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That Terrible Moment, when…..
In my mind’s eye, I can still see it – as vividly as if I were right back there; Wet Wipe falling in front of me – his head inches from my front wheel – the sudden grasp of a brake lever and turn of the bars and then the gut-wrenching instant as the bike fell away beneath me head hit tarmac; the terrible grating of helmet on road, the odd numbness of skin being grated from muscle and then, the eerie silence as I ground to a halt.
Picking my bike up and getting it safely to the side of the road, it was clear that Wet Wipe was hurt worse than I was. And, this wasn’t the usual post-crash stinging of gravel rash and bruises in waiting – he was in agony. The giveaway wasn’t the fact that he was screaming it out – it was the fact that he wasn’t!! His contorted face told me all that I needed to know. As I made my way across to him, he simply said, “Goldie, can you get me unclipped”. I did. And then, all
hell broke loose. Never before have I heard such a fluid torrent of expletives!!! But, like the professional that he is, amidst this hurricane of pain and confusion currently descending upon him, he still found the composure to say, “Please pardon my French!” to a kindly lady who had stopped to see if she could help!!!
Keep Calm and Carry on…..
By this time, I’d started to gather my thoughts and my adrenaline-fuelled state had kicked in. I became purely focused on dealing with the here and now. Taking one thing at a time, I dragged the bike away from Wet Wipe and then began to assess whether we could move him out of the road. Initial signs were not good – but then improved as he glanced up and said, “Oh, my bike!!!” From that point, I knew that whatever happened, he was probably going to be OK.
But, in the here and now, there was more to deal with! By this time, Mooga and Lucky had slowed and made their way back. Serious glances were exchanged and we all knew that this Sunday ride was not going to end on two wheels; it was going to end with a man in an Ambulance. But, here and now, getting Wet Wipe to a place of safety was a real priority; this stretch of Tarmac was one sheet of black ice and, already, motorists were flying past with complete disregard for the tangled bikes and stricken rider lying in the road. Gently, we ushered him to the verge.
Help is on Its Way…..
Mooga broke the silence that had descended upon the group, “I’m going to phone an ambulance…..where are we?” And, that was a very relevant question; even though we had ridden this road a hundred times, we actually didn’t know exactly where we were!!
After a short walk, Mooga and Lucky had located us – White Elms Road; between Bicknacre and Danbury. Calls were made and an ambulance summoned. By this time, we had Wet Wipe on his feet – it had taken a while, but he was standing, talking and had even spent a full minute trying to turn off his rear light!! But, despite our early optimism, his personal diagnosis was not good, “I really think it’s my shoulder, or collar bone!” We stood in silence, waiting for the ambulance to arrive.
With temperatures just above freezing, simply standing was not doing any of us much good. As core temperatures plummeted, we all began to shiver uncontrollably. Despite this, we made sure to wave and shout warnings to other passing riders – alerting them to the sheet of black ice that had taken Wet Wipe and I out without warning. Some heeded the warning; and one group of guys even stopped to offer help. But, others; replete in Rapha kit – and far too cool to listen to this odd group of MAMILs sped on – Oakley shades focusing their thousand-yard stares at least two thousand yards up the road!!! Good luck with that strategy, fellas!!!
An Unwelcomed Diagnosis…..
After what seemed like an eternity, the ambulance arrived. Stepping down, the Paramedic asked, “who’s hurt?”. Mooga pointed at Wet Wipe and I and said, “I’d have a look at those two”. We climbed on board and were instantly grateful for the ten degrees or so of extra ambient temperature inside. With Wet Wipe now safely on a stretcher, the Paramedic made a great job of teasing his Gore riding jacket off, stating, “I know how expensive these are!” Unfortunately, however, his base layer would have been a different matter – but her scissors made light work of removing it.
Almost as soon as the clothes were cut away, she said, “Yep – it’s your collar bone!” I asked how she could be so certain without an X-ray and she simply pointed to the clearly missing section! By now, Wet Wipe was getting some pain relief – chugging down big mouthfuls of gas from a portable bottle. They knew he needed more so summoned a colleague, who could administer Morphine.
Lady G to the Rescue…..
A short while later, my wife arrived with the SMCC Team Car – to take the two damaged bikes (and me) home. Stepping out of the ambulance to get the bikes loaded, I really felt for Mooga and Lucky – by now, they were both almost frozen to the core. As I lifted the bikes onto the roof rack, the ambulance driver shouted across to me, “Right, we’re off!” I’ll admit that I would have liked a chance to talk with Wet Wipe before they carted him away to hospital
– but we’d phoned his wife so I knew she’d probably be waiting for him there.
With space for only two bikes on the Mini, Mooga and Lucky had no choice but to ride (very carefully) home. Sitting in the passenger seat as we drove past them, I felt a fraud – but the rear derailleur on my bike was in a real state and, by now, so was I. It’s funny how pain doesn’t really set in until some time after a crash. On the short drive home, I reached that point!!
Hindsight is Such a Wonderful Thing…..
At home with the bikes unloaded and after a hot bath to ease the bruising and cleanse the road rash, I finally started to get some perspective on what had happened. A split second that had changed everything for the next couple of months – Wet Wipe out of commission, the LEJOG training plan set back, any thought of taking on an early-season sportive shot to pieces and equipment damage running into hundreds of pounds. It’s fair to say that we’ve had better Sunday rides!!
To be honest, the warning signs were there – the icing sugar frosting on the cars when I left home, the Met Office warning of potential ice on the previous evening’s weather forecast, the couple of minor ‘offs’ we’d had in the early stages of the ride and, of course, the sheet ice on practically every road that we had ridden. But, we’d all ridden through winter before, we thought we knew the score and we pushed on relentlessly – driven by the need to get those winter miles under our belts and earn the bacon sandwich and coffee that is the capstone on any Sunday SMCC ride.
Hindsight, as they say, is a wonderful thing. And, as foolhardy as our decision to press on may seem, it appears we were not alone. Poring over Strava and Twitter later that day, it appears that almost every group ride had ended with a crash – and a couple of riders had suffered even worse injuries than Wet Wipe; really, Sunday, 29th December 2013 was carnage for road cyclists everywhere. In fact, driving home in the car after our crash, I was astounded by just how many riders were already out in the lanes – drawn out, no doubt, by the brilliant winter sunshine and need to burn off those Christmas calories. I wonder how many of the riders I saw ended up getting intimate with the road surface before they made it home!!!
Four days on and Wet Wipe has seen his fracture consultant. The prognosis is not good – the two ends of bone are overlapping by half an inch, there is a fragment of bone freely floating between them and a risk that the injury may not heal naturally – which would necessitate surgery. He will be off of his bike for four weeks at least – and fairly immobile for most of that time. That’s really not how anyone would plan to start their year!
It’s All about Balance – Literally!!…..
There is no doubt that training through winter will make you stronger come spring. And, you know that in those early season events, you’ll struggle less than the guys, who simply showed up for the occasional spin class or hopped on the turbo once in a while. But, this episode has given all of us in the SMCC a different perspective. Ironically, the desire to get the training miles in has probably cost Wet Wipe a good couple of months of quality training. With hindsight, we should have all made the call that day to sit this one out – and make good use of the gym memberships and turbo trainers – we didn’t, we paid the price – but we’ve learned from it.
Don’t get me wrong; it’s not turned us into lightweights – but it has given us a healthy respect for the one weather condition that you cannot control for – ice. We are all agreed that in the future, the merest mention of frozen roads will see us taking to the trails on our mountain bikes – or firing up the Sufferfest video and beating ourselves up for a couple of hours on the turbo trainer. Of course, this may mean that we miss some of those Sunday rides through the lanes – and (as has usually been the case) the forecast may be wrong, but, it’s simply not worth the risk. We all know that we have nothing to prove from a Rule #9 perspective. And, indeed, torrential rain and biblical wind will still not beat us. But, ice is a different deal.
From the moment you find yourself on a frozen road, you are in the lap of the gods. All it takes is a slight imperfection in the road surface, a momentary lapse of concentration, the merest nudge on the handlers or squeeze of a lever and you can very quickly find yourself and your bike going separate ways. And, from the moment that the tyre loses traction – until you finally grind to a halt, you are playing a lottery; a million variables determining how you will fall, what you will land on and, of course, what will break.
We are now into the long-haul; getting Wet Wipe fit again and then getting the training back on track. To be honest, if you could choose a month to spend on the Sofa, it probably would be January – but that’s no consolation for him. Until then, there will be a big hole in the SMCC Sunday ride and Mooga and I will really miss Wet Wipe’s dry humour and ability to make even the toughest ride something that you look forward to as much as your Sunday roast.
I’m already thinking about the route for this coming Sunday – but it’s not the same without the usual round of text messages with Wet Wipe to iron it out. One things for sure though – I’m going to be pinned to the weather forecast the night before and the merest hint that the mercury may nudge into the lower reaches of the scale will see me dusting down the turbo trainer.
In an earlier blog, I mentioned that I would never leave common sense at home. Last Sunday, I along with hundreds of others did. Some got away with it and others paid the price. Stack the odds in your favour folks – better to sit out one ride than a whole month.
On a final note, I’d just like to say a sincere thank you to the fine people of the Essex Ambulance service. They really were great and we all owe them a debt of gratitude. On a freezing morning, with their own vehicle sliding around on ice covered roads, they came to the aid of these four Lycra-clad fools. Throughout, their patience, professionalism and downright niceness were humbling. Thanks guys.