Saturday, November 13, 2010

Without a Leg to Stand On

As Steve Gauthier and I were rolling out of the parking lot Wednesday, Jim Kingston drives by and rhetorically hollers to me "didn't you learn anything this spring riding with that guy?" Steve and I were headed into Mine Falls on our lunch break. I had my newly repaired Titus daulie back on line finally. I had no idea how ominous Jim's comment would be.

Like usual for the past few weeks, I was riding a tad tired. I did a hard 65 minute rollerski workout the day before and hadn't really recovered from the weekend. I typically have an aerobic superiority over Steve, as he's a track specialist. But this advantage has diminished recently. He's been doing a lot of sculling on the Merrimack river. I've also learned over the years that guys who've raced motorcycles, whether track or off-road, tend to have superior handling skills in the woods. Steve used to race at Loudon years ago. I think it is a combination of genetically missing the fear gene and genuine acquired skill. So when you couple skill, lack of fear and improved cardio ability, you get somebody like national champion Kevin Hines, or Steve Gauthier to beat me up on local rides.

We get into the woods to find it deeply blanketed in oak leaves. I was still sporting girlish tires, 1.95" Mutanoraptors. I really like them a lot, but hook up in deep oak leaves, they do not. Steve was railing the turns at anaerobic effort. I was making all kinds of mistakes trying to stay with him. This is exactly how I was riding back in May when I shattered my left ankle.

A tricky section near the Mine Falls Dam got a bit more tricky this summer due to a blow-down. Steve had crashed there a few weeks ago, narrowly escaping serious injury. I had ridden through that section a couple times with no issues. On Wednesday though, somehow I ended up in front of Steve in this section and didn't want to slow him down. I went a little faster than I would have riding alone and botched the maneuver. Of course, was going to dab to the right, which meant I was going for a big tumble into rocks.

I got my right foot out but had no chance to ditch the bike. There was nothing but air to put my foot into. It was a big drop to rocks and tree debris. It seemed I had eons of time to ponder how badly this was going to suck. My leg promptly crumpled and I rolled into rocks. It was one of those situations where one assesses bodily parts before moving anything. My knee hurt. My right ankle, my GOOD ankle, hurt a lot. Amazingly, things like my back, shoulders and pelvis missed the pointy rocks. I surmised my ankle wasn't broken, but I couldn't stand for a while. My whole lower leg was searing in pain. A fractured fibula crossed my mind. This is the little bone that doesn't bear much weight.

I was able to get riding again in a diminished capacity. It hurt a lot to put any pressure on the front or side of my foot. Doing so sent stabbing pains down the outside of my lower leg. We finished the ride. I took a small handful of Ibuprofen when I got back to the office. I couldn't find any localized pain, other than both my knee and ankle were moderately swollen. My plan was to see how I felt in the morning and decide then if I needed to go in for xrays. Jim Kingston was right. I hadn't learned a thing.

Being the stubborn idiot I am, I packed a bike Thursday morning. I figured if I could ride trails back from my mishap on Wednesday, I couldn't be seriously hurt. But as the morning dragged on, I realized something was far from right. I could not put any weight on my right leg going up and down stairs. I called to see the doctor. I was in a state of panic, as if I broke my fib, that would kill the whole ski season. I got xrays that afternoon. Before leaving radiology, I had to know if there was an obvious fracture or not, so I asked the xray tech if I might have a look before leaving. She was totally cool with that. My fib looked fine to my completely untrained eye. Ankle looked good too. My incident in May had bones at almost right angles. None of that this time. I felt some relief already. Of course, a radiologist still had to review the images to make a diagnosis.

Friday was a scheduled off-day. I had planned to do a big ride in the mountains, especially since it would be so pleasant out. I had no idea if I could even make the pedals go around. I wasn't going to let the day go to waste though. After getting impatient waiting for the doctor's office to call back with results, I packed a bike and headed for Lincoln, NH. A White Mountains west half loop sounded nice. This meant riding up the Franconia Notch bike path (which I normally avoid in season), bombing down Rt 18 to Franconia, climbing up and over the dirt Long Pond Rd mountain pass, then finishing over Gonzo Pass. I have pretty low gears on my Dean road bike, so I figured I could always soft pedal if my leg was too ornery.

Franconia, Long Pond and Gonzo passes

Starting out was touch and go. I could only put a fraction of the force on my right pedal. For six months now, I got used to my left leg being my bad leg. But now my bad leg was my good leg. It seemed I didn't have a leg to stand on. Fortunately, the bike path was free of leaves and ice. That would have been more than I could handle. The frost heaves were something else though. Each one would send piercing pain through the side of my calf. It seemed like one of my ankle stability muscles was f'd up. The primary calf muscles seemed fine.

Top of Franconia Notch from bike path

By the time I made it to the top of Franconia, my leg had loosened up considerably. 600mg of Ibuprofen might have helped too. Riding south to the next climb felt semi-normal. Long pond was a bit of a disappointment. It looked like frost was coming out of the gravel. Many areas were wet and had the firmness of crunchy style peanut butter. It was all rideable, but demanded 50% more kilojoule expenditure than normal. Fortunately the south side was mostly dry. It probably took me better part of an hour to ride up and over this 9 mile dirt mountain pass. Only one car passed me the whole time.

Ok, blogger picture loader is broken right now. Any other app
opens this pic rotated 90deg. Long Pond Rd, note tire imprint.

Next up was the biggest climb of the ride, 1700ft up and over Gonzo Pass. Even though it had reach low 50's in sunny areas, there was still frost on the ground on north facing slopes. I started the ride late. The sun was getting low, and the temp was plummeting. I bonked horribly climbing Gonzo. No apparent reason for it. I rode recreational pace for most of the ride. I did eat next to nothing during the ride though and ate almost no carbs the night before. Cresting the summit was heavenly. The view of the Presidential's was quite spectacular with the sun setting behind me. Bombing 40mph back to Woodstock touched on all the senses. It smelled like fall. There were pockets of ice cold air. The gravity induced wind pushed back on me. It was one of my better descents all year.

"Is it Memorex or is it Live?" Remember that commercial?
So of these two photos, which is correct? There was nary
a hint of wind in the Whites on Friday. This is Baker Reservoir.

I wrapped up with 58.6mi, nearly 6000ft of climbing, in 3:40 riding time. This was about half and hour slower than I planned. Bum leg, tricky bike path, mushy dirt climb and bonking all were a factor. On the drive back, my wife informed me the xrays were negative. Good to know after I climbed three mountain passes.

Franconia Ridge with Mt Washington in distance from
Gonzo Pass after 3pm

My injury now seems to be consistent with a pulled muscle. Anytime that muscle fires to maintain stability, my knee buckles from automatic pain reflex. Things were a little better Saturday. At first I wrote off the Kearsarge rollerski race on Sunday, but after trying rollerskis Saturday, I might be alright. It seems the laterally rigid skate boots actually help me out and I had little pain skating. We'll see how race pace goes. I might be using a lot more upper body than normal.

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