Last post, I described feeling unnerved and sad about the passing of a college friend. Often, a bike ride helps clear my head. Of course, I typically ride whether my mood is glad or sad, but let’s just say one way or another I needed to get on the bike when Saturday morning arrived. Truth be told, I was not gung ho about it. I could tell that physically I was not 100%; however, I didn’t think too much about it, because I sometimes get a bit worn down this time of year. I’m used to powering through it.
My motivation for riding that day was to get close to my mileage goal — about 300 miles for November, which would put me within 230 miles of my annual goal of 4,000. With that objective in mind, I chose a favorite route through Lafayette and Moraga to Pinehurst Road.
Although I basically felt fine, I suppose I just wasn’t pushing very hard, and I was a bit on the slow side for that route, which I have traveled many times. I do give myself credit for tackling a hill I had not ascended before: a left turn from Olympic Blvd. up Reliez Station — quite steep, but not a long climb.
At any rate, I made the turn near the top of Pinehurst and headed home. There were a lot of other cyclists out and about as I pedaled back along Olympic, past Pleasant Hill Road toward Tice Valley, around 10:30 a.m. or so. I remember wiping each nostril (for the obvious reason) with my gloves — good cycling gloves typically have a nice, soft, felt-like section of fabric on each side, near the base of each thumb, for that purpose. Sounds gross (TMI!), except that I need to mention it, because it explains why I was in the midst of, one by one, removing each hand from the handlebars for a few seconds as I rode. It was a partly sunny day. I was in a nice, wide bike lane that extends along most of tree-lined Olympic Blvd.
I recall having just lifted my right hand. All of a sudden, I entered a shady patch of the bike lane and crossed some sort of small, unseen bump in the road and felt the bike lurch to the right. It happened very quickly. In a split second, my thoughts were thus: “Hmm, I’m heading toward the curb to the right. I can try to save this. Uh oh, I can’t save this.” Those were conscious thoughts, all within a nanosecond, I swear.
I have discovered that I’m pretty good at falling gracefully. I know this because I have a history of taking spills without suffering serious injury. I’m rather proud of this, because it has saved me from inconvenient hospital stays, potential surgeries, and nasty medical bills. For example, when I was in the 7th grade, I took advantage of a particularly chaotic, out of control classroom situation (ostensibly in the charge of a teacher who loved me and let me get away with a lot of silly behavior) in which for some reason we were not required to be sitting at our desks, but rather were milling about in various states of activity or just screwing around. I was bored, and took the opportunity to walk around behind a big divider that served as a coatroom. Naturally, being the primate that I am, I climbed up the back of the divider to survey the class and see what I could see. I had and still have complete confidence in my climbing ability. I was only a few feet off the ground; it’s not as if I were up in a tree out in the woods — I did that after school, on weekends, and in the summer. Again, I was bored. In order to challenge myself, I hung on with only one hand and leaned way back, hovering above the floor. Much to my surprise, my hand slipped off the top of the divider, and I fell. To this day, I cannot explain how I managed it, but my out-stretched free hand dove — apparently, in a perfectly straight line — down to the hard, tiled floor in a fine, geometric fashion such that the hand hit squarely and flatly on the floor. I can still hear vividly in my mind the loud SMACK from the impact. Incredibly, due to all the ambient noise, no one else in the class heard or noticed a damn thing. Inexplicably, neither my hand nor my wrist nor my arm or any other part of me was injured. I simply stood up and rather sheepishly returned to the proper side of the divider, wondering to myself how in the hell I had gotten away with that.
Speaking of climbing trees, one time when I was even younger than that, I was indeed up a tree next to a playing field, watching some game or something, sitting on a branch, without a care in the world, when the branch broke. I do not remember any details — how old I was, who else among my siblings and friends may have been climbing nearby, what time of year it was, or really anything — except that I fell straight down onto another branch below. Completely uninjured. I don’t remember that it was even painful. We all understand enough about the male anatomy to know that it was a minor miracle that I was able to father children later in life. Don’t tell ME that I don’t have a guardian freakin’ angel. Seriously.
Those are just two examples from my youth. I’m pretty sure that somewhere in my cycling memoirs in this blog I have related the story about how I crashed, just once, while descending Mount Diablo. Again, unscathed except for minor bruises. Not even a tear in my clothing. I tumbled off the bike with such style that I rolled over (bike in the air as it rolled with me) and landed neatly in a sitting position. Oddly, passing cyclists didn’t even stop. (I don’t blame them. First, it is difficult to stop during that descent. Second, they would have risked crashing or getting hit by others.) However, I heard someone commend me, “Nice recovery!” as he passed by. Cool. Stuck the landing!
I digress. The point is, a lifetime full of incredibly lucky experience has resulted in (a) a deeply ingrained yet blind faith that I’m like a cat with anywhere from 1-9 lives on the ledger, (b) instinctual trust in my guardian angel, who must exist, or else I wouldn’t be alive, and (c) possibly a small degree of actual physical prowess in negotiating with the law of gravity. Actually, I have learned that THE KEY IS TO RELAX.
And so, back to my story. After the nanosecond of conscious thoughts I described, I’m quite certain that subconsciously I also took the time to remind myself to relax. I can’t prove that; I just know that I did it.
I am lucky to be alive after the accident.
Here are just a couple of reasons why I could have died: (1) had it been my LEFT hand disengaged from the handlebars, I most likely would have veered to the left, into the path of motor vehicles. I know there was at least one car or mini-van in close proximity, because a man immediately pulled over and kindly inquired as to my condition. I was quite pleased to inform him that I was OK, and thanked him profusely for his concern. He was even so thoughtful as to pull over somewhere just ahead, a minute later, and notify some cyclists that there was a man down behind them. About 3 of them pedaled back to my location and offered assistance. One even asked my name and phone number to reassure himself and me that I had not suffered a concussion or whatever. People can be really great! (2) Instead of a concrete sidewalk next to the bike lane, I was extremely fortunate in that there were just leaves and dirt forming a relatively safe landing area. I can only wonder at the fact that I didn’t hit a rock or a tree. What are the odds of falling exactly where there were no other obstacles or large, inanimate objects? Thank you, angel, thank you!
Thus, for the second time in a matter of days I was faced with the prospect of my own mortality. Did I cheat death? Do I really have a guardian angel? Or in some way, through years of experience and training, was I physically able to perform in such I way that I minimized my risks from a fall and maximized my chances of surviving a simple bike ride, the likes of which I successfully complete several times a week, over a hundred times per year? I like to think it’s a combination of the latter two things.
Most importantly, for whatever reason, I am surviving all these sporting activities and living to tell about it. Juxtapose that with the news of Mary Beth’s passing, and what I take from it is this: I’m happy to be alive. I am profoundly grateful for my good health and the vitality to exercise, enjoy fresh air, and try new things, all the time. I look forward to each new day. And I hope I don’t fall down, but I’m not afraid that I might, because I can handle it.