Monday, November 26, 2012

My bicycle accident

"In the blink of an eye" that is how quickly everything can change. But just like an "overnight success",  it only appears to be "overnight" because no one sees the countless years the person dedicated to get there. These "blink of an eye" moments, are really just a collision of multiple events, decisions or actions, that have intersected at any one point in time, to create an altering of course, or "life changing event". The collision gets all the attention, but the fascinating part is all the pieces that lead up to it. I have had such a collision. Both figuratively and literally, and thank God, I am here tell about it.

I wrote that opening, two weeks ago. Since then, I have managed to do many things BUT write this post. I have spent countless hours location tagging pictures, posting like crazy on Facebook and organizing everything on my laptop to the point of obsession. It's not that I haven't had time to write this post. I have nothing but time. I have been sitting on my butt for a month as of yesterday. I went from riding my bicycle for close to 75 miles a day to a sudden stop. A very abrupt stop! An extremely violent and violating stop. Oh yes.... THAT stop. That "blink of an eye" moment when you are supposed to see your life flash before your eyes. Well, I don't know about that. What I do know,  is that at that moment, there were two things that I thought.

Side note: It's not like I can't talk about this. I talk to everyone about it. Very matter of fact, actually. No emotion, just what happened. I know how lucky I am and surprisingly, given my history with panic disorder, I have taken it extremely well. Maybe too well. Maybe I am waiting for the hammer to come down. I have not had to take a single Xanax that was prescribed to me in Kankakee, Illinois..... Maybe I'm afraid that writing it down here will jog it loose. Maybe, I'm afraid that writing it down, here, will dredge up the reality...... what really happened. Not the physical reality, I have been dealing with that for a month. No, the mental part of it... Writing it down is hard. Articulating it is harder, especially when there is one piece missing....One big important piece... Anyway, enough stalling...

The first thought was "This is NOT supposed to happen"

Riding a bike, you KNOW that something is not supposed to hit you. I didn't hear him coming, I just felt him hit me. It was the most violent and violating force that I have ever felt. Violating is probably the best way to describe it. You know, it's always in the back of your head. You hear all the stories. Everyone tells you they couldn't do what you are doing (riding or running across the country) and then, they tell you the stories. They tell you about so and so who was killed. They tell you about all the crazy drivers out there and how they don't pay attention. And then, they tell you to be careful. But it's not up to you! They mean well, but they don't understand. I actually had this exact conversation with my Mom on this very morning. 
The only way you can possibly get up and do this every day, the thing that they say they can't do, is to have faith and tell yourself it won't happen to you. You have to turn your back to the very thing that can kill you. You have to be vulnerable, You have to have faith that it won't happen to you. It wasn't supposed to happen to me, and it was!

The next thought..... "This is why I wasn't supposed to go on this trip". And I felt like the biggest asshole for going! Those were the only things I remember about that moment.

From Facebook, November 4th:

I never realized, an obsession and fascination with detective work before. I need to fill in this missing chunk of time. These few seconds that are right at the tip of my brain. Tiny pieces come in flashes when I am in that state between sleep and awake. It's like a name you can't remember, but it's right on the tip of your tongue and it keeps gnawing at you. 

 I said I didn't lose conscienceless

but I clearly don't remember what happened between the moment I felt the horrific force of impact and the next moment, the panic of me in a ditch feeling for parts that weren't in the right place. I remember what I thought, vividly! But I don't know how I got there.

So, with every new clue, I try to get closer. I study the damage to the panniers, the damage to the car, the damage to my body, and methodically try to piece together the most dramatic, scary and mortal moment of my life.

Another piece of the puzzle was unboxed today and I entered into evidence and consideration, the damage to my bike.

I imagine the best I'll ever be able to do is guess, based on these clues, exactly how everything happened. What part of the car hit what part of me and my bike. If I somersaulted or rolled. Did I go over the handlebars or did I spin off the side like a whirly gig? Why did the bones that were broken, break and why the other ones didn't? What part of me or my bike ripped the side mirror off his truck and shattered the front headlight?..... Why didn't I die?

Perhaps there is one person who knows the answers to some of my questions. Perhaps even though he didn't see me before he hit me, he saw what happened to me after.

But then again, maybe I don't want to know.......

Here is what I do know. It was October 25th, a very windy Thursday. I was on day 22 of my ride from Boston to Santa Monica, CA and I was approaching the 1,200 mile mark. The ride was going amazingly well. I had flown my bike to Boston and spent the first day walking around the city taking in all of the history.

The old State House

I was in heaven! The Freedom Trail, The Granary Cemetery, Paul Revere's house. What a town! I even saw this!

My favorite show

Then, the next day, I set out on my bike for what was supposed to be a 3,400 mile journey.

On the Charles River

I had ridden through the very hilly state of Massachusetts to Albany, New York. In Albany, I rode the Erie Canal, approximately 350 miles to Lake Erie, stopping and camping at some of the 35 locks along the way. It was beautiful!

Lock 20


The beautiful bike path

Lock 21

The colors were amazing!

Being on the trail was fantastic, But I was definitely looking forward to what was at the end of that trail.

Niagara Falls

I had looked forward to the Falls and it did not disappoint. The sheer power of the water was amazing. To stand so close to the edge at some spots, with nothing but a metal railing between you and that incredible force. Breathtaking! A woman who takes pictures of people at the falls took this one of me. It was awesome and I could have spent a lot of time there but I had to move on. I found a craft brewery right down the road in Canada!

I was a little worried about the whole Canada thing and going into a different country. You know, the whole....... well.....anyway, they let me in......and ......let me back out. Or better stated, let me out and then let me back in. In fact, the border agents getting back into the states were extremely nice, even driving me and my bike across the bridge after I was told that bicycles couldn't go across (which I only found out after arriving in Sarnia). I only spent three days in Ontario and it was very nice. But, I was glad to be back since I had turned roaming off on my iPhone, which made navigating especially hard, forcing me to go old school with a real paper map.

Now that I was in Michigan (the state where I was born) I had just two days to get to my cousin Karl's house in time for the "Iron Brewer" competition he was holding at his Brew Supply Shop. Talk about perfect timing!

Cool sweatshirt!

I arrived in Grand Ledge at the end of day 16 and I would take my one (and only) rest day, the next day, which was a Saturday. I needed the rest as I had decided that my goal was to get home the day before Thanksgiving. Originally, I wasn't sure if I was going to do the whole 3,400 miles. But now that I was out there, I was having such a great time, I definitely wanted to do all of Route 66. But, I needed to be home for the holiday, which meant that I would need to do roughly 75 miles a day to make it. I could fly home from wherever I was at on November 21st and fly back out to finish, but, I really didn't want to do that. So, I was going to suck it up and do the miles, still trying to take the time to see the sites and take plenty of pictures. After all, it IS the journey, right? But, in all honesty, it wasn't going to be a cakewalk by any means. My bike weighs roughly 120 pounds and between hills, wind, pictures and Breweries, 75 miles a day can be a challenge. But the challenge is good. It makes it that much more fun to be out there.

I left Grand Ledge with my sights set on Chicago. I have flown into and out of Chicago a few times on layovers and even drove in from South Bend, IN just a few months earlier at the end of my DC ride. But I have never actually seen the city. I was very excited! Of course being on a bike, I would really see it. 

The Chicago Skyline

An old MGM friend of mine lives in Chicago with his wonderful wife and two children. They were kind enough to invite me to stay with them for the evening. DJ and I went out that night and had a few beers and in the morning, him and his wife and I went and had a really nice breakfast at a really cool Diner. How cool is the city? Where everything was within walking distance from their house. I had a great time with them. I would have liked to have stayed longer, but had to go. Not only did I have a ton of miles to do, but I was also extremely excited to be in Chicago because of what lie at the intersection of Jackson Blvd. and Michigan Ave. The Art Institute of Chicago, you say? Yes... but across the street......!


I was so excited to be at the start of Route 66! I had done a majority of it on my run across the country in 2010 but didn't do any of the Illinois section because I left it in St. Louis and took the Old National Road east. And although I have driven most of the Arizona and California part, I didn't run that either because I ran through Phoenix. Since my run, I have become so enamored with the Mother Road that I couldn't wait to be on it again. I have multiple books about the history of Route 66 and I have seen so many pictures that I couldn't wait to see all the places that I hadn't seen, for myself.

The 1,150 miles to this point felt like a warmup for what lie ahead. I would be retracing a lot of the steps, literally, from my run, and in a big way, that was comforting. Hindsight has a way putting things in perspective and as I was riding on this trip, some things became very clear. Back in 2010, I was running towards something to be sure. The Statue of Liberty was a symbol for me. But as much as I was running towards it, I think I was also running away. I was running away from home and running away from some things that I needed to face. I have largely dealt with all of those "things" and as I was riding, I realized that I really was coming back home. It was like I was coming full circle. It was a really good feeling. Like I could put all of it to rest and finally move on. Yes, I was glad I was out here. I was glad I bought this bike and I was glad I got on the plane to Boston and was heading home... because I almost didn't. I came very close to calling the whole thing off.

I'm not going to say that I wasn't a little nervous for my other adventures. I was for sure. I spent many restless nights wondering what I had gotten myself into. But, I never had seconds thoughts on going. This trip was different. I kept looking for signs on whether or not I should go. But, instead of hoping that they would all lead me to going, I wanted them to lead me to stay home. All the way up until the day before I was to leave, I would vacillate between going and not. I would flip a coin, it would come up tails (my "no" side) and I would do a "2 out of 3". I actually decided the day before that I wasn't going to go and even called the airline and asked about the cancellation policy and if I lost anything by waiting until the day of the flight to cancel. I didn't, so I decided to wait and see how I felt in the morning. I woke up and hadn't changed my mind. But, as a final contemplation, I sat down and talked to my Mother and asked her what she thought. She, uncharacteristically, said that she thought I SHOULD go and that they (my parents) would be fine and that they would take care of Bella, the family dog that has become MY dog (long story for another post).


So, with an hour and a half to pack, I gathered everything together, packed my bike in a box and called the cab to take me to the airport. That was the last time that I had any doubts of whether or not I should be on this trip. I had an amazing time. I met so many wonderful people. Anytime I would think about it, I couldn't believe that I almost didn't go. I had no regrets for going. No regrets until 3:11:35 on Thursday October 25th. It wasn't my first thought, It was my second. "This is why I wasn't supposed to come". I felt like such an asshole. I always listen, or try to listen, to that little voice inside my head. It was telling me not to come. I didn't listen and now, I was going to die.

I had just left Wilmington, Illinois, the home of the Launching Pad and the Gemini Giant. I was almost giddy seeing these wonderful icons of Route 66.

The Gemini Giant

I was only 60 miles in and I had already seen so many great places, like Dell Rhea's Chicken Basket in Willowbrook, Illinois.

Dell Rhea's

And the the Rich and Creamy in Joliet, Illinois.

Rich and Creamy

So I was very excited, to say the least, to be on 66 headed towards St. Louis. The Launching Pad was closed so I went to a great little Pub and Grill called Hayden's Crossing for lunch.

Hayden's Crossing Wilmington, Illinois

It was a wonderful place with wonderful food and a really cool waitress. I was thinking about the little town of Wilmington and how I wished that I could have spent more time there when I stopped to take a picture. I was on I53 which is an original alignment of Route 66, just paved over and now a State highway. It had an abnormally small shoulder, enough that I would take notice and document it. I had struggled with the roads since leaving Chicago. So much so, that the previous night, I left "66" to take a safer road since it was getting dark.


Normally, in a situation like this, I would ride against traffic. Even though it is technically against the law, it seems much safer to be able to see what is coming towards you. Especially on such a long stretch with little cross traffic. For what ever reason, today I didn't. I stopped my bike at 3:10:43. I took this picture at 3:10:51 and I resumed riding at 3:11:21.

Then at precisely 3:11:35, forty four seconds after I took this picture, I felt the most violent and violating thing I have ever felt in my life. I didn't hear him coming. All I felt was the force of a 2007 Ford Ranger going between 50 and 60 MPH strike me from behind.

I was able to gather this information from my Garmin and the picture I took with my iPhone.

As best as I can gather from the information I have, the damage to my property, the damage to me and the damage to his truck, is that he hit my left rear pannier with the front side of his vehicle. I've surmised this because the front light on his truck was broken. Then, his side view mirror hit my back and sheered it off the side of his truck. There is a crumple in the down tube of my bike, where my ankle would have been, both wheels are tweaked and both of the panniers on the left side of my bike were damaged with the rear one being destroyed.

As I said, I remember thinking those two thoughts vividly but I don't remember what happened to me next. The Paramedics asked me if I lost consciousness or blacked out and I told them no. I probably said that because I don't remember "waking up", but I clearly don't remember how I got in that ditch. All I remember is sitting there holding my side, and figuring it was just a matter of time before I died. I don't say that to be dramatic, it's the truth. I can't describe the level of panic I felt the first few moments in that ditch. I knew that what just happened was bad, but I didn't know what was going to happen next.

Fortunately, the driver stopped. He seemed to be about a quarter of a mile down the road before he got out and walked back to where I was. He called 911 and then I waited. I was in a lot of pain and most likely in shock. I had no choice but to try and stay calm. If this was it, there wasn't anything I could do about it. Oddly, a sense of calm came over me. I just slowly leaned myself back and laid in the grass and waited. It's kind of weird, all those years of panic, all those years of being afraid that something bad was going to happen. All of that fear of losing control. All of that worry that death was around every corner, and here I was, laying in a ditch after being hit by a truck and I was finally calm and at peace.

I remember looking around at all of my belongings strewn everywhere. Since I was below the road in the ditch, everything was at eye level. I could see my panniers and stuff laying in the road and the grass. It was very surreal, like a movie. All of the stuff that I had obsessively packed and worried and worried about anytime I would leave it outside a store, was now everywhere, out of my reach. I know that other people stopped but I don't remember how many people and I don't remember anyone talking to me. I also don't remember seeing my bike, my awesome bike! I have no idea where that went.

I just laid there, waiting. I tried to access the damage to my body. I could tell with good certainty that my left ankle was broken.

I was also sure that there was something wrong with my back and ribs. I felt my rib cage and I felt what I thought was a separation. And my back felt like it was cracking. I could still move everything, so I figured I wasn't going to be paralyzed, but it was very painful. At this point I was mostly worried about internal injuries. I knew I had some broken bones and I was worried that they were, or were going to, puncture something. Thankfully, my neck and head didn't hurt at all. I can't explain that since I don't know how I ended up in that ditch and I can't tell you how or what my body did on the way there.

It took about 10 minutes for the ambulance to arrive. I was very relieved when they got there. The Paramedics lifted me onto one of those backboards and put me in a neck brace and lifted me into the ambulance for the very bumpy 25 mile ride to the Riverside Medical Center in Kankakee, Illinois. Boy did I feel every bump!

Once I arrived at the hospital, I was given 2 CT scans and several X-rays. Each time having to be lifted onto another table, which was very painful. I waited for close to three hours for the results of the tests, the worst part was not being able to eat or drink anything while waiting for the results. The results came back and I was extremely fortunate. to only have a broken ankle, a broken rib and 9 broken vertebra. If you are into actual medical terms, my injuries were;

Left rib fracture

Transverse displaced fracture through the base of the medial malleolous and a

Fracture of the Spinous Processes T3-T9 and L2-L3

They started pumping me full of pain meds and admitted me. They decided to operate on the ankle and give me some new hardware.

They operated on Friday, late afternoon at around 6pm. I was finally able to eat and drink something, thank God. It had been well over 24 hours and I was famished! Now, I had to figure out how I was going to get home. The logistics would be difficult. The hospital knew that this was a special case and they weren't going to be able to just discharge me like a regular patient. I had no family anywhere close and my only friend nearby was DJ and he was 60 miles away. I had my bike and all my belongings and me that would need to get back home.

Let me just say, everyone involved in this was absolutely amazing. The Police came to the hospital to get a report. They informed me that they had a team come out and scour the site, or the "debris field" for all of my stuff. Somehow they found my iPhone and my wallet and gave that to me before the ambulance took me away (I don't know what I would have done without my iPhone). They found everything else except for my sunglasses, an iPod nano, a Cheers shot glass I had bought for Brittany and some Canadian coins I was saving. They gathered that up and put it in storage next to the Wilmington Police Station.

So, to get me back and my things back home, was going to take some doing. The hospital assigned a social worker to coordinate everything. She found a bike shop near the hospital who could box up my bike for the flight. Now I just needed to get the stuff from Wilmington, which was 25 miles away, to Kankakee and all of it and me to the airport.

My Father and my daughter Brittany flew out on Sunday and stopped in Wilmington, got my bike and belongings and took my bike to the bike shop. Steve, the owner of the bike shop informed me that he wasn't going to be open on Sunday. But when he heard what happened, he said he would box it up if they brought it to his house. Like I said, everyone was amazing! So, Brittany and my Dad flew in on Sunday, went to Wilmington and picked up my bike. They stopped off at Hayden's Crossing and ate dinner and headed to Kankakee. How crazy, I never imagined as I left Hayden's that My Father and Daughter would be three 3 days later under these circumstances. Life is strange.

I have never been so happy to see two people in my life! One of the most difficult calls I've had to make was to Brittany and my Mom while I was in the trauma ward. I texted Brittany and my Dad first. I didn't know at the time what the extent of my injuries were, but I knew I could tell them without knowing and they would be ok. My Mother was a different story. I told them not to tell here until we knew if I was going to be OK. That was a long 3 hours. Anyway, like I said, I was very happy to see them. The hospital let them stay in the room that night and the next morning we drove to Chicago Midway Airport and flew home.

The last month has been a blur. I don't know how close I came to having this be a completely different outcome. Perhaps that is why I am so obsessed with what happened in those few seconds. Working with Motocross riders, I have seen plenty of guys fall off a bike and never walk again. I don't know how or why I was spared that fate. But I think about it. I think about it a lot. The craziest thing is, I am at peace. There is a good chance that I am repressing the memory of what happened in the moments after I was hit. I'm not sure. Like I said, the last month has been a blur. Perhaps part of it has been the shock of going from riding all of those miles everyday, which already puts you in a different state of mind, to not only stopping abruptly but having your whole reality change. Add to that, the trauma of what happened and then to top it off.....pain meds.

It's been difficult. and I know it's not over. The Doctor has told me I can start putting weight on my ankle and now my brain wants to do more than my body will let me. But I do know it will come in time. I will make a full recovery. But of course for me, a full recovery will be when I can run and ride again. I can't wait! I have the rest of Route 66 to do... Against traffic!



zippoo said...

Thank You Paul for sharing your story it's all so insane happy you are doing better!

Melissa Adylia Calasanz said...

Wow. Beautifully written. So happy you are safe.

Paul Both said...

Thank you guys :) It took a long time to write but was good to finally get it written down. I really appreciate the comments. Happy running and lots of adventures!

Annette said...

Paul, I felt sick to my stomach while reading the very honest and vulnerable account of your accident. I'm so happy you're on the mend. I can't imagine our world losing another talented and passionate person.

Paul Both said...

Thank you Annette. What a wonderful and sweet thing to say :) I AM on the mend.

Amy Baron said...

“But I do know it will come in time. I will make a full recovery.” – Way to go, Paul! Reading your post, I can sense how much the accident rattled you. It is understandable. Accidents like that can shake you up and terrify you. And dealing with happened after the incident is more difficult. Fear will cripple your faith and determination. But once you get pass it, you can tell yourself that you made it through.

Paul Both said...

Thank you Amy. I am doing much better now. I have been back on my back and for the most part am ok. I will admit that I cringe when I hear a car come from behind. I think I will get a rear view mirror :-)
Thank you for taking the time to comment.

Silvia Barnes said...

It’s really understandable why it’s hard for you to talk about the accident. The trauma you had must've been quite shocking! If there is something that we should be thank for, it’s that you are alive, despite those injuries you got, and was able to heal your wounds eventually. I hope you were able to cope up with the incident now.

Silvia Barnes @ Elam & Rousseaux, P.A.