Feeling the Burn (and Pain) — A Column from Lee Waldman
by Lee Waldman
Summer is already winding down. shorter. It’s noticeably darker in the morning when I wake up. We all know what that means—cyclocross! Do you count down the days till the first race? I was out on a training ride the other morning, riding my ’cross bike on the dirt shoulder when another rider came up behind me. “Only 60 days!” he shouted and when I looked over there was a gigantic grin on his face.
I decided to end my summer mountain bike season with one last endurance race, the Breckenridge 68. Seemed like a reasonably good idea at the time. Why not get in one more really long, hard effort before transitioning to more focused, ’cross-specific training? Now, sitting at my kitchen table nursing a bruised shoulder and one broken rib, it may not have been such a good decision. Hindsight, as they say, is 20/20. Slowed reactions from 45 miles on the bike, complicated by pouring down rain and slick roots are not a healthy combination. One second I was cruising, well, cruising for me, down a challenging, yet beautiful section of single track. The next, I was literally writhing in pain and screaming. Which brings up that age-old philosophical query. If a cyclist falls in the forest and screams in pain and there’s no one around to hear him, does he make a sound?
It wasn’t just me though. After I stopped hyperventilating from the pain, while I was working to unclip, three more riders stacked it in exactly the same section. One of them, in between curse words, blurted out that he had fallen in exactly the same place last year. Now, is that the definition of insanity or what? Doing the same thing over and expecting a different result.
But wait, it gets even better. So, there I am, hurt, wet and not in the least, a happy camper. It’s raining: the kind of cold, bone-soaking rain you get in the mountains, and I’m getting colder by the second. I know, because I was smart enough to look at the course profile, that I’m about six miles from the next, and final aid station. Being the competitor that I am, I convince myself that, yes I’ve got at least one cracked rib, but hey, I’m tough. I can soldier on and finish this sucker.
The next mile or so is flat, windy single track. It’s covered in an inch of slimy mud, mind you, but at least it’s flat. The pain in the ribs subsides, partially from the adrenaline that’s no doubt coursing through my system and partially because the trail was smooth at that point. A couple of guys pass me, I share my dilemma as a way to excuse my pokiness, and one of them tells me that he’ll let the guys at the aid station know that an injured rider is on his way. I thank him, thinking at that same time, that I’m going to finish and post a reasonable time.
But then… I drop in to the next twisty, rooted, slick descent and reality slaps me with a 2×4. I’m not going to finish the Breckenridge 68 this year. I couldn’t even walk the section comfortably, let alone ride it. Luckily, it was short and a few minutes later I popped out onto the only dirt road on that section of the course. By then I was hypothermic. There I was standing in the middle of the road, shivering and wanting to do nothing except sit down. A few riders passed. The “consensus” was that it was either four miles or eight miles of technical single track to the turn-around. Deciding that discretion was indeed the better part of valor, I headed down the road in what I hoped was the direction of the closest town and a shortcut to help.
Sounds fun doesn’t it? It gets better yet. A quarter of a mile down the road, after a teeth-gritting section of washboards, I saw a house with a car in the driveway and a light on. I was truly done.
Imagine the homeowners surprise to see this guy, covered with mud, soaked, shivering and barely able to communicate. I finally spit out something that sounded like, “I was racing, I fell, I’m really hurt, and I need help.” At least that’s what I think I said because they took me in, convinced me to take off my muddy clothes, let me take a shower and loaned me a sweat shirt and sweat pants, two sizes too large, but warm and clean.
But wait… While I’m in the shower waiting to stop shaking, another rider shows up at their door, chaperoned by a friend. It seems that this guy fell, most likely the same spot, and knocked himself out. His buddy found him riding down the trail, in the rain, with no jacket. This guy was so bad off that he kept introducing himself to me every 15 minutes. He had no memory of what he was saying or what had happened to him. I found out later that he ended up in the ER that night after we finally made it back to Breckenridge.
To make a long story short, our host finally felt that we were stable and drove us to the aid station where Search and Rescue took over. By 6 pm we were back at the finish area, only slightly worse for the wear.
I’m writing this 10 days post-accident. My ribs are healing, I’m back on the bike. Actually, I was back on the bike the next day. I still grieve the fact that I wasn’t able to finish the race, but I’m thankful that I have at least a month and a half to heal before our ’cross season starts.
That’s my “What did you do this summer” story. What’s yours?
Hey, go ride!
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