Sunday, June 23, 2019

PESD

I never owned a skateboard. Here's why that's pertinent: throughout my life, I've drawn some pretty distinct boundaries around injury prone activities. Wrecking myself on a skateboard, no matter how cool Michael J. Fox looked doing it, was not worth a broken limb. Once I figured out how to stay upright on bikes and skis, I pretty much stuck to those as my chosen medium—no skateboarding, no snowboarding, no attempting to fly with the aid of a cape; no doing anything where the learning curve may lead to injury.

I call it calculated trepidation; and I eventually applied it to biking and skiing as well. Calculated trepidation keeps me out of "parks", like "bike parks". It keeps me from sliding rails (although being protective of my skis may also be a reason). It's the reason I walked the JEM Drop on 25 Hours of Frog Hollow every time. And it's why I slowly backed away from Corbett's Couloir a few years ago. (It was definitely not an IKONic moment.)

That doesn't mean my adult years have been injury free, but those injuries always have been a result of dumb luck: catching an edge while skiing, skidding my road bike on some surprise gravel at the bottom of a hill, and making a clumsy misstep while playing tennis. They all put me out for a while, but beyond what I've just described, there isn't much of an "agony of defeat" element to them; just doing my normal activity and having an accident.

But something changed with my calculated trepidation this year. Thanks to some distance from my 2012 ACL tear, a better than expected recovery from last year's ankle sprain and an epic snow year, I felt pretty confident on my skis. Now, I still probably won't ski Corbett's, but my comfort level with my skills could be described this way: remember in The Bourne Identity where Matt Damond is about to get into a car chase with that shitty car? He asks the owner about the condition and runs through a list of possible defects before tearing through the streets. Well, my 43 year old body is like that shitty car, and I think I've gotten pretty good at getting the most out of it.

Well, I think that carried over to mountain biking. And that hubris is the reason I broke my arm and am unable to ride during the height of cycling season for the second straight summer.

And I knew it was a dream because I was crashing

If you want an exercise in futility, try to identify the reason for a dream... or a bike crash. If you knew the actual equation for wrecking, you probably wouldn't wreck. An endo, in concept, is easy to explain. In fact, I recently bought a shirt from one of my favorite breweries (that also took its name from this type of wreck) that diagrams the forces at work when one goes over the handlebars. In Moab earlier this month, I got a nice little, firsthand refresher on how it works.

Of course, most people want to hear details. Want a surefire way to get people, even complete strangers, to talk to you: put your arm in a sling.

"Were you doing something fun?"

That's the go to line apparently. Some on the receiving end of that opener might relish the opportunity to regale strangers with the details of their incident. They might even take some creative license in the process. I'm not one of those peoples. When I'm injured, I'm pissed, and I apologize to anyone who felt my answers were gruff. It makes me wish I broke my arm in some elaborate, perverse way that would strangers regret asking. 

"Was I doing something fun you ask? Yeah, up until the cables broke on the sex swing, I was having a grand time."

But if you're reading my blog, thank you. I'll at least give you some honest description before I get to my actual point.

"Rockin' A" is a nearly 2 mile trail on the eastern edge of the Moab Brand system. On the first day of this month, I was riding it for probably the third or fourth time. It's far from what I'd call an expert trail, however, it does have some challenging spots. Like most slick rock trails, there's not a lot of "groove riding"; where you can settle into a rhythm and keep a consistent pace. It's more "stop and start", "up and down" riding, including a steep, steppy descent in the first quarter mile when riding the trail south to north. 

As I neared the bottom of that drop, I felt confident. I kept my borrowed hardtail 29er in control over the clunky spots (my full suspension was in the shop) and was getting ready for the transition back to the flat, an abrupt angle where the slope sheered vertically before leveling out. It wasn't a major drop, probably less than a foot. I had backed up a load of momentum, balancing and breaking over each little crux approaching that final step down.

In the past, I've cheated this. The descent is actually a broad dome of Navajo sandstone, and you can avoid the jarring, final obstacle by choosing a more obtuse line on the left, softening your transition to the flat. But this time, I stuck to the painted line indicating the preferred course. My front and back wheel straddled two different planes. That's probably where I needed my full suspension, and I paid for it.

A good carpenter never blames his tools. I could have very well ended up in the same state riding my Genius, but I couldn't keep my weight far enough back. Maybe the rigidity of the rear triangle was the reason, but what the hell was I thinking trying to pull that off with a hardtail I had never ridden before?

Trauma rarely let's you stand around and observe. That's probably why so many accident stories end with "Next thing I know..." 

So, next thing I know, I was pretzeled with my bike, upside down and checking my extremities. At the time, my destroyed Garmin seemed to be the biggest loss. After 15 minutes of getting myself together and adjusting the fork, I continued riding, but with a major dose of humility.

With my left elbow aching on some of the more bone-rattling sections, I did walk some, but I figured since I could move my fingers and make a fist, I was fine. While back at the car drinking, I realized my left arm was loosing range of motion and, after some debate, we went to Moab Hospital's Urgent Care. First of all, what a pleasant hospital to be in. Not necessarily because everyone was nice (although they were) but because it was small; you weren't walking into IHC's castle in Murray.

Anyway, after X-rays, I was diagnosed with a fracture at the head of the radial bone; basically, a crack near the elbow that required a splint, sling and some time off the bike. As bike crash injuries go, it could have been a lot worse.

Out over the bars

So in response to the the anger and disappointment I get with every injury, I spend time analyzing the cause, the order, the reason. I've been doing that while wondering when I'll be able to ride again. Understandably, the doctor wants to see how the fracture is healing first before committing to a return.

But trauma's main impact (and I apologize if that words seems extreme, but my wife's a therapist and it seems apt) isn't to provide us with a structured lesson or pattern of conditioned behavior. Instead, I think its point is to plant something in our subconscious. I think that's why I compared this bike crash to a dream; applying logic to its purpose is fruitless.

In blunt, metaphorical terms, I was over my handlebars—leaning out beyond my ability. So nature found a way to bring me back to center so to speak.

For the poets

Nearly a year ago, I thought I could encourage myself to blog more consistently by sort of assigning myself inspiration through the writing of my favorite author: Gary Snyder. That didn't really happen, but I did find something in his work I could kind of work into this essay.

Gary Snyder's "Journeys" from Mountain and Rivers Without End influenced my the dream/crash parallel I used to discover some meaning in my incident. The poem is a series of dreamlike verses ending with a journey to the afterlife. The narrator is following a river, then led to a cliff by his travelling companion. There, they leap off into the "backcountry" and another world. 
...We were at the bottom of the gorge
We started drifting up the canyon. "This is the
way to the back country."
Analysis of the poem describes it as demonstrating reality and imagery working together, but I got something else from it as I read it in the context of my recent experience.

I see the river as a structured, logical path I always follow towards some sort of goal—the mountains in the distance. But logical, straight and safe lines can't always be the path to meeting our needs. Occasionally, that leap needs to be taken so you can enter the "back country". I tend to equate "back country" with wilderness—and wilderness with finding our true nature in the world. Interconnectedness might be another way of thinking about it. Dreams, wilderness and yes, bike crashes, evoke feelings and embed an energy in a way that can't be achieved through a straight, logical line. Dream-like experiences can't be hijacked by our right brain. The Zen concept of Satori comes to mind, where an instant flash of recognition comes with no precipitated influence. Now, I can't really trace any line from my crash on Rockin' A to any sort of enlightenment, but I probably will cheat left on that drop again.


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