Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Bloody Birthdays

Not my birthday. Today is the Marine Corp Birthday. November 10, 1775. She is 235 years old. Having been out for more than 10 years now, I still remember this day as it comes around. It was always a huge celebration complete with formal ball and drunken debauchery. I have another reason to remember this date every year as well. It is the anniversary of one of my bike accidents. Two years ago I was headed home from work and got t-boned in an intersection less than ¼ a mile from the house.

I hesitate to tell this story and make cycling seem much more dangerous than it really is. I'm an aggressive all season rider, and like everything in my life, probably make it more risky than it should be. I wouldn't suggest riding in thunder storms and blizzards for anyone that hadn't spent a significant amount of time in the elements. But I think if you ride on normal days, with visibility in mind and as the law suggests, you are relatively safe out there. The health benefits greatly outweigh any danger you might face. So having said all that, here is the bike accident story.

In defense of the older woman who hit me, it was dark and raining. However, I was riding with a headlight, flashing taillights, and day-glow orange jacket that had reflective stripes. It’s much cooler looking than it actually sounds. She hit me directly under a street lamp in front of an elementary school. Not to mention the street is one of Springfield’s designated bike routes and is well lit. But overall, I think I fared pretty well in the accident. At least as well as you can when bouncing off the front end of a moving vehicle on a cold, dark, rainy night.

The sun had been down for less than 30 minutes but it seemed unusually dark due to the rain clouds that had been dumping all afternoon. It was around 40 degrees and my fingers and toes were feeling the chill of the cold rain. I had made it all the way across town in the height of evening rush hour without any trouble whatsoever. Usually, I start to relax a little as I enter our street. After passing through that last large high speed intersection that often has accidents blocking it. For the most part, my road is wide and there is plenty of room to share even with cars passing in both directions.

Despite having made it through the many other, what I have always considered, more dangerous places of the commute, my wide safe designated street would be the location of the accident. It was a T intersection on my right side, where I have the right of way, and a car was waiting at a stop sign for me to pass. Or so I thought. As I passed in front of the car it went!

I saw her bumper lurching towards me and tried to steer away from the front of her car. I could tell I wasn’t going to make it and leaned toward the hood thinking I might make it on top and escape going underneath her wheels. This clever plan may have worked had my feet not been strapped into the pedals. When the bumper made contact with my right leg and the front fork of the bike, I was instantly knocked sideways away from the car. My first impact was either my left cheek and nose, or my left hand still wrapped around the bars. I couldn’t tell which hit first but they were both hurting pretty badly.

Luckily, she stopped immediately and didn’t drive over me as I was lying directly in the path of her car. She hopped out and I jumped up. I tend to do this after going down hard. It’s probably not the best habit as one day I may be really broken and do more damage by standing up immediately. She was profusely apologizing and I told her I was fine. I mean, beside the fact my head was spinning a bit and there was blood around my left eye and flowing from my mouth and also my right thigh was aching pretty bad. One of my teeth was broken and it had put a really nasty cut on the inside of my lip. But as bad as all that sounds, I remember thinking I was fairly fortunate for not being worse.

I was impressed with the City’s rapid, yet obscenely excessive, response. In what seemed a very short time, 2 cop cars, a fire engine and an ambulance had shown up to render aid. Even though I was up and walking around, I left my bike lying in the middle of the road with its lights flashing. The first officer to the scene carried it off the road and directed me to the ambulance while he began taking statements. After the paramedics had looked me over, I declined a ride in the ambulance as I was pretty sure I would be fine. Sara would disagree with my diagnosis later. The police officer interviewed me and after I repeatedly assured him I was good to go, he let me leave.

A friend had happened upon the scene and recognized me standing on the side of the road. He gave me and the mangled bike a ride home. I had planned on just walking it as it was only a ¼ of a mile to the house. I cleaned up and then Sara picked me up and took me to gymnastics to watch the end of Jakob’s practice. As we sat talking about it and what I was feeling, reluctantly, Sara convinced me to go to the emergency room to be checked out. We waited until practice was over and the 3 of us headed to the hospital. I had a large bruise on my right thigh where I had impacted the car. I broke my nose. I broke a tooth that cut a large hole in my lip, and had multiple chunks of skin missing. It really wasn’t that bad. The doctor couldn’t do anything really but clean the scrapes and recommend pain killers.

The next day I went ahead and went to work. I did drive that first day however. 2 days later I was riding my bike to work again, though much slower than normal. Luckily I have more than 1 bike. Aside from the nose surgery a couple months later that forced a couple weeks of rest, everything else healed on its own over the next 6 months or so. My nose is now better than before and I don’t have any problems from the other injuries.

The woman admitted fault and I was fortunately in complete compliance with the law for riding at night with more light and reflectivity than is actually required. If she had carefully looked, she should have seen me. Because of this, her insurance was willing to cover my medical expenses and replace my totaled bike. Even though she was legally at fault, I believe for the most part, we all play a part in any accident we are involved in. I learned 2 valuable lessons in this 1. First, just because you have the right of way does not mean everyone will give it to you. And second, more lights are better than less. Trust me, they are not expecting you to be there. I am now hyper aware of this and use much greater caution approaching intersections, always looking for an escape route should a vehicle decide not to wait.

One other thing I found interesting about this accident is that it occurred at an intersection that had my name on it. It's like that expression, somewhere out there is a bullet with my name on it. I mean literally, this intersection has a sign with my name on it.

Week of November 1 - 0 bike, 0 run

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