Sunday, November 18, 2012

Rider Down

It's been a while since a Hill Junkie ride has claimed a victim. In fact, I think I was the last victim was back in May 2010 when I broke my ankle. Before that, Alex overcooked a switchback on Smuggler's Notch and kissed a granite rock face, and before that Bill overcooked a switchback on Gonzo Pass and met up with a guardrail post. All of these were ambulance extractions, two could easily have been fatalities.

On Saturday, we had a solid posse of four riders for what is becoming a classic Massabesic-Bear Brook loop. I hooked up with DaveP, PaulL and RichB, all guys that can run me into the ground in endurance endeavors.

It was a bit chilly starting out, but not bad at all for mid-November. Trail riding this time of year can be a bit challenging with leaf drop, especially if you hit less frequently traveled terrain. You can never know what evil lurks just under the cover. It takes a step-up in faith that no harm will come your way when charging down a dicy descent. The alternative is to hit only trails that have been brushed out or not ride trails at all. Only a couple weeks past hurricane Sandy, many riding areas in southern NH and most of Mass are still very messy with downed trees and debris. Further north incurred much less damage, but trails would not have been swept or heavily traveled since leaf drop either.  The group settled on something relatively close, out of the peak storm damage area, but a bit remote.

It doesn't get any nicer than this

Riding through Candia on an unnamed logging road, there is an uber bony, eroded descent. Mix in a little sliminess, random sticks and roots buried in the leaves, and cantaloupe sized rocks that roll unexpected under your front wheel, you have a situation that gives me the willies.  Paul went down without warning, shoulder and rib checking into rocks hard. He was behind me, so I didn't see it. But I heard it.

Paul calmly sat there for a minute, assessing the damage. He got up, said his shoulder wasn't right, and maybe he cracked some ribs. Not seeing Paul take a hit before, it was hard to judge if he really did any damage or not. He seemed so matter of fact and cool about it. When I asked him are you sure, he said "yeah, I can feel shit rattling around in there." Oh, that is not good. Had it been me, I would have wailing sounds of death, I'm sure. Then again, Paul is a former pro hockey player, so I'd bet he's no wimp like me.

Ironically, out of four riders, none of us brought a cell phone. It seems most times something bad happens on a ride, no one has a phone or we're out of cell range. Fortunately, we had just crossed Rt 27, so a phone and help was not far away. Paul was able to walk back up.

Fortuitously, a gentleman just pulled into his driveway as we popped out on the road. I mentioned we had an injured rider and asked if we could use his phone. He asked if we needed an ambulance. Paul wasn't sure yet, not knowing the extent of his injuries. His wife was on travel, so if he took a meat wagon ride to the hospital, he'd be without his car. I didn't know what to make of this.  The man kindly offered to take Paul to his car at Massabesic Lake. I didn't get the man's name, but he was a bit older than us and is an avid cyclist too. We put Paul's bike in the garage, and off they went.

So what do you do after that? With a rider down, a pall is cast over the remainder of the ride. We decided to press on according to plan. If I was paranoid before going down the nasty descent, I was terrified the second time. Paul was on a 29er and is more skilled than I. If this could happen to him, it could twice as easily happen to me. Not more than 50ft from where Paul went down, Dave hit the deck, tweaking his wrist. It wasn't his first time taking a tumble on this descent. Both times he claimed "I was going too slow." Yeah, whatever. That just means I saved him for a more serious injury from crashing going too fast ;)

The ledge wall came right after this descent. None of us cleaned it. Just too many leaves and sticks. The hero climb lived up to its name. A little bit of dirt road took us into Bear Brook. I-trail was first. This rode very well, no downed trees and very little debris. The ride was looking up. We bombed down to the campground and picked up Hemlock Trail. This is one of my favorites in Bear Brook. Great flow, and covers real distance. Crossing the MTBer parking lot, we followed Bear Brook Trail. We decided not to hit the new Little Bear/Big Bear trails due to time lost with the mishap.

Rich and Dave climbing Cascade Brook Trail

The upper parking area and new Kiosk NEMBA constructed

Beginning our return trip on Bear Brook Extension, we encountered some blow-downs. Not major, how do you get around this kind, but nuisance simple dismount kind. In all, we encountered five blow-downs in Bear Brook, not bad considering how many miles of trail we rode and how powerful of a storm Sandy was.

I was starting to fade by the time we began the final climb up Bear Hill. This was reminiscent of riding in Vermont the previous weekend, tongue of saddle violating nether regions, chest to handlebar, barely turning the pedals over. The descent is always great, if not totally sketchy right now with deep oak leaf cover and tree debris.

Bottom of Bear Hill Trail

Once back on Trail 15 heading south to Manchester, it was smooth sailing. Almost. A large logging operation has commenced south of Rt 27. The narrow ATV trail is now a 50ft wide quagmire. Our bikes were relatively clean until this point, but with some frost in the ground, the brownie mix on top was nearly unrideable in spots. We had to go through here to close our loop. I read this operation could go on for quite some time.

Quagmire on Trail 15

We got back to the cars with 53.5mi in just over 5hrs moving time on the Garmin. A bit slower than previous times on this loop, but not surprising with conditions and the mishap lurking in your head.

I had no messages from Paul. I thought oh-oh, not good. But he picked up when I called. He was back in home turf heading to CVS to pick up meds. Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, he fractured his clavicle. No injury to the shoulder joint and no broken ribs, which was good. While a pretty hard break, no surgery will be needed.   The Good Samaritan that brought Paul to his car also escorted him to Elliot Hospital nearby in  Manchester. We were fortunate to meet him and it is reassuring to know there are still people in this world like him.

Every time we get on a bike, we take a risk. We accept this risk, knowing sooner or later "your number" will come up. Mine came up two and half years ago. Am I off the hook now? As an engineer and having studied a little statistics, I can recognize gambler's fallacies. I'm just as vulnerable now as I was then. Maybe slightly less vulnerable, as there are times I consciously accept less risk, especially riding alone. When a rider gets hurt, we're secretly glad it wasn't us this time.  Ride enough though, a mishap will find you, whether it be meeting up with a car on the road or hitting the deck on trails.

Anyway, I wish Paul a speed recovery. I'm sure he'll be hitting the trainer this week and will have no trouble maintaining fitness.


Ronbomon said...

I always enjoy you're Blog Posts. 2012 has been a 'Rider Down' one for me. In April during a training ride with a bunch of Crit guys, a rider went down in front of me in a Sprint Zone. I went over him at 39 mph, broke my new Venge in half and was out for over 2 months. As I type this, I'm in a cast resulting from a nasty MTB fall in Texas. Hopefully, I'll be back sometime in January. Never crashed prior to 2012 and here's hoping 'Statistics' bypass me in 2013...

Unknown said...


I usualy love your post too...but this one hurt to read ..and type. Voice recognition is in my futur.

very true about the risks. Could have been worse..could have been better.

I would have cleaned the her climb too!

Mookie said...

So true, I'm hoping that's the worst I ever see on the bike. I shake my head often as I could easily been dead or even worse, paralyzed. Heal up quick, Paul.