ocean surf is going out instead of coming in. We all know what that means, a tsunami is on its way. VDH is seeing the water recede and is amazed that DC hasn't noticed it.
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
For anyone living in a border state reading about California’s problems with illegals is always difficult. Libs here dream of turning Texas into another California without the scenery and weather and illegals figure prominently in their 'calculations.' They may get their wish if our ‘broken’ immigration system is fixed by the usual suspects. But California’s problems have been made worse by a state government whose legislative mechanics and temperament is—pardon the term—alien to Texas. We might yet find a way to avoid the worst form of California’s madness.

Get well, Dr. Hanson.
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (120)
All Comments   (120)
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What an awesome article! Understood as well.
33 weeks ago
33 weeks ago Link To Comment
Dear Sir:
Please don't ride a bike with any carbon fiber components: They fail catastrophically.
Jack Guthrie
36 weeks ago
36 weeks ago Link To Comment
"For all practical purposes, one has no right to arm oneself to protect property. If I were unarmed and shot, I would be assumed to have been foolish by venturing out on my own property. If I were armed, and yet got shot confronting thieves, the media would say that I was more foolish and trigger-happy and prompted the violence. If I had shot them in self-defense, I would appear a paranoid old white male who privileged property over human life — and be sued by their families who had access to free legal help."

You have discovered why California is a slave state.
38 weeks ago
38 weeks ago Link To Comment
Hello Victor. We've never met, but I'm a Central Valley neighbor, about 80 miles south on Highway 99 in Bakersfield. We're about the same age.

Here's a story about an accident and an attitude about healing that I had not expected.

I own a plastics manufacturing company and we need to have our saw blades sharpened from time to time. A salesman from the sharpening company comes by, collects blades to be sharpened, and returns with them sharpened in a week.

One day, out of idle curiosity, I asked "Do any of your other customers ever cut off a finger?" I was a little stunned when he answered matter-of-factly, "Oh, yes. We probably lose a digit a week."

Then he told me the story of a long-retired lumber yard owner, a man used to many types of large, dangerous saws, who recently had cut off a finger on his table saw in his home workshop. He tried to clear a sliver with his hand rather than a stick, and the sliver grabbed his hand and pulled it into the blade.

The saw sharpening man asked if the old timer had the finger sewn back on.

The answer, "I'm 87 years old. Why would I bother?"

At 58, I would still get it fixed, but I understand now there comes a time when it is too much trouble. I'm just glad I'm not there yet.

I hope that you, too are glad that you see yourself in the group that still wants to get things repaired. Best wishes in that.

P.s. I took the suggestion from your writing and hiked Kaiser Peak with my son.
39 weeks ago
39 weeks ago Link To Comment
Dr. Hanson, I like your ruminations which so seamlessly and logically flow from your deplorable accident. Yet another great piece of writing from one of our time's finest thinkers.

I wish you speedy healing and "thank you' is indeed in order -- a thank you that matters did not turn out worse than they did.
39 weeks ago
39 weeks ago Link To Comment
Donna, Obamacare will indeed destroy the kind of health care that the Doc received. The VA scandal is a perfect example. It is, also, not an aberration. The vaunted European national health services have caused needless death and suffering to members of my own extended family who are back in the old country.
Naturally, the child-men who are so proud of Obamacare now will, in the next decades, simply excuse their criminally stupid and narcissistic choices by proclaiming "Well, at least my heart was in the right place." The rest of us will pay the price for their imbecility and hubris.
39 weeks ago
39 weeks ago Link To Comment
Like I said before: form a neighborhood watch.
Your neighbor who got shot and killed needed backup. You do as well. You can't rely on the police, as their paymasters would rather serve the local voters who are perpetrating these crimes than side with the fewer and older folks who are victims of them.
So: it's up to you and your neighbors. There's safety in numbers.
39 weeks ago
39 weeks ago Link To Comment
Get back up and get going. It is much preferable to burn out than to rust away.
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
"For all practical purposes, one has no right to arm oneself to protect property."

I hope very much that you are armed and well trained, in case someday there is no retreat. But don't publicly say whether you are.
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
I see a lot of advice in the comments thread to "move away from California". That's hard to do when your heart is in the land. I've known people who, more than almost anything else, wanted to live to the end in the places that had been their homes for so many decades. Right after "don't let me die among strangers" was "don't let me die in a strange place." It may not be coldly rational but it is deeply human.

Good luck, Professor Hanson.
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
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