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The Puddle

By November 17, 2016 Personal Stories

On August 1st, 2016, I decided it was time to continue challenging myself just like I did with my two 30-day challenges in 2013. The third challenge turned out simpler than the previous two: I would bike at least 20 km (~12.4 miles) per day for thirty consecutive days. Unlike 2013, there were no other rules – no photos, no mandatory checkpoints. And, for some reason, I also decided to keep the challenge completely under the radar until I completed it. The only people that could see my progress were those that followed me on Strava, since I named my rides incrementally (Day 1, 2, etc) as I went along.

And so the challenge began, and progressed without fault for two weeks. Then came day 16, a particularly rainy day. I wasn’t new to dealing with rain – I understood very well that no matter what the weather was like, I’d still get out there to complete my challenge. That’s why I was wearing a poncho, and as much of a water resistant jacket as I could locate. Despite my gear, given the abundance of rain, I was soaked far before I reached the half-way point. By 19.2 km, I realized I needed just a little more distance to meet my mark. So, to wrap up the day, I decided to drive (large) circles around an empty parking lot. It may sound weird, but I’d done this before, and it was a good, optimized way to finishing up the day. On this particular occasion, however, I drove over a certain puddle that I expected to be exactly that: a puddle, but instead, it was a puddle concealing a massive chasm leading to another dimension. 

Photo by Matt Refghi

Photo by Matt Refghi

Okay, I’m exaggerating a bit, but that’s a size 14 shoe. That pothole wasn’t messing around. My bike rolled over it from the right (from photo’s perspective), which meant my front wheel immediately dropped into it, and the next thing I knew, I was flying off of my bike, where I landed on my left side. I managed to get up fairly quickly, and discovered some basic wounds on my left elbow and hand, but other than that, nothing seemed to be wrong. As I was still being bombarded by rain, I immediately turned my attention to my bike, as the chain had been knocked out of position.

After a few minutes, I’d restored the bike to working order, and proceeded to glance at my phone. I was short roughly 0.5 km from my 20 km goal, and while my wounds were bleeding a bit, they weren’t too big or too serious, so I resumed cycling – I wanted to finish what I had started (the challenge, not my demise). Having learned my lesson about puddles and potholes, I specifically chose to drive on a bike path where I knew the asphalt was in great shape, and I even specifically avoided puddles, just in case.

Despite my optimized approach and my original assessment of the damage, a few minutes later, I started to realize that something was wrong. When I rolled over bumps or cracks in the road, it would trigger pain in my ribs, on the left side of my chest. This, wasn’t good. Back in 2014, I had broken 2-3 ribs in an inline skating fall, and I worried I might have earned myself additional fractures. The 2014 rib injuries were incredibly painful – by comparison, the pain I felt driving over the bumps wasn’t as pronounced. I wondered if perhaps I had a hairline fracture, something less extreme.

But I was stubborn, so I still drove, but did so as carefully as I could to still reach the 20 km for that day, since I was so close. Part of me still wanted to continue with the 30-day challenge despite the accident, but by the next morning, I had decided to be reasonable, to let my body heal. I later learned from an x-ray that I had fallen in such a way that I caused trauma to the same ribs that I broke in 2014, only, thankfully, I did not fall directly on the same spot. Ending the challenge meant avoiding the probability of me falling on the ribs once more and doing more serious damage, no matter how small the odds.

The accident caused me to reflect on cycling as a sport. I had a lot of experience cycling in my life, and this was the second time I was sent flying from my bike. The first incident occurred years ago when I drove into some mud, and rather than stay the course, I tried to turn to the right, to escape it. This caused me to lose balance, and I was sent flying straight over the handle bars, landing on my stomach in the dirt ahead of me. I tore up my left knee pretty bad, and suffered multiple scrapes, but other than that, I didn’t break any bones.

Photo by Edmund White

Photo by Edmund White

I’ve always been the type of guy that wears a helmet when cycling, without fail. I was also a fairly cautious rider, making sure not to push limits needlessly… but even still, these two accidents occurred, and they served as valuable lessons that would undoubtedly shift my behavior in a very permanent way. I pondered about all the other cyclists in the world, and the experiences they might have accumulated in their careers, amateur or otherwise. Just from my two accidents, I had learned some good lessons:

  • Puddles may be hiding giant pot holes that are out to kill you, so it’s best to avoid them altogether.
  • When you drive into mud, do not under circumstance try to turn – release pedals, keep your balance.

Surely, if all cyclists got together somehow and learned tricks like these, overall we’d suffer less injuries simply through increased awareness. But then again, is anything as good as experiencing an error yourself, and dealing with the consequences? In my experience, the best way to avoid repeating mistakes is to form a really deep, negative association. That said, I’m thankful my consequences this time around weren’t as bad as they could have been. Still… don’t be surprised if you see me cycling with a rib-protecting Michelin Man type get-up.