|Observatory Hill, Charlottesville, VA 1997|
Friday, March 25, 2011
SCAR, volume one, issue one
I've decided to launch a new feature here, an occasional series in which I share stories about some of the many injuries I've sustained. I'm calling it SCAR, which stands for "Stupid Careless Accident Report."
I hate the beginning of the race. It's the part that makes me want to go back to riding bikes just for fun. My stomach's not made for this kind of thing. I hate having to shit twice before leaving the house, and then once again before the line-up, waiting to use port-a-john with a million other guys whose guts are carbo-loaded and full of supplements and caffeine.
I wish I could just start in the middle of the race. After a couple minutes, everything gets sorted out, and for the next two hours you just ride hard and hope the other guys get tired or wreck.
This race is big for me. It's not part of a point series, and it's not because of the swag, although there are some nice components for the guy who comes in first. It's mainly for the bragging rights.
I fucking own this hill. I'm probably the only guy racing today who rode his bike here from home. I know every log on every trail and every washboard on every fire road.
In the line-up, everybody's talking smack, but I don't get involved. A bunch of guys call me Sandbagger because I've been winning so many races in the Sport category that they figure I should move up to Expert. Which I will, eventually. But shit, I've been in the Sport category for less than one season. I think I deserve to take home my share of swag before I start over at the bottom of the Experts.
The start is on the paved road about three quarters of the way up to the observatory. I'm about four deep in the line-up, as I usually am. I don't like jockeying to the front before the gun goes off. Everything will get sorted out in the first minute or so.
The gun goes off and I click my shoe into my pedal.
The start is key in this race because the course goes uphill at first, and then turns off the pavement about a quarter mile in, onto a steep downhill single-track. If you get behind someone slow once you get off the pavement, you're screwed.
I start off at a pace just below a full-on sprint. I get behind a guy I know who works at the bike shop, and stay on his wheel. He's pretty fast, and we start pulling away from the rest of the group. There are a couple guys right behind me, but I can't tell who they are.
When I see the yellow arrow on the side of the road, pointing down and to the left, I shift into a bigger gear and put the hammer down, passing the guy--Kyle--from the bike shop.
I catch a little bit of air dropping off the side of the road onto the trail, and keep pedaling until I'm spun out in my biggest gear. I'm the first one into the woods, and I have no idea how close anyone is behind me.
I don't really like being in the very front of the race either. I like having a few guys ahead for me to chase. And to act as coal mine canaries when there's some technical stuff that I don't want to get into trouble on.
But I know these trails. This is my back yard.
I'm floating over the berms and logs and water bars, going faster than I ever have on this trail, maybe around 30 mph; but I'm feeling much smoother because my wheels aren't in contact with the ground as much as they normally would be.
The trail widens out a bit as I get toward the bottom of the hill.
It rained a lot last month, and assholes like me still went out and rode, carving deep ruts into the clay soil. Then it got hot for a week, and baked those ruts into the earth. But I'm still just skimming along the tops of the high spots between the ruts.
I'm almost at the bottom, and I've managed not to think too hard about my speed or the gouged up ground beneath me. I glance over my shoulder and can't see anyone behind me. I have a huge lead.
I feather the brakes a little, to sluff off some speed before I come to the hard left at the bottom of the hill.
As I slow down just a bit, the bike feels heavier, and I start getting jostled from side to side. I'm still going at least 25, but I'm not floating anymore.
I try to pick a line and keep myself aimed at it, but the ruts toss me to one side and then another.
And then I'm on the ground.
Still going downhill at 25 mph, but without a bike.
I'm on my right side, with my head facing the bottom of the hill and my right arm extended in front of me.
When the ground stops moving underneath me, I just lie there. I'm pretty sure I've broken something very important on my body.
My brain tells my toes to wiggle. They comply.
Then I check my hands. Okay. My elbows. Fine. Hands, knees, neck. Everything still works. There's a lot of blood coming from my right arm, my shorts are ripped and there's a a slash on my thigh. But all my parts move when I tell them to.
I struggle to my feet and climb back up the hill to grab my bike, which I'm sure has at least a bent rim, if not a cracked frame.
But my bike is fine, for the most part. The only real damage seems to be that the clamp that holds the saddle onto the seatpost has broken, and so I've got nothing to sit on but a metal post. It reminds me of a joke about nuns fighting over the convent's only bicycle. I laugh, and my ribs feel like they're shaking loose.
Finally, someone passes me. The new leader. Then another guy passes, but he slows down to ask me if I'm okay. I wave him on.
A few more guys go by, and I decide to try and finish the race with no saddle.
After just a few seconds, I realize that there's no way that's going to work.
So I lash the saddle onto the seatpost with the belt from my Camelback.
As long as I'm sitting on the saddle, it stays where it's supposed to do. But when I stand up to climb, the seat drops off and I have to stop and fix it while a few more guys pass.
Well, I think, this is a lost cause. I might as well just go home.
But after walking my bike for a minute or so, we come to the wide fire road where the course goes back up to the top of the hill. It's a mild grade, and I can sit on my saddle while I ride it.
I'm feeling pretty good again, and I pass a few of the guys who got by me while I lay in the ditch.
Another guy comes up alongside of me. He's a little older than me, maybe 30, and he looks strong.
I look at him for a second time, and realize that there's blood trickling out of his ear.
"Dude, your ear..." I start.
"I know, I know. I hit a tree pretty hard."
"Shit. Blood out of the ear is no good. You should have someone look at that."
"What happened to you?" he asks me. "You look like ground beef from your forearm down to your ankle." I tell him about the wreck and the busted saddle. He laughs.
"I had that happen before," he said. "What you should do is strap the saddle to the post with your spare tube. You've got a spare tube, right"
Oh shit. Yeah. That's a great idea!
I thank the guy, pull off to the side, and quickly rig up the seat with an inner tube.
I take it pretty easy for the rest of the race, which ends up taking another hour and a half. I figure I have a good enough excuse not to win. Just finishing after such a bad wreck will be all the bragging rights I need.
All my abrasions and lacerations sting a little when the dirt and sweat get in them, but I know the real pain won't start until I get off the bike and start stiffening up and feeling the bruises.
I finish eighth in the Sport division, and get to take home a couple water bottles for my trouble.
Next week I'm going to try my first race in the Expert division.