The Unforgiving Moment

mountain_bike_crash_5-17-14-1 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.