Monday, September 02, 2013

Price of Perspective

Crashing waves are better than crashing bikes...

Yesterday, I got hit by a car. It was something that I was always aware might happen again, but not in that day-to-day visceral fear that I dealt with for a while after my first accident. I'm mostly thankful that I'm the one writing this, rather than having someone else write it about me. I'm generally okay. No trip in an ambulance. No phone call from the police to Jill. No major surgery. I am very sore today. And I have some wicked road rash. But I don't think anything is broken (though I will go today to see about x-rays on my hip, where I landed the hardest). And yet I don't really know how much further away I was from dying than I was on Mar 23, 2010. One foot? One inch? What if I'd had more of a headwind? What if there had been a tailwind? What if...? I suppose I'll never know, and I'll just have to be thankful for that. Though it scares me.

As I sat trying to make sense of what happened - short version: guy was lost and decided to pull over to try to become un-lost and pulled over into me, sending me into a low asphalt curb which launched me over my handlebars and into the dirt - I saw many mentions on Twitter of something going on with the Stetina family, one of the "first families" of American cycling. Peter Stetina is currently one of the best and brightest American cyclists, taking after his father Dale Stetina. Dale was involved in a wreck on Saturday while riding the famous Lefthand Canyon in Boulder when he swerved to avoid a car.

Lefthand Canyon is an extremely popular route for cyclists, but it also has a bit of a reputation from what I gather for being a bit dangerous. I was riding a similar road, PCH (the Pacific Coast Highway), which is one of the most popular routes around here for cyclists, and definitely one of the most dangerous. I haven't ridden on the coast since April, when I rode there with a big group for the SRAM RED 22 launch. Before then, I couldn't even remember when. I got in my "big" accident coming back from PCH (albeit on one of the sections I did - and still do - consider "safe"), and I still get nervous riding around there. But it's been close to 100F every day this week, and it gets hotter the further inland you go - the way I normally ride, because there are no beaches, or tourists; it's mostly just citrus farms. But it's a long way until Kona, and I wasn't sure that cooking myself day after day was a good idea. And, at the very least, I do like riding by the ocean, especially when it's hot out. 

The sun was overhead, so no fear of glare. It was still early - it wasn't even noon yet, on a Sunday (albeit a long-weekend Sunday). I had my flashing lights on helmet. And I could always turn around if it got really busy. At first I thought I'd turn around before PCH, just riding down to Pt. Mugu base. But it was one of the days where it was just perfect. Perfect for everyone, which I guess is a sad sign that maybe it's not perfect for cyclists. The traffic at the beaches wasn't crazy, though. No close calls with car doors or people making crazy U-turns or anything that made me think it was time to head back home. At least, none until the one that actually happened.

Working against me, I ride alone. Groups are always easier to see, even if it's just two people. And I ride fast, which is not a statement about my own awesomeness but rather a reminder that I cover a lot of ground quickly - more quickly than most cars, even if they do see me, expect from a cyclist. And I like to ride in the aerobars (though I ride my road bike a lot), which both makes me smaller and also takes my hands away from the brakes. And, more than anything else, I'm a cyclist. Fundamentally, we're just harder to see. Motorcyclists have the adage, "straight pipes save lives," which is why (or at least part of why) you can hear a Harley coming before you can see it. But bikes are quiet. I think that's part of why we like them. You can hear the world. You can hear yourself think.

Do the steps I take to be visible outweigh the things that make me hidden? It seemed like they'd done okay. Though how do you prove a negative? I hadn't been hit again. But I also hadn't been hit until I was even without all the changes I made. I rode a lot of miles with headphones, without flashing lights, and without really thinking that I might come very close to being one of those ghost bikes I give a quiet salute to whenever I see one. But I trusted in the changes I made to keep me safe. It was a lot of how I got back on the road. 

But now I'm left wondering. I passed two other triathletes, who noted my flashing lights and said, "those are a really good idea." That was right before they watched the van hit me. Dale Stetina was riding with a big group. Dale wasn't on a TT bike in the aerobars. Dale saw the car and swerved to avoid it. I saw the car and did the best I could to avoid it. None of that mattered.

Nothing makes a difference if the driver isn't paying attention. Or is drunk. Or is angry at cyclists. Or...

So how do I get back on the road now? How do I ride and not be afraid? I don't know. I can make another rule like my rule about lights or headphones. I can say, "no riding on PCH." Or, "no PCH on the weekends." Or, "no TT bike on PCH on the weekends by myself." But every time we get on a bike, we are taking a risk. I think that being aware of that is the only thing that will keep us safe.

But why ride at all? The two triathletes - Nina & Dana - who were inspired by my lights stopped to help me after I got hit. (This time, the driver also stayed.) I rode with them to their car - at their insistence - so they could make sure I was okay. Nina kept me from doing the typical "denial in shock" thing where I say I'm fine and ride back home. Then Nina waited while Dana drove me and my bike to somewhere where another friend, coming back from his bike ride, could pick me up and take me home. Nina & Dana both knew who I was - most importantly, in my opinion - because of the work I do with World Bicycle Relief. They talked about how much they loved that I do my yearly fundraiser. (Blatant plug - it's going on right now...) 

So I guess that's why I'll keep riding. I'm sure it'll be hard to clip in that first time again. And I'm sure I'll avoid PCH for a good long while again. And I'm sure my heart will skip a few extra beats every time a car gets a little too close. And I might cry a few more times in the middle of the night when I think about how much I have to lose and how close I came. But I don't want to live in a bubble. And I don't want Quentin to live in a bubble. And I don't want the twins to live in a bubble. And I don't really think that any of us can live in a bubble. And a bike is about as far from a bubble as you can get. Sometimes it's too far, and I hope I never forget that comes with a price.

So keep your head up. Your eyes sharp. Watch our for yourself. Watch out for your fellow cyclists. And stay safe out there. 

Thanks for listening. Writing and sharing this helped me a lot. I hope maybe it helps some of you too.

And thank you again to Dana & Nina. You two are awesome.

And, lastly, all my best wishes to Dale and the entire Stetina family. 

33 comments:

John Young said...

So glad you are physically OK. Take some time, ride the trainer, and you'll be back in no time.

Taline said...

Glad you are safe. You are always in inspiration and continue to be even in your moments of doubt. Thank you for being outspoken on this and for making us think and be thankful for every safe ride.

Rich Cruse said...

Glad you are okay. Hope you heal soon.
Take care Rappstar!
Rich

khai said...

Thanks bro. Glad you hear you're safe.

George Myers said...

Glad your Ok. I 2 have twins. Came from very close to being hit on sat by a Harley. Recently survived Prostate Cancer. I refuse to live in a bubble. As cyclist we need to be extra extra careful out there. Thanks for posting, can never be 2 careful!

Michael Myette said...

Jordan, I think this is not spoken or written about enough. It seems like the only injuries most triathletes suffer are overuse running injuries, and catastrophic bike crash injuries. The amount of miles put in by competitive triathletes in training places us at risk. I don't know what the solution is beyond advocating for wider shoulders and bike lanes, though that wouldn't have helped in this case.... My coach and I argue about this, but much as I hate it, I train more than I'd like on bike trails and the trainer...

rappstar said...

@Michael Myette - I generally ride hillier routes (though not "mountains") because you can ride harder while going slower. Slower = more reaction time. I don't ride the trainer not because it's not safer, but because riding outside is the thing I like the best. I race so I can train. :D If I couldn't ride outside, I wouldn't be happy. I haven't ridden the trainer since I had to after my big wreck. It's not that it's not good. It's just that I ride a bike to be outside. I wouldn't want to give that up...

Anonymous said...

J, your tweet scared the crap out of me. Glad to hear you're ok (relatively speaking). -B.Money

Amanda Lovato said...

Yikes Jordan! I am so glad that you are ok..at least physically. Be well my friend! xo

Nina Jack said...

We are just so grateful that you were not injured more seriously and able to hopefully help in some small way. Your work with WBR, your amazing racing return after the 2010 accident, and your honesty, integrity and perspective on life and triathlon as a whole are a major inspiration to us all. Watching the car hit you was one of the most terrifying things we have ever seen in person and couldn't even begin to imagine what was going through your mind. Thank you for sharing not only the experience but also your emotions and thoughts throughout this whole horrible incident. We all need to be reminded of the risks we take everytime we are on the road, the safety measures we should be taking, and to stay proactive about our passions so that we can live them, not hide from them. Heal fast, looking forward to seeing you on the SoCal roads again under better circumstances, and kicking serious butt in Kona!

Nina Jack said...

Also, thank for you for your very kind words as well in your blog, we are very humbled and touched. Completely unnecessary, we can only hope that any other cyclist would stop and help as well.

bob atkins said...

Glad your safe. I have a fear of wet roads after taking 2 seperate slide out spills. Luckily nothing too bad but it's still in my head. Not sure how I would/will react should I get tangled in a car. Prayers to all cyclist safety.

Pete C. said...

Jordan, Thanks for the post and though I don't fly as fast as you, I too worry every-time I climb onto the bike as we travel the same roads...I too was cruising down the same roads heading down to PCH for a 3 1/2 hr on Saturday morning. Thanks for the post, be well and hope your season is going well! best regards, -Pete

kenpetruzzelli said...

Glad you're "okay." Maybe it's just me, but it seems like there have been a lot more car on bike accidents this summer, with Richie Cunningham just one prominent example. We have a right to be on the road and the vast majority of us ride safely. You take even further measures, riding with lights during the day. Other than supporting our local cycling advocacy organization and local politicians who support safe cycling, I don't know what more we, as cyclists/triathletes can do.

If we can see a positive here, it is a reminder that there are good people out there like Nina and Dana who will stop what they doing to help another person.

Kyle said...

Glad you are ok and had the ability to reflect on what it is that you go through to earn your living. It is a reminder that the more anyone rides, the more the risk of something bad happening increases. But this is also true of lots of things, including driving to work. But riding a bike, for some, seems "optional," or "frivolous," so the perceived risk seems higher. But, its what you do, and enjoy, so I'm hoping you get out there again soon. Do I ride different roads now than I used to looking for wider shoulders? yes. And I stay off some roads I used to like altogether. But, and not to sound overly glib, but I do believe it, a life not lived is not worth living.

Eran said...

Jordan- wishing you a speedy recovery and always be safe. Your idea on helmet lights will probably save few other triathletes from potential accidents, so thank you for that.

Gregwh said...

Thanks for the reminder - heal quickly and strong Rappstar. Sharing the road with cars is full of fear for me. I had a close call in 2010 when a 1/2 ton truck-trailer combination was passing and forced me off the road-during a sprint triathlon. I tend to stick to the dedicated bike paths with near zero traffic interaction. We have 3 of them in the Seattle area here. One is an old railroad grade and it is easy to get in 60 miles...and then there is mountain biking. Another trick I use is to find a small hill with no traffic and go up (20-30 seconds) and down it at an aerobic interval pace (perhaps 40-50 times for me). I frequently train on a heavy vintage steel frame so it keeps things slower (and safer) without reducing the effort level. (steel rims and 27 inch tires on one of them!) I imagine a world class athlete could reduce risk by making the bike heavy and training on bike paths some of the time. Best wishes.

brian said...

Glad to hear you aren't significantly injured. Have had way too many close calls this year and I cannot imagine the fear that goes with the accident. Have a speedy recovery Rappstar

thierry rouillard said...

I don't think car drivers realize how fast we are riding, and think they have plenty of time to pass us and turn, rather than wait.
Glad your Ok, don't let the fear get to you!

siskokidd said...

Thanks for the unfortunate tale. Glad you're ok brother from another bike shop. Where exactly on PCH did this happen, what direction were you going, and what color is your kit? One of my ongoing pet peeves is the clothing we sometimes wear looks more like camouflage at certain times of the day and choice of route. Not that we should be wearing neon safety vests (although that is an option), but something with bright bold contrasting colors does help. All black or white, pale blue or anything muted (I'm looking at you Radio Shack)to me does not catch the eye. Heal soon!

Lee GMann said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lee GMann said...

Maybe ride on your trainer if you can't cycle with a group?

voltron said...

I started using a mirror that clamps on my glasses since one of the people on a tour I was with was hit from behind. I don't scan with it as much as I should but it helps.

Anonymous said...

Sorry to hear about the accident but very glad you are ok!!! Hope you heal up quickly.

Ana said...

I don't do triathlon any more for this very reason. Running only for me now. Of course, I am nowhere near pro level like you. But you are extremely gifted, intelligent, educated, and creative. Maybe this is the Universe's way of telling you there is something else for you to do. You have infinite options.

sean.clancy said...

I *believe* texting/web surfing and driving is the reason for the increase in cars nailing cyclists.

Les Russell said...

Had my first bad spill last week, head to pavement at 22mph and did the "I am fine" ride home.. went out for an easy ride on the cyclox today on smooth trails, highly suggest getting back on the bike for the first few times with no cars around, got the confidence back without worrying about anything getting in the way- best of luck

Kevin Sheasgreen said...

Glad you are 'okay'. I know for me it took a long time to trust others on the road. But the only way too do it is getting back out there. One thing I've found, riding after work is too dangerous as driving are just to intent on getting home as quickly as possible. Take care and best of luck!

Gil Solomon said...

Same thing happened to me South of Topanga and I rarely ride PCH. Driver decided to check out the ocean view and pulled over suddenly- he saw the parking spot but he didn't see me. I braked and managed to stay upright. He was very apologetic, etc. but like your driver, not doing anything dangerous, just PCHitis - distracted by the view.
Maybe this is more dangerous than fast drivers who at least focused on getting to where they are going.
Since there is little space for any changes for these distracted drivers, any of us on a bike are toast. The drivers did not think we didn't have a right to be there - they were just doing what people do on PCH.
Bottom line as you said is that there are a lot of other places to ride that are safer so hoping you will not ride PCH on a weekend during the summer. I am also very careful about riding aero, not just because of the delay to the brakes but the slight instability that makes a rock in the road potentially lethal at speed. And there are plenty of rocks on the Santa Monica roads.

Senior Homer said...

glad you are alright. in all my years of living in Santa Monica/LA, I would never ride pch. way too much going on, way too much of a tourist highway, way too many distractions. sure it's hot further inland, especially in the SM Mountains, but it's better that the alternative.

Steve Fleck said...

Jordan,

Sorry to hear about this. I hope you heal fast and are able to get back on the bike and get at it, but I understand the hesitations.

Thanks as always for putting into words, as you eloquently do, the philosophical side to all of this.

Indeed, we don't want to live in a bubble.

Steve

sctrimom said...

Jordan,
You are such an inspiration! Your devotion to the sport, your family & friends is admirable. Keep fighting for safety on the roads for all. Heal quickly & 'go fast' in Kona.

We will be cheering for you and your ability to overcome here in Santa Clarita.
Gina
Santa Clarita Tri-Club

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for your report of your accident. I broke my elbow last week in a bike crash, grateful that is all that happened...surgery on Wed.Yes, I am afraid to get back in the saddle...your words will motivate me. Hi and love to Jill.
Mickie