I learned the hard way yesterday. The lesson I learned showed me the Truth.
Pat, Tricia, Emma, and Jack came to Fort Wayne Saturday afternoon. Pat brought his bike. He and I went to Franke Park and rode the trails together. Well, we rode together in a manner of speaking. As usual, Pat makes friends quickly and met a young man on the trails named Scott Hope. Scott lived in South Bend (our home town) before coming to Fort Wayne. Scott offered to show us around, and we gladly took him up on the offer. Although I had ridden through some of the trails several weeks ago, they were still unfamiliar and confusing to me. Pat had not ridden in Franke Park for perhaps 12 years, so needed a guided tour to get him started.
The two young men rode the trails at about the same pace and carried on a lively conversation all the while. I, being older and wiser, took a much more sensible and cautious approach. I therefore fell behind the two younger men, trying to find my way though unfamiliar and somewhat tricky trails. Even though I was sensible and cautious, I fell over with my bike at least three times before undergoing my big lesson for the day. Twice I went down on my left side but suffered little more than consternation. Once I went down on the right side into a thick mass of foliage. More consternation, but also the fear of getting into the dreaded poison ivy. In each case, I failed to extricate myself from my clipless pedals before losing momentum and allowing physics to put me down.
After the third tumble, I had the distinct feeling that I didn’t belong there. I had entered a domain for which I had no password but had somehow slipped through Security. Having done so, I was now paying the penalty. I had no instructions, no flow chart, and no warranty. I was at the mercy of unknown protocols and unpublished canon. I was struggling through a Twilight Zone of an alien nature and I seemed doomed to suffer one misfortune after another.
Going uphill and rounding a sharp bend (or was it coming upon a narrow wooden bridge with flowing water beneath? or was it coming to a fork and not instantly knowing which way to go?) I suddenly lost momentum and at the same time attempted to make a quick decision about which way to attack or which fork to take. Before my mind took control, nature did, and down I went on my left side, feet locked securely in pedals and left arm held tightly to my left ribcage. I saw the large log clearly as I fell toward it, and braced myself as best I could. I hit the log with the outside of my left arm and my ribcage, in turn, crashed against the inside of my arm. I distinctly heard multiple crunching sounds in my chest as the force of the blow worked its way down my ribs from top to bottom. I grunted, then gasped for air, and thrashed my legs until my shoes broke free from the pedals. I lay on my back for perhaps 20 seconds before rolling over on my side and forcing myself to stand. I reached down and grasped the bike and felt a stabbing pain in my left side as I picked it up off the ground. I looked around to see if I was in the way of other riders, then walked the bike slowly off the main path and onto a lateral path. I knew I had been hurt worse that time than any of the other times I fell that day, and knew that the pain would get worse as the day wore on. I had had broken ribs before, but couldn’t remember ever hearing so many crunching sounds at one blow. The truth had been revealed to me. I am not a trail rider.
I debated which way to go, which trail to take, until I at last surmised that my best course of action was none at all. I stood my ground, holding my bike up and waiting for someone to come by. I waited for perhaps ten minutes, swatting mosquitoes and feeling the pain in my side spread to my back. I touched my ribs gently through my shirt, feeling for ridges or indentations that would offer some indication of the extent of my injury. Self diagnosis doesn’t usually work for me, and it didn’t work then. After a while, I thought I heard Pat’s voice across the woods. He was speaking to another biker.
“Hey man, have you seen an old guy riding an orange bike?” I didn’t hear the biker’s response. Pat told me later he said that he hadn’t seen me. But a minute later I could see Pat riding on a trail perhaps 300 feet away. I waved until he noticed me, then he and Scott came to where I stood. They asked me what happened and I told them. They helped me get my bike out of the woods. Pat and I pedaled back to the car. On the way back, Pat said, “Maybe you should stick to the roads.” I agreed. At the car, I took my helmet and gloves off and parked the bike. I told Pat to go ahead and finish his ride. He did so, and found Scott once again along the trail.
I have resolved to be more careful. I will treat my body with the respect a body of its age deserves even though it is my own. I will reduce the chance of damaging myself by carefully selecting my mode of exercise. I will limit the potential of impact according to the fragility and brittleness of my bones. I will always think before I act, and act as if I am thinking.
I think I might give the trails one more chance.