There were three missed calls and a bunch of messages on my phone. Whatever it meant, it wasn’t good.
The texts were from Whitney, from the future. Brest is eight hours ahead. I got as far as “I’m in the hospital” before my brain started reeling. All the calls and subsequent texts were from her: she’s alive, phew. Also, she had the dexterity to write coherent text messages: she still has all or most of her fingers. I spoke with her and quickly learned she was Franglish-ing her way through a foreign ER with a bleeding ankle wound. She, her bike, and the tracks of a tramway got into a scuffle. The tramway won by unanimous decision. The bike proved to be all right. She, the newly-minted bike commuter in a strange place where no one wanted to help her off the ground, didn’t fare so well.
Seven stitches and plenty of gesture-communication later she was discharged. They make a special Bordeaux wine blend that comes laced with vicodin and ibuprofen. Did I say “they”? I meant I do. I gave Whit the recipe and felt awful that I couldn’t be there to console her, or drink the wine and eat the cheese she was inevitably pity-eating.
This all came in the afternoon for me, as I was gearing up to go for a ride of my own with Clark Rachfal. He’s a blind paralympian, kind of a big deal. The way they do para-cycling for visually impaired people is the rider is paired up, on a tandem, with a sighted pilot. After years of riding with this guy Dave from Arizona, Clark was recently back on his own, searching for a new pilot in time to qualify for the Rio Paralympics in September 2016. He asked me if I was interested, and I thought, “Why the hell not?” So here he was, staying at my place in Boulder, on Day 2 of what we thought would be a fruitful mini-training-camp to get me acclimated to riding a tandem bicycle and get him acclimated to me as a person and for both of us to suss out whether we were any good together and should actually bother putting in the time and effort to try for Rio. The interesting thing about the whole idea of being a pilot for a visually impaired racer is that there’s a lot more to it than just riding a bike with the guy. Imagine riding a bike with your eyes closed. Jesus. Clearly there’s a lot of communication involved, not to mention the fact that at any race, or any time on the bike, really, he’s not going to be using his cane, so I’m effectively his eyes. It’s a team, and you definitely have to get along like one for everything to work.
[The first day had gone well. Starting and stopping is bizarre. The thing moves like a tank, and when I say that I mean it gets up a ridiculously fast top speed because two people are pedaling it. It’s also looooooong. Since we’re pedaling in unison, I can feel the bike sway a bit to the left, to the right, to the left as we get going. But truthfully, going slow is the hardest part. Once you get up to speed, the thing just goes. I feel like I’m a quick learner with most things, and even after one ride I was infinitely more comfortable riding the massive Tiemeyer beast than I had been when we first clicked into the pedals and almost crashed in the parking lot of my apartment.]
We ascended Highway 7, up South Saint Vrain Canyon, as you do when a Maryland flatlander is visiting and wants a taste of riding a bike at 10,000 feet, and we successfully made it up to Ward. I’d thrown out the possibility of racing up Mount Evans the next week, a 20+ mile climb from 7,000 feet up to 14,000. We figured this was good practice.
The idea was then to ride down Lefthand Canyon. About a mile into the descent, going over 30mph, the telltale ksss, ksss, ksss, ksss of a front tire puncture announced itself to the world, and in roughly the time it took for those four wheel revolutions’ sound waves to hit my ears and my instincts to begin rapidly braking, we were no longer riding on rubber, but directly on the rim. Needless to say, I didn’t keep the tandem up. I didn’t want to be outdone by my girlfriend, you know?
I had a bunch of road rash on my left side, several bruises on the shoulder and hip, and puncture wounds on my right hand and left wrist. It wasn’t until two nights ago that I could actually sleep on my left side again. Whereas mine probably looked more disgusting and had more blood, Clark’s was less superficial but more serious: he broke a piece of the process on the scapula, a non-surgical injury that just needs time and a sling to heal. He also had plenty of road rash. Instead of riding, we spent the next five days pity-eating and pity-drinking at various brewpubs around Boulder.
Whitney and I intend to stay together, duh, despite the fact that every time she crashes and gashes open her ankle she sends bad juju 4,657 miles across the Atlantic to make me crash, too; she intends to keep commuting 15 miles round-trip to work every day with Tazer, her Surly Cross-Check; and Clark is planning a Boulder return trip in September, wherein we crash zero times.