Dangers of Cycling

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Howdy folks. Catchy title, don’t you think? I had a whole host of other titles that I was throwing around in my head, but instead opted for the cold, calculated title that you read above. I figure that it’s gotten your attention, and that once again, I’ll be able to articulate just why exactly wearing a brain bucket is the way to go if you’re travelling under your own power on two wheels. To start off, let me assure you, the main protagonist in this story is not me this time. However, I was witness to some terrible misfortune, and have to let you all know the circumstances. I’m writing this in the basement of my dad’s place in Nova Scotia , enjoying the Easter weekend, and recovering from a fun 100km ride that I did with a group of locals from an old friends’ bike store in New Glasgow. Hopefully by the time I post this story, you’ll be able to check out both a map of the ride, as well as some pictures. There are no photos of the accident, and if you read on you’ll understand why that is.

The start to my day was just a touch on the rough side as a result of having just got into town around midnight last night, and actually getting my dad to drop me off at a pub right away. Of course, that’s a completely different story, which you’ll have to read separately. Needless to say, my head was a bit foggy, I was a bit dehydrated, and slightly less than motivated to cycle 100km in the cold and wind (luckily it was mainly sunny). My breakfast consisted of a couple glasses of cranberry juice and a big waffle with fresh fruit. I then had to hastily get my gear to have dad drive me to PC Cycles to meet up with Scott and the other riders. The plan was to leave the store and be on the road by noon, cycle out to Truro along the old highway, and back again.

I arrived to find a nice little group already assembled. There were about 8 guys, and 2 gals doing the ride today, including me. Apparently, that’s a large turnout for them, and was going to be one of their first road rides of the season. Well, at least I had hopes that this group wasn’t going to turn it into a hammer-fest and drop me like a hot potatoe . Scott (or rather Kris) was loaning me a bike for the ride, as well as shoes, and the store lent me a helmet. I filled up a couple bottles with Nuun and was ready to get spinning while the sun was shining. We started at a very relaxed pace, and I started getting to know some of the people in the group. Nice bunch of folks, and certainly not a testosterone party, so I knew the ride would be a good time. If anything, I was actually hoping for a slightly quicker pace, since I’ve actually already got some bike fitness going. However, I was here to socialize as much as train, so I just enjoyed the pacing.

We rode along in a pretty tight pack, but not so tight as to be dangerous or anything. I’m admittedly not a super group rider, as I’m used to being solo, but I mainly stuck to the wheels of people, and took my turns pulling at the front, which was useful for getting through the strong headwinds we had. Unfortunately, this is where the story takes an unfortunate turn for the worst. Pretty much around the 12km or so mark of the ride, fate dealt the group a blow. The roads were not perfect, with plenty of little cracks and potholes, and they were about to claim their first victim. Well, actually, we’re not entirely sure if it was the road, a rock, or incidental contact, but either way, there was a crash.

It happened at the very back of the group, where a couple named Wendy and Sherrie were riding. I heard a slight gasp or something, then a sickening thud sound, then silence. Someone yelled out to stop and come back, since there’d been a wipe-out. Now, more often than not, the general result is some road rash of sorts, some soreness, but the rider dusts themselves off, gets up, and keeps going. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case this time. As I sprinted back to the sprawled figure on the pavement, I had a weird feeling about this, as there was no movement and she was literally right in the middle of the road.

Next I knew, there was some frantic screaming to call an ambulance, which I initially thought might be panicked over-kill, but soon realized was the right call. Wendy was completely motionless, and [graphic descriptions forthcoming] blood was clearly seen around her head on the pavement. Most of which was from here nose and mouth. Teeth were clearly smashed out, and nose likely broken. What was more worrisome was the fact that she was not speaking or moving. I instinctively tried to take control of the situation and assess the damage. I got a couple riders to give me their jackets to cover her for shock (I wasn’t wearing one), and set about trying to establish a) what had happened and b) her level of consciousness.

Talking to her and trying to get her to speak elicited no response. However, she was clearly breathing, and had a reasonable pulse. Good initial prognosis, but we couldn’t dare move her 1cm in case of spinal injury. This made assessing the back of her head impossible, and given the pool of blood in that area, I just prayed it had come from the initial impact on the pavement and not a seeping head wound. I put my fingers in her palm and asked her to squeeze my fingers. Success! I felt a soft squeeze. So, she could hear us, but was just not able to speak (or open her eyelids for that matter). We could see the eyeballs darting left and right under the lids, which was a bit worrisome, but none of us had any idea if this was cause for concern, and frankly, there really wasn’t a hell of a lot we could do. I moved on to doing a rapid assessment of the rest of her limbs by patting down the arms, legs, and torsos. There didn’t appear to be any dampness (no blood), or broken bones, so I guess chalk that up as another positive.

I kept going back and making sure she could still hear by repeating the squeeze test. A few times, it got a bit stronger, which was certainly encouraging. By now, we’d been on the phone with 911 operators for some time, and had been told both fire rescue and ambulances were on their way. I know time always slows down in these situations, but it seemed really long, and by our guess it actually took 15 minutes before we did see an ambulance. Before that, we had a good Samaritan first responder also show up, with a blanket from their car which we covered her with to keep her warm. We’d also sent a couple guys 100m ahead and behind to stop traffic, seeing as we were in the middle of the old highway. Looking back, I’m very pleased with the way we handled the situation. I don’t think we could have done anything better given the circumstances. We also called someone to bring a truck to take the bikes for the two girls, since they’d both be heading to the hospital.

Fire rescue showed up first. The most discouraging sight of this was seeing one of the guys emerge from the back of the truck with a cigarette in his mouth. Luckily he crushed it out right away, but still not the first thing you want to see from an emergency responder. They helped by performing a quick head stabilization with their hands to hold the head still. We hadn’t done that, but she also wasn’t moving at all, so jury’s out on whether that would have been the wisest for us, given that to hold the head you had to move it a bit. I passed along a quick case history to them, but their role was mainly to block traffic more, and stay with her until ambulance arrived, which was another several minutes. When the ambulance finally arrived, we went through everything again with them, along with other medical information.

They brought out the spinal board and a gurney, and finally got her strapped down and immobilized so that they could get her into the back of the ambulance. They also used the same finger squeezing trick I’d been using to try and assess her level of pain. One squeeze if there were no sharp pains in head, two if there were. Unfortunately, the word was 2 squeezes. Our new worry was brain swelling or something. By this time, they’d also finally gotten her helmet off, and I was happy to see there didn’t appear to be any additional wounds underneath her. This is about the time when her partner Sherrie understandably broke down a bit and got pretty upset. I consoled her as best I could, told her she should go to the hospital in the ambulance too, and to be strong and keep talking to Wendy, as she could clearly hear us and needed a comforting voice. She said she’d be able to do that, and get her stuff together to join them.

Whew! Crazy intense stuff so far, isn’t it? Well, just imagine if she HADN’T been wearing a helmet! I’m pretty sure there would have been a good chance that we would have been waiting for an M.E. to arrive on scene as well. Get my drift? Wear a helmet, ok? Always. Ok ? They don’t weigh much, and can save your life. It probably saved hers. Once the ambulance took off, we had to regroup and decide what to do next. The fire rescue guys said we still had to stay on scene, as we had to wait for the RCMP, since the accident had been on the road and we had blocked traffic. I didn’t totally get that, but we waited just the same. When he did arrive, it was a basic grilling on what had happened, and all that sort of thing. He also offered to take the bikes, but we’d already done that too, so he basically said okay then, try to have a good rest of the day.

Interesting phrase that. Try to have a good rest of day. We’d just witnessed a fairly bad accident, and has just started our ride. Do we turn around? Do we go on? Personally, I bounce back pretty quick, and would rather just ride on an think about stuff in my head, so I was keen to go on, a few were a little less certain, but majority said we should go on at least a while, since it was still a nice day, and that was the point. After all, what could we do? Go back to the shop and sit and talk and wait for word. Nope, riding would be the best therapy here. The initial roll-out was a bit hesitant. Nobody wanted to follow anyone too closely or go to quickly. We were also much more animated in warning each other about every crack in the road. However, after a little warm-up, we fell back into rhythm and got our confidence back.

The rest of the ride was very smooth, and although we each had our own thoughts weighing down on us, we still managed to have fun, joke a bit, and pull a couple macho semi-sprints among us for fun. In a way, we’d all bonded back there as well, and were just a good group of friends, even though many people didn’t know each other that well. In the end, we kept pushing, and decided to try and do the full ride. Of the 8 guys left, I think only 5 of us did the official 100km ride, with a couple other turning around a bit early with an 85km ride. Scott stuck it out, but on the way back started regretting it, as he was starting to cramp a bit and was feeling sluggish. I stuck with him for a good bit, and chased down another rider who was slowing a bit, in order to get him to join us at the back. The two other lads had pulled away right at the turnaround, and I knew they were off on their own.

I gave Scott a Nuun tab, to help him get more electrolytes into him. Also, at the 30km left mark, we were at roadside spring, so we stopped there and refilled the water bottles. At that point, I gave him another tablet, and took the last one for my own bottle, since I had also only taken 2 bottles with me, which wasn’t a lot. However, I was feeling much fresher, and shortly after we started back out, I asked if they’d be okay with me heading off. Scott told me to go ahead, so I decided to push on solo with a hard ride for the final 30km. It felt good to reel it up and sweat for a while. I fell into my rhythm and got into that private headspace I sometimes reach when doing solo training, thinking about the accident and what we did about it. It’s scary, but everyone knows that if you cycle enough, you will have accidents and you will see accidents. Some bad. I’m just fortunate that I haven’t had worse ones in any races.

Finally back at the shop, I had that great feeling of exhaustion you get after pushing hard. Not completely burnt out, but very pleasantly pooped. The guys that had turned around early had already been back, and headed over to the hospital. As I arrived, they were just getting back, and had good news. The word was that she was generally ok. Although she admittedly looked as though she’d gone through 12 rounds in a UFC cage match, she was lucid. Smashed cheek, broken nose, busted teeth, torn lip and gash on her head were all on the roster of injuries, but brain trauma seemed to be out of the picture. She had been talking, but was just getting rushed to get stitches, and an emergency dentist was coming in to work on the teeth. She apparently didn’t remember a single thing from the accident. I haven’t heard much since then, but I’m guessing she either came around a bit in the ambulance, or at the hospital. I’ll check in tomorrow. Thank goodness. [*update*, looks like she also did suffer a slight concussion and bleeding in the brain. Yikes! Still doing well though]

Well, the hour is getting late over here, and I’ve written another mega-post, but had to get this out of my head. Did I mention you should all wear helmets on bikes? My dad also chimes in that I should perhaps remind everyone that basic first aid would be another good idea for everyone. I’ve been fortunate enough over the years to get basic and advanced training, as well as AED training and wilderness first aid training, but even the most basic of courses covers the stuff to do in a situation like this one, so think about taking a course through either your work or a community center,ok? Till next post, stay safe friends.

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