Sunday, January 28, 2007

Mountain bike crash on everyday trail

2006 was an accident-free year. I had looked back on it as a statistical fluke, but had no idea the degree of vengeance that the fates would have in store for me. It may not have been my best biking year (too much travel) and the weight came on a bit too much, but it had a number of great trips (like biking from Eugene Oregon back to California) and no significant accidents.

On Tuesday, January 16, I started work at 6:00 AM with phone calls to India. I left work around 3:15, and wanted to get a quick mountain bike ride in before it got dark. Normally I like doing road rides, but mountain rides are good for an intense ride without major fears of traffic. I drove home, hit the trail (doing the Kennedy section of the Priest Rock Trail in Sierra Azul preserve (the trailhead is a bit over two miles from my house, so I do this ride or St. Josephs once a week). I knew that I wanted to be home at 6:00 to register for the ACTC's Sierra to the Sea ride as soon as it opened; I did the ride two years ago, thoroughly enjoyed it, and was looking forward to doing it this June. And, with my time on a bike getting up around ten hours/ week, my weight was coming down and I was getting back in shape.

I was planning just a short ride this Tuesday (60-75 minutes) before it got dark. As I rode out, I had a sense of foreboding (if something happened to me on this ride, I'd miss the Sierra to the Sea registration). I laughed that off as one of those absurd negative thoughts (and just a sign that I was trying to be lazy). I rode up the trail about 500 feet vertical, and turned around to come back (keeping the ride short). It was the last descent of the ride (an area that's about a 20-25% grade, just after the pipe that crosses the trail). I crossed the pipe properly, but somehow messed up at the little ditch 50 feet down the trail. As best I can determine, my bike went down on the left side (brake handles were caked in dirt, but the rest of the bike was fine; all of the dirt was on my face). My face planted in the dirt (which, at least, was not rocky); I did have one laceration which required 28 stitches (but it was shallow). I will post a picture of the spot on the trail when I'm walking in the area again. You can see a map of the full Sierra Azul Open Space area as a PDF and a small
annotated area of the ride.

The bone of my left temple and eye socket was broken (hence the black eye and blood in the eyeball), but it was not displaced; the main implication was a soft food diet for 2-4 weeks. I got two lightly scratched knees. There were other injuries that were less clear. They hooked me into a cervical collar (standard procedure). Note that the model is smiling because he gets to take the collar off at the end of the photo-shoot. In the world of strange reactions, I have found myself getting claustrophobic/anxious about this silly collar, even when I know it's the right thing; your mind does funny things to you at times.

You can see a full range of photo index also, from January 17th to the 28th. My only regret is that this didn't happen at Halloween. The scar and the blood in the eye would have been a great costume.

I wear a Polar pulse watch/ bike computer when I ride. The results from the trip are here. Please note that the times are relative to the start of the event. which was 4:09:19 PM. It's neat to see the telemetry for the ride, even if it is part of the engineer's coping response. You can see the crash at 48 minutes (my speed went to 0, and my pulse dropped to 56 as I lost consciousness). My guess is that I went into the EMT truck at 1:20, and then we drove off to valley medical at 1:45. What this also tells me is exactly where I crashed... it was about 40% of the way down the first major hill on the Kennedy Trail (the gas pipe is the top of that hill). I was going a bit too fast and hit a drainage cross ditch non-perpendicular about 75 down from the pipe and it tossed my bike to the left.

And, while the left side of my face was compelling, the more subtle injuries were the right side and neck. I had lots of CAT scans and MRIs (head, neck, spine) which found that I had torn a neck muscle near the base (for rotation), but this was not clear until neurology tool the collar off for tests (and told me look left and right and that I only got 60% of that). There was no dirt or tears on my gloves either (just a bit of blood from the aftermath).

The other side of my body took injuries that were less obvious. When I slammed my left handlebar and face, this put much of the rest of the energy into my right arm and hand, which hit the handlebars and up the arm. The damage is much less obvious. The prime symptom is that I have limited motion in my right shoulder. If I place my arsm at my side and raise them (not bending the elbow), my left arm can go over my head, but my right arm will not go any further than parallel to the floor. However, the limit is not one of rotator cuff (an MRI has shown that it's all there). So, I had an MRI of my neck on Friday evening, and will be seeing a neck/spine doctor on Monday morning. I'm hoping that we'll both find the cause of the arm motion problem, the arm pain (hard to describe, but times of sharp but achy pain in the right deltoid muscle), and get rid of the neck brace (an irrational hope, but one has to hope... that collar constrains ones ability to sleep).

For anyone that is wondering, yes, I will ride again. I will wait at least eight weeks from the accident to let the facial bones fully set. And I may do more road and less mountain for a while. A visit to the hospital like this is still much more "fun" than a visit for a heart attack.

Finally, I'd like to thank everyone who sent cards and gifts. These help immensely when you're feeling down (or just stupid an uncoordinated). Ann has been enormously help through this (and I think I'm only driving her crazy a bit... when the collar gets to me or when pain is just about to go over the edge and I have not realized it yet), And encouraging words from all the the biking doctors and nurses have helped significantly.


At 9:42 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Thanks for the detailed account. We've been getting information about you crash and subsequent injuries in dribs and drabs.

I have to admit a sick fascination with you bike computer data. It's interesting how the body reacts to trauma.

We have our own selfish reasons for wishing you a quick recovery -- it's really busy here. Seriously, take your time getting back to work and mostly importantly, take care of yourself.

Get well soon.



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