Wednesday, July 9, 2014

What it's like to be hit by a car. . . .

I haven't blogging as much lately due to my schedule. Until last Sunday, I trained in the peripheral hours around my 8-5 job which left little time for much of anything aside from eating, sleeping and the occasional shower.  But then, well, life gave me an unexpected surprise and that's all different now. Now I cannot train so much and when I'm not training I tend to think a lot-- too much and too deeply maybe-- for long bouts of time, looking for the cracks and fissures in my personality, my body, my mind--- all the things that have led me to where I am, a place I'd rather not be.

Or, I'd rather not have been hit by a car on my ride this past Sunday. But there is a lot that went into that particular moment. The fact that I was riding alone, for instance. The fact that I didn't have my phone with me. The fact that, even if I had, I would have had no one to call because I have become not the nicest person and I think most people who know me dislike me on some fundamental level (understandably so.)  And I want to understand this process, these various steps that led to that incident on Donner Lake's west shore on Sunday. 

I also want to understand its aftermath. Why I feel so awful, so empty, so depressed. It isn't the worst injury in the world (really) to have bruised rib or two nor is my bike beyond repair. In fact, things are almost like they were before the accident: I have a bruise or two. The bike as an extra scratch. But on the whole, we're just like we were-- we always were.

Yet, me: inside, I'm the only one who has changed.

I decided to ride by myself on Sunday from Hirshdale to Cisco Grove and then up 89 to Tahoe City, to King's Beach and up and over 267 (Brockway) for two reasons: 1) I have signed up for the Tahoe 70.3 Ironman and I wanted to do 267 on tired legs and 2) I didn't want to look like a huge pussy on Strava so I decided some miles and elevation were what I needed to place myself with the other "hardcore" athletes (or not so far behind.)  That morning, I wasn't feeling great: I was somewhat tired and not really that motivated but I know myself well enough that if I drive someplace to run or to ride (or even swim) I'll do it. It's a shame to waste so much gas on laziness. 

So out and up the first hill on Glenshire drive, I pushed toward Truckee feeling really strong. Stable, even, like my upper body hardly moved. I didn't notice too many more cars on the road than usual and once I was on old 40, I was hardly passed at all has I rode up the 3-mile climb to Donner Summit and then the long descent to Cisco Grove. 

I saw (maybe) five other cyclists on the way down. The roads until Cisco Grove were surprisingly bare. When I got to the old wooden building, I pulled up on the covered porch, bought myself a water, a coke and some sort of bar and sat watching a parade of departing super-RVs leave the grounds in a mass-exodus. I thought I was lucky, missing that train of super-sized vehicles with boxes and streams of kids taking last-minute pit-stops in the bathrooms in the back of the wooden building. An old man dozed in a lawn chair beside me and there was something, oddly, peaceful about being outside of the chaotic scene, simply sitting and watching. Sipping my coke in the 11:00 am sun. Feeling lucky to have only my bike and the open road. No attachments. Not even my phone. 

I should back up here and explain that. My phone is not a smart phone or even a dumb phone. It's prehistoric in terms of its functionality and has, lately, been unable to hold a charge much longer than a day even though it is really only just a phone (not a camera, not a gps device and it will not even do the dishes after dinner...) so I have started bringing my phone charger with me to the office. If I have to sit there, I reasoned my phone could, too, and charge. Well-- I was in such a hurry to get out of the office for the holiday weekend, I left my phone charger beneath my desk. It wasn't an issue Friday or even Saturday. But Sunday, the day of this long ride, it was beyond dead.

So I left it at home-- not even in my car-- when I started this ride. You might not believe that I paused before heading out without it (I never do) but nothing has ever happened where I actually needed to call for help. Funny how things happen. 

As soon as I finished the coke, the RVs were gone and it was quiet again. I took my cue and mounted the bike, heading back toward Truckee where I'd planned to turn right up highway 89 to Tahoe City. What I remember of that long (gentle) ascent: I felt really strong. Or, my form felt solid, finally. No rocking or swaying: I was just, simply solid and I held a consistent (not fast, consistent) pace. It was beautiful out: the sun that lovely golden glow of summer. I couldn't have been happier, actually. 

Up and over Donner Summit again, I worked to push the downhill-- not beyond my control, but to feel the corners, not brake so much. To not fear the wind on my face. 

What do I remember at the foot of Donner? I remember pedestrians. Boats on trailers. I remember, minutes before the crash, watching a topless woman sun herself on one of those small docks that line Donner's west shore, face down, of course. But topless, still.  But that is where my clear memory ends and the rest is a bit blurry. 

I remember seeing the blue sedan in the on-coming traffic lane slow, but thinking nothing of it. And then the car is immediately there after a screeching U-turn and its hood in my way and I realize that I have to slow or stop or something bad will happen.  In the version I have told, I sit up, I hold both brakes until the rear tire skids in line with the front and I hit the car with the left side of my body and bike. This is confirmed by the condition of the bike after the fall (I didn't hit the car head-on; the front tire was not bent at all. In fact, the rear tire was more damaged than the front.) But honestly, I'm not sure this is what happened. I can't remember, quite, anymore. It is what I said to the first person who asked that day. And I have to believe there is some element of truth in this account although I would be a very stupid person if I said this is the "absolute" truth. That, I believe, is lost.

Anyway, I do I remember saying "Oh shit" before I slammed into the passenger side of the blue car and then there is a blank patch of what happened next. A flash of my wheel in the air above me. And then I am face down on the dirt (and pine needles) next to a manzanita bush on one side and the curb/pavement on the other and the thought "no, no, no" in my head, again and again because you don't walk away when a bike and car collide-- at least, if you're on the bike. 

I don't remember feeling anything in the way of pain. I didn't move for a second and the people in the car get out. Others, who had been on the docks, in the houses (other drivers) run toward me and someone keeps saying "Don't touch her! Don't touch her!" I breathe dirt and pine needles. My ipod is still playing some peppy pop song and more than anything, I want it to stop. 

I roll over, sit up and this guy who is telling everyone not to touch me is also the driver of the car. He tells me not to move. I do. I sit up and start brushing the dirt and pine needles off me. 

In my head, I tell him to go fuck himself but I'm pretty sure I said something more polite than that. 

He explains he is an EMT and then someone else pipes up that they are a doctor. And I am a specimen on display. Someone holds my wrist as if to feel my pulse. Another person tells me to breathe. 

I ask about the bike and someone says "fuck the bike" and I just want to leave. 

And then, because I'm pathetic and me, I almost start to cry. So to stop myself, I say to the driver "I'm sorry, I was riding, I didn't see..."

He latches onto this. "I was your fault," he replied. "But I understand. Thank God you had your helmet on." 

I begin to wonder what planet I'm on that I am at fault for an accident I'd done all I could to avoid and I was being praised-- as an athlete-- for wearing my helmet while riding my bike. I blink because I'm confused. I wonder how hard I hit my head and if I really just heart him say that the accident was my fault. 

The driver's wife begins to clean my elbow-- the only part of me that's bleeding-- and she asks if she can call anyone for me. If I have a phone. "Who can I call? You must want someone to know that you are OK." 

And that's the moment I totally break because there isn't a single person alive I could call, even if I'd had a working phone. I would just worry my parents. My ex would laugh or roll his eyes. And others? Everyone I know has families. Better friends than I could ever be-- so why would they care about me at all? 

In any case, I just want to disappear and for once I wished that car had run me over. My life is worthless. My writing isn't good. I'm not a great athlete. I have nothing to show for all 32 years of my life. And that flattens me. I'm done for good; done with the scene on the side of the road. I just want to go home and cry.

The woman still holds my bike. "I want my bike," I say. 

Her father, who has also (somehow) there offers to drive me wherever I want to go. My car, maybe. I tell them I'd rather ride the miles. That I will be fine. 

Then they look at me like I am from another planet. Fitting, I suppose. 

"At least ride it around here to make sure the gears work," the driver says. And  I do, I ride around, playing chords with my gears. When they are satisfied, I take off without a word. Yeah, I know: get the information of the people who hit you in a car. I should have. But all I could think of in that moment was how I have no one to call when this kind of thing happens. No one loves me like that. I am unworthy and awful. And now I'm broken so that there is no way I can prove to myself that I am worthy at all, too. 

And even though my ribs really hurt-- I mean, really hurt-- that realization hurt (and hurts) so much more.

So here I am three days after and my ribs really hurt. I am lucky, I know: my face is fine. The bike is fine. In time, I will be fine, too even though I can't shift the manual transition in my car and I called my boss in tears this morning: I couldn't muster the strength --- or get past the pain-- of getting my car into reverse so I could drive to work. That is embarrassing. But true. 

Don't comment on this post to say you would have answered your phone if I'd called. Or that I'm incredibly stupid. I don't want sympathy and I already know I'm stupid. But thanks for that.

The truth is:  I'm heartbroken.  But it's my fault I am here. That I ride long rides alone. That I have no family of my own.  That I will have to mend my own ribs. Even if I have to eat only celery and laxatives until I can train again.

It won't be easy, but I'll try.  And maybe I'll be an athlete again. Maybe. I hope so.