Wednesday, June 22, 2011
Returning to the pages of the Clarion Content for the first time in over a year, his last dispatches were filed from Africa, check them out here and here, we heartily and gratefully welcome back, JCoop, this time filing his report from Honduras. Follow his adventures on his own blog here. To check out other Clarion Content guest columnists, and we have had a passel of good ones, click here and scroll down.
Mountain Biketastrophe in Honduras
It took a mountain biking accident today to inspire the revival of this column (almost assuredly a short-lived revival). The plan for Saturday was to head up to Parque la Tigra, the first national park in Honduras, in the mountains about 22 km outside of the capital of Tegucigalpa. I was there last weekend with some friends, and took my new Honduran mountain bike along to bomb down the steep road from the park. I would ride up while my three friends took the truck, we'd hike in the park for 5 or 6 hours, then we'd come down from the mountain, again me on the bike and them in the car.
This photo doesn't really fit this part of the narrative, but who wants to read a blog post that starts with four paragraphs of text and no pictures? I know I don't.
The road is like many rural roads in Honduras, made of rock, dirt, and gravel, and wide enough for one car, where passing is only possible in certain places or if one car goes into the ditch. It makes for some excellent off-road biking, with stunning mountain views and all the dogs and chickens you could possibly hope to narrowly avoid.
This week, I had carefully conditioned and prepared myself to not only bike down from the park, but also on the way up to the park (the strict training regiment mostly involved abstaining from generous helpings of Honduran beer the night before the ride). The road is quite steep in many places, with loose gravel contributing to tire slippage. It's about 12 km to the top, with the last 3 km being particularly steep and loose -- the sort of riding where you put it in granny low gear, spin like crazy, and inch up the hill praying that it will flatten out a little around the next corner. Anyway, this week I was determined to get to the top to earn the reward of the downhill after our day hiking at the park.
About 2 km from the park came the last big descent before the steepest and longest hill leading all the way to the park entrance. It was a pretty long, straight, and steep descent with a corner at the bottom. I had been feeling good all morning and was carving the corners pretty well, so I probably carried to much speed into this one, maybe 25mph. As I got close to the corner and looked for a place to brake, the road got looser and had some nice ruts in it. After binding up the brakes, it became apparent in a split-second that I was going to eat it. Despite hours spent on the bike, my inner ear has never been my best quality, so fortunately for me I have crashing just about down to an art at this point. I went down on my left side, hitting my knee then hip then elbow as I tucked and rolled onto my back where I rode out about a 10-ft. slide down the hill.
Here's a photo that Alan took of me as they were approaching in the truck after my crash. I had just been passed by a school bus full of tourists.
Upon coming to rest in the middle of the road, I knew immediately that I wasn't seriously hurt and nothing was broken. Sweet. If I had stuck out a hand or foot to break the fall it might not have turned out so well for the respective limb. My cyclocross instincts kicked in and I hopped up quickly to haul my bike and body out of harm's way to the ditch on the side of the road. I sat down to wait for my friends following in the truck.
I knew I was in a little pain, but I hadn't had a chance to assess the damages yet. At this point, was still entertaining the idea that I could continue to the park in the truck and go hiking with them, or at least hang out at the visitor's center while they got their sight-seeing in. I knew how much Alan was looking forward to the 5-hour hike to the park's famous 40-meter waterfall that we hadn't had time for the weekend before. I took a peek at my throbbing knee, an noticed that there were some pretty deep and dirty lacerations with the skin flayed back. Blood was already pooling on my sock. I poured some of my water over it to clean it a little, at least superficially.
Now my friends are closer, and they can start to see that I'm hurt and not just sleeping in a gutter after too much tequila.
Being the pragmatic sort that I am, my thoughts quickly turned to what I had done wrong, and how I could prevent the same outcome in a similar situation in the future. I identified three tactics I could have employed.
- First and most obviously I could have started my braking further up the hill where I might have found better traction. If I hadn't come into the corner so hot, it could have been easily negotiated. Chalk it up to hubris.
- There was a small grassy patch on the outside of the corner with a fence behind it. If I had steered that way I wouldn't have made the corner, but I probably could have found a way to decrease my velocity and find a softer patch of ground to land on. I might have been able to just dust myself off and keep riding after that.
- I don't have video of my crash to analyze, but I will almost guarantee that my weight was too far forward -- a nasty habit I have when braking on downhills. This puts all the weight on the front wheel and causes the nasty fishtailing that led to my crash. If my butt had been hanging out over the back wheel where it should be in that situation, I might have stayed upright.
When I got home later in the afternoon, I decided to consult an expert source.
To my dismay, I learned that my crash was not caused by any of the isolated faults listed above, but something more troubling: a lack of belief in myself. This is a not a problem I was aware that I had. Could this lack of belief manifest itself in other ways to undermine other endeavors? Has this condition led to shortcoming in other facets of my life, unbeknowst to me? If so, how long has this been going on? Months? Years? And most importantly, is there anything I can do to resolve this issue?
Fortunately, after pausing the video and writing the above paragraph, I continued on to learn that the solution was to "just keep practicing". This tactic can lead to many desirable outcomes including:
- getting the hang of it
- getting better and better at it
- knowing how to ride a bike
- feeling happy of myself
- thumbs up for rock and roll
After getting to the side of the road, all that remained was to relax as much as possible and wait for my friends who were following along not far behind in the truck (because of how rough and curvy the roads are, most stretches can actually be navigated more quickly on a bicycle). My friends wisely talked me into returning to town to get checked out and cleaned up. I still feel really bad that they didn't get a chance to make it up to the waterfall, but now there'll be another reason that Alan has to return to Honduras and work with me again in the future (haha! I sure showed him!).
After the initial impact on my knee, my back and arm took the brunt of the fall as I slid down the hill. It was just like sledding, except I got a 25 mph head start, I was on my back and upside-down, and the snow was made of rocks.
I'm lucky to have such good friends, who cleaned my wound with water, bandaged it with their T-shirt, and got me to the clinic where I got my abrasions and cuts cleaned up. The doctor told me he would have to put two stitches in my knee to close the wound. One of my friends gave me 3 sticks of gum to chew on during the process, and I got a tight grab of a pillow with my good arm. My friends told me that it was OK if I needed to cry, because we are all friends, and they wouldn't tell anyone. I was very touched by their support and understanding in these circumstances. But I didn't cry, because what kind of sissy little bitch to you take me as?
As the doctor stitches up my knee, I try to imagine the most soothing and comfortable scenarios I can, like heavy narcotic usage in the bedroom of my childhood with the dinosaur blankets.
I got some local anesthetic, so the stitches didn't hurt too bad. I ended up needing four in total. The worst part was when the doctor grabbed my knee and twisted it all around from side to side to make sure all my ligaments were intact. My ligaments responded by saying, "Ow, stop yanking on us, you jerk". Then he did the same thing to the good knee, just to make sure both were equally responsive and uncomfortable.
And that's pretty much it. Fortunately I have two days to recuperate before getting back to work on Monday.