Bike Life Adventures: Healing From Trauma

This post is going to have some crude language and will be quite descriptive at times. If you are sensitive to reading about bike accidents or dislike colorful language, you have been warned.

To be perfectly honest I'm still in shock over what happened on Sunday night and really, it's kinda like when my dad died. It felt surreal. It had to be a dream. No way am I actually in reality. However, the aches and pains I'm feeling while I sit here and write this tell me otherwise.

Sunday was one of those crap days where multiple things happened during the day that really tried my personal patience.

Thankfully, Travis and I were able to remedy a minor problem in enough time that I was able to go out for a mountain bike ride. Usually, we don't talk about where I'm going to ride, but we ended up conversing about the start point: Palisades Park. I had a section in mind that I wanted to revisit that I bumbled on a couple weeks ago (resulting in falling off the side of the trail into a gully) and majorly busting my pride.

I wanted to go back and prove to myself that I could ride that spot because I have in the past, so why is it different now? I got dressed, grabbed my bike, and rolled out. I also had a mission of trying different angles with my handlebar-mounted GoPro Max 360 camera. 

I made my way to Dead Pet, entering the trail from the gravel road, and gingerly started climbing my way up. It was wet, and a few spots were sloppy because of natural springs. I made my way to the dip that has decided to play tricks with my mind. As you come up to it, you're rolling over roots (which can easily trip you up) and as you ride down into the dip, there are more roots that can trip you up. I didn't think about how wet my tires were, nor that the humidity would be making everything greasy. For some reason, I downplayed all of that in my head. My first attempt was thwarted by nerves, so I walked my bike back to a good starting point.

What kept playing in my head was something that I learned at a mountain bike clinic a few years back. "Red Light. Yellow Light. Green Light." How was I feeling? I honestly kept feeling "Red. Red. RED!" but my ego told me "You can do it, damnit. Stop freaking out over NOTHING."

I started towards the dip, making it over the roots at the top, but then things got hairy on the way down. I know I had gotten off balance with my rear wheel wanting to slide out. I could see from the footage that I had my left foot out on the hillside to help keep me stable as I gingerly made my way down the hill. My plan was to make it to the bottom of the dip, get off my bike, and walk up the hill as I had discovered I had zero confidence in me to try and push through my red light moment. Looking back at the footage, I was basically at the bottom of the dip, but somehow I ended up losing my balance and fell to the right. 

The right is the gully side. I already fell down into the gully a couple weeks ago and it scared me shitless because I couldn't see what was coming. This was no different. Especially since I saw and felt the earth give way under my right foot. I don't know what was running through my mind at the moment, other than "Oh shit. Oh SHIT. OH SHIT."

This time, my fall was different. I wasn't just hitting my helmet on rocks, but I felt a stick hit my neck. It hurt, but it was more of a dull hurt than a sharp hurt. As I got up, I started shaking and decided I was absolutely done trying to ride that section. I worked to catch my breath and assess my bike. I looked over and saw my GoPro Max nesting in a pile of rocks, and was absolutely shocked to see that it wasn't broken. Holy crap. The lenses weren't even scratched.
I worked quickly to gently pack it up in my hip pack and work on hoisting my bike back up onto the trail. What sucks is that you can't get the idea of how steep it is, and lifting a 38-pound bike up isn't necessarily the easiest, most graceful display when you're fighting for traction on damp rocks and mosquitos are swarming you.

I rode ahead on the trail little way, hoping to get rid of the mosquitos trying to eat me alive and apply more spray and Eucalyptus oil. My neck felt stingy, so I did the most logical thing possible and whipped out my phone to take a selfie. Blood?! What the hell? I wasn't full-on bleeding, but I had a good bit of blood on my neck. I tried to take 2 pictures to see what the damage was and deduced it was a scratch. Figures. The neck is pretty thin skin.
I continued on, but felt completely self-conscious and was also in total flight mode. I wanted to get the heck out of Palisades, but I also didn't want to run into anyone. I looked like hell. I felt like an animal stuck in a live trap. I came across a downed tree in my way on Dead Pet, so I turned around to ride back to an intersection where I could ride a different section of Dead Pet to the top. I rode up Middle Palisades, Upper Palisades, Lee's Loop, and made my way down Smeby's. It was right when I was close to crossing a gully to head down their yard, I saw a group of folks walking the same trail. I absolutely did not want them to see me. I didn't want to freak kids out, either. So I did the most logical thing I could and that was to turn back around and ride up Smeby's. 

Locals would know that it's an extremely challenging climb, and it's gotten worse over the years. Adrenaline was high, as indicated by my standing up and cranking up the hill like it was nothing. (It is not a hill that I climb while standing up the entire time, absolutely no way. I spin up that sucker. This was not typical Josie. This was Super Power Josie.)

I rode down the blacktop and made my way home. I wanted to get home, wash up, and go ride Pines because I wanted something familiar, beautiful, and safe. I was completely feeling out of my element and when that happens, the best thing for me is to find something mellow.

I threw my bike into our bike rack and bolted inside straight to the bathroom. I grabbed a washcloth and really looked. Oh. Shit. It wasn't just a scratch. It wasn't just a scrape. I basically had gouge marks in my neck. I looked closely and could see my pulse pulsating. I started to feel nauseous. I was for lack of better words, pretty fucked.
I called a friend. Then I called Travis. I knew that Travis would not be happy, because who would be happy hearing that their loved one had a ridiculously stupid accident that put holes in their neck? My friend called me back after I had gotten off the phone with Travis. I felt a bit of relief hearing a familiar voice. She said she'd come over to take a look. I was a swirling pile of embarrassment laced with the feeling of wanting to simultaneously barf and shit. I'm not sure if that's a side effect of losing the adrenaline rush or simply the fact that my anxiety had shot through the roof or both.

All I could do was sit on the bathroom floor, lean against the vanity, and swim in shock. What the fuck happened? 

Our friend came and confirmed that this was definitely something to go to the E.R. for. I would need some sort of stitches, either actual stitches or maybe those neat strips. She also said I was extremely lucky because both wounds were close to my carotid artery and my jugular. Literally, I cheated a. death or b. a more serious trip to the E.R. I heard what she said, but it didn't really register with me at that moment.

I felt extremely sheepish going into the E.R.
Of course, I still felt barfy.
I also knew needles would be involved and I absolutely hate needles.
Because of COVID I also had to go in solo, so moral support came from text messages and a cute video that Travis and our friend sent. 
The cleaning of the wound felt weird. When the Dr. washed it out by shooting water into the crevices it felt uncomfortable. When I got the numbing shots...that sucked. I whimpered. I hate whimpering. I apologized. It was so strange to feel but not feel myself getting stitched up. The last time I had stitches I was super concussed so I don't remember anything.

Eventually, I was stitched up and done, but then the blow of having to get a tetanus shot had me almost shaking. Really I think the shock was wearing off, but good gravy, I did not want to feel another poke. I was done being poked. I had to get poked. It sucked.

Supper was a can of beer.
I can't tell you how much I cried. I was blubbering before my shower, in the shower, and out of the shower. I used so many tissues. 

I kept trying to replay what happened, but I wasn't sure what happened. My confidence and pride in mountain biking were virtually shattered. I also knew that it was a freak accident that I hadn't even heard of happening, and I vowed to get back on the bike as soon as possible. (Of course within a reasonable healing time.)

I couldn't sleep well Sunday night. I laid in bed and kept replaying what I knew I saw and how surprisingly lucky I was. I was quite uncomfortable. 

The next day I looked at my GoPro Max footage and I'll say that it was extremely valuable in helping me see what happened. I didn't just happen to roll down the hill and have a stick come up and poke me, but I landed on a branch on a larger tree limb. 

I was also able to see that I had basically gotten myself down to the bottom but lost my balance and that's why I fell. 

I also saw that it seemed more like my back tire had slid out rather than my front. 

Either way, we'll be changing tires on Dirty Gertie at some point. I'm also keeping my vow of not riding that spot any time soon because I just have zero desire to put myself in an uncomfortable position.

As part of my coping, I did go out and find the stick that tried to off me. I think partly because I have a chunk of the tree that killed my dad, so I might as well have the bit that tried to do me in. Mentally, the fact that I was almost either seriously injured or possibly killed by a tree does freak me out. It feels very weird. It's also a reminder that regardless if it's dead or alive, nature is powerful in many ways.

I feel like I took a LOT for granted over these years. This is a solid slap in the face that is more eye-opening than losing a parent. I'm going to be more proactive in making sure that my friends/Travis know more where I'm riding. I'm not going to take my ability to mountain bike for granted. I'm also going to better listen to my gut...when it says no, just leave it be.

I'll be getting my "neck whiskers" out on Monday and that is when I'll feel comfortable actually going out and mountain biking again. I'll be taking a break and riding McNasty for a while, too, to basically ease into the experience again. You know what? I'm feeling excited to ride that bike again. I'm just happy that I'll be able to ride again. Period.
Now for my words of wisdom that I shared on Instagram that everyone should think about., especially since COVID has some of us recreating solo more than ever.

1. This is the most freak accident I have known and it could have been way, way worse. Somehow it wasn't. I either have 9 lives, my dad watching out for me, or I am a GD unicorn.

2. If you are attempting to ride something that makes you at all uncomfortable, so much so that you feel it's a "red light"...trying to push past that will likely NOT work. Do NOT force yourself to ride something "just because you can" if you are NOT feeling it. For the love of everything. Walk. It.

3. Adrenaline kicked in. I assumed from what I saw in my phone "'Tis but a scratch." Not really. I was too afraid to ride back the way I came and I was thinking that I was afraid people would see me. So I continued riding to get back to the road as little-seen as possible. I am positive if I had been bleeding freely I would have done it differently. However, what I did was not at all smart. Stop. Assess. Do not continue riding or at least do not extend your ride. Holy crap. Just don't do what I did.

I went home thinking I would clean up and go back out. I wasn't anticipating a trip to the E.R.

4. ANY outdoor activity poses some sort of risk. You can trip on a root while hiking, roll your ankle on a leaf-covered nut while trail running, or slip out on a root while biking. I am not going to stop mountain biking because of this accident. This is the first mountain biking accident since I started mountain biking in 2014 that was not typical. I may definitely choose to not ride that spot ever again, and I am a-ok with that.

5. Wear a helmet. (To add to this, if anyone dare says to me "but it didn't save your neck!" I say that it definitely helped me avoid having a serious head injury, like a serious concussion. Helmet. Helmet. Helmet.)

6. If you mountain bike solo, know that there is even more risk. I have mountain biked solo most of the time and this is definitely an eye-opener. Take extra precautions. Let multiple people know where you are going. Get an ANGi sensor or something. If you do any sort of outdoor activity solo, make sure people know. Maybe go so far as to do a check-in text to a friend a couple of times if you don't want tracking. Your loved ones will appreciate your recreating safely.