Thursday, November 5, 2009

Helmet Me

The summer had gone on too long with its triple-digit temperatures and weeks without rain. Clouds gathered in billowing piles around the periphery of the valley, but the heat dome growing from the endless pavement blazing in the sun them at bay. Nights in the nineties for weeks, and multiple days in the one hundred and teens. I still rode, usually at night, usually along the canal path, but the reluctant monsoon gnawed at my spirit with the heavy, still air, full of humidity but no rain to ease the heat. I rode anyway, but by late-August it seemed pointless, since the next six weeks appeared to offer more of the same. Possibly it would never rain again.

I went out that night accustomed to the heat and prepared to ride my miles without relief. The forecast called for a slight chance of thunderstorms like it had for weeks before, and would for weeks to come. Weather forecaster in the summer in Phoenix when the monsoon won't let loose has to be a terribly frustrating and fruitless job. More heat today. Slight chance of dust storms but probably no rain. Same tomorrow. Same next week. Blah blah blah. See you in October for something different.

Four miles into the ride along the canal and the wind kicked up suddenly. There was thunder, and some wicked lightning, and then the skies opened. It wasn't rain, it was liking standing under a broken shower head with the water turned on full blast. I kept riding because the sensation of flying along through the falling water washed the dusty heat fatigue right out of me. I could still see adequately because my HID headlight burned through the falling sheets. And I started laughing, silly, loud, maniacal laughter at the wonder of it, the perfect sensation of speed in a downpour on a summer night in the desert. Three cyclists passed in the opposite direction doing exactly the same as me. If it has lasted for hours I wouldn't have noticed the time because I was spinning in a zone without concern for such things.

The rain stopped eventually, and I headed back. My mind was as clear as the air after the storm. I decided to take it easy the rest of the ride home, no hurry, no race, no points to be gained or times to be beaten, just ride. It felt as if I was one of the few people outside anyway, that most sensible people were still indoors, safe/sound, peering out the window, wondering if it was over yet, while I was out there spinning easy. I came to the end of the canal trail and the start of the street, and saw it just a millisecond before I hit it: a steel trench cover plate in the road, slick with water, angled across the road. I was moving maybe 15mph when my tires rolled onto the steel plate, which was slick as ice. Without any warning or hesitation, my tires lost traction and I went down on my left side, hard, so fast I didn't know what was happening fully until my shoulder and arm were contacting the pavement. My helmet near my temple hit the pavement hard. The impact tore the watch off my wrist (although I didn't realize it), and various bits and pieces of my bike snapped and sheared off as I slid to a stop. I think my left foot might have stayed clipped in to the pedal simply because it had nowhere to go, while my right foot popped out, leaving me sprawled on the ground at a strange angle to the bike. The old steel mountain bike with skinny tires mounted proved its indestructability again, needing only a minor handlebar straightening and a few whacks to be carry me. I hobbled home, scrubbed the gravel out of my road rash, and realized my watch had torn off in the crash. I drove my car back, found the watch beside the road, next to my smashed taillight, and drove home again. The streets were still quiet after the storm. All the way back I replayed it over and over in my mind. It happened so fast. I couldn't do anything to change what happened once it started, and could have only avoided it by somehow knowing that the steel trench cover would be there, and would be slick as ice from the rain.

I looked over my helmet when I got home. The left side was dented and scraped where it had smacked into the ground and skidded along with the rest of me. While the bruise on my shoulder and the road rash down my left side hurt, I wasn't laying in the ER with a traumatic brain injury. The helmet did its job well. Wearing one worked for me, so I will continue to wear one. I can't tell you that you should, but I can say this: It was impossible for me to do anything to stop my head from slamming into the ground, and it happened before I even knew it. Moving along at an easy speed is fast enough, and sitting on a bike is high enough, to do serious damage just by going down. So helmet me. Get up. Go ride.

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