Lisa and I get jazzed about this ride every year, whether the Santa Cruz Randonneurs actually host the brevet event, or if we decide to brave it on our own. This year, since we were pretty committed to riding the Mt. Tam Double Century again in search of a California Triple Crown Stage Race finish, we figured this ride would do us well in our preparation too.
A small congregation of riders -- twenty or so -- assembled in the customary Cupertino bike shop parking lot start location, got a five minute briefing from Bill Bryant and then we were off. Very shortly after that, we were off the back. Predictably. This didn't break our stride; we knew that we would enjoy the day at our own pace on this ride - as much as the prediction of high heat and marginal air quality in the Santa Cruz Mountains would allow anyway.
Until it happened.
"It" was a goober incident on the road a mere ten miles into the ride, before the first climb even commenced that resulted in Lisa taking a low-speed tumble that eventually had us take a turn for the emergency room. Worse was the fact that I was mainly to blame for this incident in a sudden move I made combined with a lack of communication and understanding between us.
I had been riding a few bike lengths ahead of Lisa on Moody Road in Los Altos Hills, starting to scout out a discreet and wooded turnout so I could take an early bush-watering break. I found a spot, pointed it out as I (thought I) yelled back to Lisa that I was going across the road to stop and that she could keep rolling. She didn't quite hear me and decided to accelerate up to me so that she could ask me to repeat what I said ... at the very moment that I slowed down and cut across the street.
Collide. Wiggle. Crash. It all happened rather quickly. She went down on her right side, falling mainly on her arm; I stayed upright. I was mortified. Lisa was quick to get up again, but she when we eventually started rolling again was a bit stiff and expressed some concern over pain she had in her right forearm - wrist to elbow.
The steep climb up Moody Road and then Page Mill Road began and it became more apparent something was up. I asked how bad the pain was. She used a confused combination of phrases to describe it, which to me also meant that she was thinking a lot about it. This sort of thing usually happens only when she positively has an injury. This wasn't looking good.
WAIT AND SEE
We hit some of the 15% switchback pitches where I naturally got out of the saddle. Staying behind Lisa to make sure she's OK, I noticed she stayed planted in the saddle.
"Can you support yourself if you get out of the saddle?" I asked.
"Uh, I'm not going to try that. Too painful right now. I don't want to try...", she retorted, in a somewhat disconcerted cadence.
Definitely not good. We had tons of climbing ahead if we were to do this ride in its entirety, much of it steep, so if she couldn't get out of the saddle...
"This is crazy, Lisa. I think we should call it a day and have your arm looked at."
"No, no. Let's keep going to the top of this climb and I'll see if gets better."
"You might be worried about your arm right now, but it looks like you haven't drank much at all. You gotta stay on top of the fluids since it's already heating up out here."
She grabbed her bottle, then did some unorthodox right to left hand transfer before she took a swig. Then she confessed it was too painful to even hold grab the water bottle out of the cage.
"OK." I said. "Game over. Let's get you to the ER."
"No, no. Why don't you keep going? I'll turn around and go back to the car, then I'll get it looked at. I want you to finish this ride."
Can you believe that? I took her down, and yet she feels bad that she's cutting my ride short. Good golly, she's something else.
A GIRL AND HER BUSTED PARTS
Lisa expressed a preference to go to the urgent care center at UCSF (where she was already in the system from her spine surgery in 2003 and various other things since) instead of the closest ER. Noon had not yet struck and she had already gotten her x-rays, received a clinical diagnosis that she fractured her wrist and elbow, and we had picked up a sling and wrist guard. My sense of guilt deepened. My apologies to Lisa increased in annoying frequency. Lisa stayed cheerful and upbeat the whole time.
A few thoughtful get-well cards in the mail later in the week surely helped to perpetuate Lisa's good mood, despite the initial worsening of the pain. The most memorable of those greetings came from none other than Randonneurs USA and Santa Cruz Randonneurs' president, and friend through numerous other channels, Lois Springsteen:
FRONT: Sometimes life takes an unexpected turn ...
BACK: Without using his turn signals!
I ruefully kicked myself for days, weeks on end about this incident, how preventable it was. Some friends with whom I shared the story gave me a proper ribbing, but pretty much everybody was nice about telling me to go easy on myself (which I didn't). There is a measure of truth to what most people were saying: somewhere, some time, it's the sort of thing that's simply bound to happen. I guess in the pure context of odds and chance, that might be true. Lisa and I have ridden together in very close proximity for easily over 30,000 miles. Close calls were few. Incidents, none. Until this one.
Inevitable? Arguably. But I refuse its implications for the sake of avoiding excuses. The irrefutable truth is that we really do cope with ever present risk when we're out there, even when we're with the people we trust the most.
A week later, we consulted an ortho specialist. More x-rays. The diagnosis improved a bit. No broken elbow, and no visible fractures on the wrist - but clinically the condition was still treated as one. And, much to our suprise, the specialist actually gave Lisa the green light to ride her bike again (he wasn't aware to what extent we "ride" bikes).
The very next day, Lisa started bike commuting again, with the wrist brace on per the recommendation of the specialist. A few more days passed and I bravely asked her if she was willing to try the Big Basin ride again. I didn't have to ask her if she still wanted to do the Mt. Tam Double Century which was less than a month away. I knew that with the Triple Crown stage race at stake, that ride was an important goal. I figured maybe she'd want another stab at Big Basin for a training ride. She agreed without hesitation.
Three weeks after the official brevet we did not finish, on a scorching hot day we headed out to give it another go; this time, in the company of two friends: Lisa M. and Bill M. I modified the course with a new start/finish location in Menlo Park since it was a closer drive for all parties, and this netted a very slight increase in overall ride distance and elevation gain - nothing significant in the scale of a ride that already has close to 14,000 ft. of climbing.
Lisa M.'s husband Jason joined us in the morning to do a portion of the ride until the Saratoga summit near the Highway 9 junction, then peeled off and returned since he was still nursing a persistent cold and cough from his travels. The rest of us carried on in the sticky heat, which made the cruel climb up Jamison Creek Road more punishing than I can ever remember.
The plunge from Bonny Doon down to the Pacific Coast gave us sweet relief from the heat, but soon after our lunch break in Davenport we headed right back up that long slog up to Bonny Doon, back in the furnace. This is where Bill M. started to come undone. Not long after we left the junction of Pine Flat Road and Empire Grade did he succumb to bad cramps, which made him -- to his fortune -- seek a ride from an area local to a point in the course where he could just ride down hill and a few flat miles back to the finish.
It was down to me and the two Lisas, and we made it back to Menlo Park safely and -- rejoined by Jason -- capped the long day with some beer and grub from the pub right across from where we parked. Lisa's wrist didn't give her much trouble this time, so we had yet another reason to celebrate with the cold pints.
We felt vindicated, and our confidence improved for the upcoming Mt. Tam event.