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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Riding on the Shoulder

Friday, September 5
Sumiswald to Madiswil Langenthal

FWUMP!!!! The reverie of the grand descent is shattered... the bike suddenly goes into an erratic wobble as I process the image of something in the road. Odd. My first impression is of the channels I have ridden over numerous times on the trip: steel-lined grooves running from shoulder to shoulder that can be traversed with little more than a soft bump, sort of like going over a very well laid out railroad crossing. What is it with this one? There really isn't a lot of time to sort it all out as, failing to regain control, the bike swerves sharply to the right, throwing me violently down onto the pavement. Landing on my left side, I start a long slide on the shoulder ~ MY shoulder ~ across the rough surface of the narrow road.

The harsh skkkrrritccch'ing sound of helmet on pavement adds a soundtrack to the surreal sequence of events that my conscious train of thought has yet to catch up with. When all of the skittering across tarmac finally comes to an end, I lay on the road, dazed and confused. My feet are no longer clipped into the pedals and the bike is down on the ground a few feet away. I'm thinking, "Nothing good is going to come from this." But maybe that's just me.

Looking back up the road, I see that the farmer here had run what was basically a fire hose from the house on one side of the road towards the barn on the other side. He had placed two wooden ramps over it so cars could go over without crushing it and it was one of these that I had hit head on, not seeing it until the moment of impact. Coming down the hill, I had concluded that the road was clear. I had not seen the small, generic warning triangle by the side of the road up from the turn. Nor had I seen the road SURFACE. So there I was in a post-crash heap on the side of a road in rural Switzerland.

Here are some of the things I remember from the next few minutes. Much of what happened is still pretty clear in my mind, but I'm fuzzy on the chronology:

I get up and look at my calf, finding a large, ugly abrasion. Same for my left knee and elbow. My left hip is very sore and from the condition of my shorts, I know there is a big patch of road rash there too. When I reach up to my left shoulder, I feel a protuberance which I am pretty sure wasn't there when I got dressed this morning. My jersey is torn and I can tell that there is another abrasion. The injuries, or maybe more to the point, the thoughts of the injuries, give rise to a sort of deep-down sick feeling so I lower myself back to the gravel on the side of the road.

As I get back to the ground, Ruppert comes down the hill, followed closely by Bob. They have descended more slowly and apparently more alertly than I had. And of course my bike lying in the road with me sitting next to it raised a warning sign or two. They either stopped before getting to the hose or made it over it at low speed. I'm not sure. As Ruppert came over to me, Bob had the presence of mind to turn around and shout back up the hill, "BILL! SLOW DOWN! SLOW DOWN NOW! JACK'S DOWN! SLOW DOWN!"

Bill, Bob and Ruppert are soon in front of me, asking questions such as, "What is your name?," and "Where are you?" As challenging as these questions are, I get the answers right and we all relax a little. Ruppert gets on the phone, trying to reach Laurenz. Bill retreives my helmet (not sure when I took it off) and after looking at it, comes back quickly and starts to poke around on the back of my head, asking about how I feel and if there is any pain. My helmet, it turns out, is cracked, the plastic shell is eroded to paper-thinnesss at one spot and the foam on the left side is crushed. It did its job as not only was my head not injured, I didn't even know I had banged it on the pavement, which clearly I had.

Ruppert reaches Laurenz who is almost to Basel on a run to pick up the bike boxes for those leaving the tour tomorrow. It will be hours before he can get back. We will have to deal with this without his help. I stand up once again and Bill fashions a splint / sling thingy from two pair of tights. Orthopaedic trauma is not his specialty, but he does a well above average job and the support and protection offered by this makeshift rig provide some relief. Checking my shoulder, he figures out right away that I have broken my clavicle, a.k.a. collar bone and, in German, Schlusselbein. When he is done, I get back down on the ground, this time on my knees, my head resting on the rocky ground.

The farmer has appeared and is talking with Ruppert and Bob (Ruppert translating, I'm sure). Then the farmer's wife joins the growing crowd in the road. I ask Ruppert to tell the couple that the accident was my fault. At some point, Bill reports that the wife has suggested she take me into the next small town to the local doctor. We discuss the logistics of this. Bob says to leave the bike on the side of the road. He'll mark the location on his GPS and will be able to guide Laurenz to it when he gets back to the area. My first reaction is reluctance to accept this idea, although I have no idea what else to do. As the discussion rolls on, Bill hears the word hospital (Spital) and jumps in and says to Ruppert, "Yes. The hospital. Tell them that we really should get to a hospital." Or something reasonably akin this.

The hospital is in Langenthal, about 15 miles away and the farmer's wife says she will take me in their car. Bill says he'll ride there on his bike, but it turns out that the car is big enough for Bill and me AND the bikes. So I get into the front seat under a nice, warm quilt graciously provided by the wife (which I bloody thanks to the injuries on my leg and elbow) and Bill climbs into the back seat. Deja vu. Only the chicken is missing (private joke). Ruppert will let Laurenz know where we are and we pull away, leaving him and Bob to continue on with their ride.

So I'm off to finish the tour in a most unexpected way. To be continued...


Anonymous said...

And you weren't even playing chicken on the road! How terrible - the fall, not the lame playing chicken joke. Actually, the joke WAS terrible. And a terrible way to end what was a beautiful trip, at least by the photos, account, and food!

Jack said...

Terrible joke? Yes, I've heard better!

Terrible fall? Just a fall. Only terrible if I let it be.

End of a beautiful trip? Yep. But it was going to end anyway. But the memories continue...