I fell

Posted May 1, 2011 in Cross-Canada 2011, Dear Diary

I crunched from 50 kilometres an hour to zero by means of asphalt.

Whoops, I started with the climax. I'll rewind. The story begins with a block of cheese.

It was Havarti and its price tag said $6.23. It called to me.

I'd spent hours rolling downhill into Penticton, at the southern tip of Lake Okanagan, and I marvelled that the town has a Whole Foods, an American healthy-supermarket chain. I loaded up with three flavours of trail mix and some chocolate-covered ginger pieces (all the benefits of chocolate, minus the guilt). And here was this cheese.

The problem with cheese—surely its only problem—is that it needs a refrigerator. I may some day decide to lug a propane-powered fridge on a trailer behind me the next time I climb the Rockies, but this time I only pack non-perishables. If I bought the cheese, I'd have to eat it the same day.

A scheme budded. What goes with cheese? A baguette, of course. It was noon. I resolved to bicycle all the way to Kelowna, the city halfway up the lake, and buy a baguette at whichever bakery Google suggested.

What a day. The sun was so warm I only needed shorts and two upper layers. A strong wind nudged me forward and the road along the lake was flat. I maintained a steady 40 kilometres per hour, visualizing a baguette.

By happenstance, I'd explained to my cousin that same week why it's so hard to run a marathon. A runner hits “the wall” when his or her muscles exhaust their glycogen, or energy stores. Once the glycogen is gone, the body converts carbohydrates into glycogen during the run. The body doesn't store many carbohydrates, so soon enough the body needs to convert fat. It can't burn fat quickly enough, so one's body feels as though it's about to shut down.

This is a problem for marathon runners, I'd said, but not for cyclists. Cyclists can eat and digest carbohydrates during their exercise, handily replenishing glycogen.

However, I wasn't eating. I was dreaming about a baguette.

About 15 kilometres out of Kelowna, I realized my mistake. I was on a highway, where one needs one's wits, and I made tiny mistakes—I hit a pebble I ought to have missed, and I geared up instead of down. I knew better. It's like when you answer wrong on Trivial Pursuit and you just knew that one!—except you actually did know it.

In short, I was lightheaded. I would have turned towards a campground, but my cheese needed a baguette. I shook my head, ate some carbs and ploughed onwards.

The bridge into Kelowna was about two kilometres away and I had to concentrate. The shoulder had an on-again, off-again relationship with the highway so I sometimes needed to scoot into rush-hour traffic. This is far easier at speed, and as the road followed a giant downhill I maintained 50 kilometres per hour with little effort. Cars were zooming by, and my main focus was on the threats that lay in my blind spot.

All of a sudden, construction.

There was a brand-new asphalt shoulder. It would have been glorious, but traffic pylons had fallen into it and a sign barred the path. I was forced to cut into traffic again. I'd been monitoring the lane and I knew I had plenty of space to maneuvre.

Then I saw the gap.

The builders had cleared away a layer before re-paving the shoulder. The road towered a sidewalk-height above the shoulder. I had no hope of climbing the gap.

But I was committed to dodging the road sign. I turned gently to the left and gave fate the reins.

My wheel didn't climb. I was tripping into the road. I swerved to the left in a last-ditch effort to regain balance. That vaulted me off the shoulder and into traffic.

My gear was too heavy and I was out of control. I veered to the right.

My pedals unclipped. I flew after my bicycle onto the shoulder.

Time didn't slow down, I wasn't acutely aware of every detail and I didn't black out. I just fell, as if I'd been waterskiing. I got up and brushed myself off.

The driver behind me saw it all, and she stopped in the middle of traffic to make sure I was alive. I tallied my legs, arms and head—all were where they ought to be—and I gave a wide-eyed thumbs-up, again as if I'd been waterskiing.

Blood dripped down one of my panniers and my legs were black from the asphalt and my bicycle chain. I had a couple of scrapes and bruises. A few layers came off the tip of my left pinky. That was all.

My bicycle and panniers were intact. The clothes I was wearing survived, too, though my long-sleeved undershirt needed a few stitches.

It didn't even hurt much, even after the adrenaline wore off.

I found a campground. The attendant let me stay for free and I doused my wounds in an enormous shower.

I also found a baguette. It and the Havarti were perfect.

As I jammed food into my mouth I thought back to the fall, trying to recall every detail. One made me laugh.

It was the traffic sign that had, along with fallen traffic pylons, blocked my path. I'd read it before the crash and it had confused the hell out of me. It had no arrows, so it must have been indicating the shoulder.

Do you know what it said?

“CYCLING LANE.”