Going down hard

Saturday, July 11, 2009 is a day I will not forget very soon. I went down hard and the image in my minds eye how it happened is very vivid. In retrospect there are some lessons to be learned and that is the main reason for this article. Chances are that many of you experienced a fall in one form or another, and although the result will always hurt, exactly how we went down will likely differ. For those of you who never went down, read on and with luck, you’ll never have to experience it at all.

A group of us met up in Ventura, CA for a self supported Century to Santa Barbara and back. There is an official century ride called “Cool Breeze Century”, which is organized by the Channel Island Bicycle Club, We borrowed this route and were riding it in reverse. I knew many of the riders from the Mt. Baldy ride several weeks ago and it was great to see them again as well as meet some new faces. Roll time was scheduled for 8:15 and we left Ventura on the dot, riding along the coast in absolutely perfect weather heading North.

On our way to Santa Barbara

On our way to Santa Barbara

I am certain that you will find a lot more images from this ride over at MErider’s Blog, as she has a wonderful habit of taking a couple of hundred candid snaps of all the rides she is on. Leaving Ventura behind, we first rolled along a multi purpose seaside path and then joined the Coast Highway for several miles. This is the spot where the pace picked up and I decided to hang with the faster group because my legs felt pretty strong. Low and behold, they actually delivered and I was amazed at some of the speeds we reached in this little peloton. At one point my Garmin showed 27.8 miles, and I swallowed twice and kept pedaling. This fun stretch of road was followed by a turn inland on small back country roads with a handful a hills for some climbing. At around mile 18 was a water stop hidden away in a gorgeous shady grove of citrus trees and we waited up to regroup.

Not long after we were back on the road and the pace settled to a comfortable 19 mph, the whole group together and everyone taking turns to pull. At this point I was riding second in the pace line and was getting ready to take the front for my turn, increased my cadence and moving closer to the wheel of the rider ahead of me. Just as I increased speed, the rider in front of me slowed a bit, and then it happened. In the blink of an eye these things happened in rapid succession:

  • my front wheel touched his rear wheel on a slight angle
  • my bike immediately started tipping right
  • one frantic pull from me to try to bring it back up
  • the front wheel continues moving and snaps from pointing forward to pointing 90 degrees to the right
  • 20 mph to 0 mph – sudden stop within a fraction of a second – LIGHTS OUT

Here is what happened next as best as I remember

  • I get thrown over the bars immediately (no clue how far)
  • I remember the impact on the helmet and chest
  • Next thing I know is I have no air and gulp for it
  • I am trying to get up but can’t, still struggling with the airflow
  • This is the first time I notice all these faces above me, as I look up into the sky there is a sea of faces in a perfect circle
  • People are talking to me, asking me funny questions, I have a tuff time breathing and a hard time answering
  • I don’t know how long I was down
  • With the help of my fellow riders I get from lying down, to sitting, to checking limbs for fractures
  • Someone tells me its my lucky day I get to buy a new helmet
  • I want to know about my bike
  • Still sitting in the dirt, dazed, pouring water over the visible wounds and rubbing road rash remedy on it
  • Time to see if I can get up and glad to have the help of many hands
  • Moving all limbs
  • Still problems breathing, my left chest feels like I got hit with a sledge hammer
  • Slow shallow breaths work
  • A Highway Patrol shows up – who called the Sherif?
  • No I don’t want an ambulance
  • No I don’t want to continue the ride, I want to get back to my car

Since I refused an ambulance the only way to get back to the car was to swallow the pain and ride the 22 miles. I am ever grateful for Dave, a local rider who joined up with us along the way for volunteering to pace me back to Ventura. He kept a close eye on me, as in “I don’t really trust you should be riding” and kept a good pace. My endorphin levels had to be through the roof, because they carried me almost through the whole ride and camouflaged most of the pain. But with about 3 miles to go, that changed. Between my shoulder, pectoris, elbow, hip, thigh and knee I had to grind my teeth hard to swallow the pain, and arrived at the car.

As far as the lessons of this story – these are the three things I can think off:

  1. NEVER ride without a helmet – have a look at the gallery below, click on an image to see the full hi-res picture and you know why. I wouldn’t be sitting here blogging that is for sure.
  2. When you ride in a pace line be sure that the front rider has PEELED OFF before surging for your turn of the pull
  3. Carry some form a ID which can speak for you when you no longer can, i.e. Road ID™. In my case being among all these riders not as important, but what about the solo rides?

As for me:

I am so thankful that I didn’t bring down the pace line and the credit for that in my opinion goes to Jason, the rider behind me. I can live with my pain, but I would have a difficult time knowing that I caused the same or worse hurt to others. In the big picture I got away relatively easy: nothing broken, no hospital stay, probably no long term injury. I am not moving really well right now, but I will heel in the days and weeks to come. Oh yes, I get to go shopping for a new helmet and of course I have to bring the bike in to have a professional check it for frame integrity.

I am looking forward to the day when I once again can say: “Let’s ride”


About GT in LA

Road cycling enthusiast
This entry was posted in Century, Cycling, Failed attempt, Injury and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to Going down hard

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  6. jeff says:

    Wow! Sorry to hear about your fall, but glad to hear it wasn’t worse. I was scared just reading that you glanced at your Garmin in a paceline going 27.8 mph! Heal well and get back on the road soon.

    • gtinla says:

      Jeff, thank you for your comment and the well wishes. When I ride in a group I set the Garmin to display speed and mileage only, making the numbers huge. Consequently, as you scan the line in front of you, occasionally the unit comes into view.

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  8. TheTricksterNZ says:

    Get better soon!

    Also, got another one for your bucketlist to dream about while you get better too:


  9. gtinla says:

    Thank you all for your well wishes and insightful comments – if my chest/shoulder combo doesn’t improve noticeable by Wednesday I will have some x-rays taken. Other than that, the spirit is high, just a bummer that body can’t keep up! 🙂

  10. Joe says:

    As bikinginla said keep an eye on your breathing, watch for fever, headache etc, especially with a head injury. Also, how are your ribs? I had an accident about 3 weeks ago, hit the ground hard at about 17-20 mph (stand up pedaling the in a high gear up a hill trying to maintain my speed, apparently too much force, the chain came off). it hurt but i figured since im in my 40s falling will hurt alot more. went to the doc a couple days later he checked my shoulder and x-rayed my ribs, didnt see anything, concluded just heavy bruises. The next night (3 days after the accident) i end up in the ER. cause i couldnt breathe, had more pain and was clammy. Turns out the rib was cracked and i had been bleeding internally for 3 days, collapsing my lung! surprised the shit outta me! im on the mend now, still deaing with some complications but ill be fine soon. Hope youre doing better and keep an eye on yourself!

  11. tracywilkins says:

    Bummer….but I’m glad you’re OK. Those headers are tough, and it’s pretty easy to break a collarbone doing that. Glad you didn’t do that…it’s one of my fears that I’ll do that again one of these days.

    Heal quickly!

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  13. bikinginla says:

    Glad to hear you made it home okay after something like that.

    The good news is, some manufacturers will replace a helmet for free after you’ve been in an accident. Trek replaced mine at no charge after I had a bad wipeout a couple years back. Take it back where you got it, and see what they say.

    The bad news is, the fact that you lost consciousness — even briefly — means you’ve suffered a brain injury; at least a minor concussion. Chances are, you’ll be fine, but keep a close on yourself, and have your friends and family keep an eye on you as well. If you notice anything unusual, such as a severe headache, slurred speech, blurred vision, loss of physical ability, etc., get to a doctor immediately. Same thing if you notice any severe swelling or continued difficulty breathing.

    Hope you have a fast recovery and get back in the saddle soon.

  14. Bryan says:

    Like I said on Twitter, I’m glad you didn’t break anything but the helmet. At the time, though, I didn’t know you were as hurt as you are. I too am blown away that somebody else didn’t go down. Great lessons too. Get well.

  15. 331miles says:

    I’m glad you weren’t seriously injured, and wish you a speedy recovery. Wheel touch accidents happen, even to those that are great bike handlers. We all know what to do to avoid them…it’s just that sometimes we forget. Get well and thanks for the great post!

  16. MErider says:

    Hi GT, I’m so glad you weren’t hurt worse for sure! I couldn’t agree more with you regarding the helmet use. I went down last year on a bike path and banged mine so hard on the ground, it is cracked all the way through and has a pebble embedded in it! I tell cyclists all the time, but it just takes a bad accident to realize helmets’ efficacy! Heal up soon and I hope you are back on your bike by next weekend.
    cheers, M.E.

  17. Kevin says:

    Very good points. Must wear helmet on all rides. I know of motorcycle rider that was wearing helmet and if he didn’t would be dead. He was in hospital for almost a year.

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