I went to some length in the
last entry speculating about the
cause of the accident. Even without knowing what caused it (due
to continued post-trauma amnesia and no apparent witnesses) I
know there are some things that I did right before setting out
on that bike ride and some things I would have done differently,
Some of these points are relevant to any kind of outdoor activity, even
ones that appear to be as benign as my short bike ride on a
relatively non-technical dirt road.
Goodness knows, I've gone out on numerous more risky solo
adventures and came back just fine! My hope is that maybe something will click with
some readers that will make their next
activity safer. Thinking about it so much has certainly made
me more aware of safety issues.
WHAT I DID RIGHT
- I was familiar with the route I was taking, having run and ridden
South Mineral Creek Road numerous times since 2006. When I'm on a new
trail or route, I either take a map, written directions/landmarks, or
GPS coordinates with me so I don't get lost.
- I told Jim where I was going and how long I planned to be gone. I
underestimated my time, but at least I gave him a ball-park figure so
he'd know where to look for me if I didn't return.
- Jim and I both tested the bike before the ride to be sure the
problem I had the previous day with the gears/chain was fixed. Nothing
appeared amiss to either of us and the bike rode fine until the wreck.
Jim also filled the tires to the correct air pressure before I left.
Although it's an inexpensive bike, it is serviceable and the knobby
tires are fairly new.
- The weather was good outbound and remained good inbound even
though there was a storm farther east -- in my view on the return, but not a risk to me.
I wasn't concerned about a storm.
- I was dressed appropriately for the conditions and for cycling --
good bike shorts, shoes, and gloves; a bright neon yellow
short-sleeved shirt from one of my ultras for visibility; an approved helmet.
Unfortunately, the helmet is lost forever. It went clattering down the
rocky hill into the creek and floated away when folks at the scene
were giving Jim the bike, my glasses, etc. as he was leaving to follow
the ambulance to the hospital. Neither Jim nor another fella (Rick)
camped nearby were able to find the helmet.
Jim, circled, looks downstream
for my helmet the day after the crash.
Unfortunately, it didn't get hung
up in the beaver dam you can see in the center of the photo.
- I had an ID card with emergency information, my driver's license,
my medical insurance card, and my
CORSAR (Colorado Outdoor Recreation Search & Rescue)
card in a plastic bag in my fanny pack. I always take them with me
when I run, walk, or ride.
- My camera was secure in a padded case at my waist on the belt loop of my fanny
pack. The one time I took a photograph that day, I completely stopped the bike
and got off of it. That way I didn't put myself at risk of falling. The camera was not harmed later when I DID fall. (I've had it only a
few weeks, after dropping my last one in the mud farther down the
stream, taking photos of Hardrock runners crossing Mineral Creek near
the end of the race. I'm trying to be more careful with this one.)
- I have good medical coverage. This accident won't send us to the
poor house. I'd be an emotional wreck right now if I didn't have
decent insurance. Not having to worry about the bill will help the
- I was in excellent physical condition, which may have kept me
stabilized after the accident (e.g., low heart rate and moderate blood
pressure) and which should speed up my recovery.
- I rode conservatively (I thought), since I am not well-trained on
bumpy surfaces. I was definitely not trying to see how fast I could
WHAT I DID WRONG OR SHOULD HAVE DONE
- I underestimated the time it would take me to ride about nine
miles on that road and I had no way to let Jim know I'd be taking
- I should have taken my cell phone, even though there is no signal
beyond a mile or two from our campground. Someone could have gotten
Jim's number from the phone (he's listed as my first ICE number ("in
case of emergency"). Fortunately, I was able to give them his name and
phone number, even though I don't remember it.
- I wore my best glasses and sunglasses, which is unusual. I see
better in my newest pair but they are history now. The lenses are so
scratched that they have to be replaced. Unfortunately, I chose not to
get vision insurance this year so if I replace the glasses before
January, the cost is all ours.
- I may not have had my helmet strapped on tightly enough to prevent
it from shifting. I don't know that it DID shift, but that could
account for my sore head above my ear (may have landed on the edge of
- I have no idea what caused the wreck. It could have been that I
was going too fast for my skill level in those road conditions -- dry,
dusty dirt and gravel road with larger rocks and ruts here and there
and loose dirt/rocks all along the edge. I didn't think I was being
- I may have allowed myself to be distracted with something and lost
focus on the road. I'll never know if that was the case.
- It would have been safer to ride with someone else. Jim and I have just
one mountain bike and I didn't know anyone else to ride with.
- I'm not as experienced with Jim's bike and it does not fit me as
well as my road bike, which we left at our house in Virginia. I need
more experience on this bike or, better yet, my OWN mountain bike.
After what happened, I may never ride Jim's bike again. I am not
afraid to get on my own bike, however -- my Terry road bike or a new
trail bike that's all mine.
I'll try to keep all this in mind the next time I head out the
door for a walk, run, or bike ride.
I AM A LUCKY GAL
The more I think of all the things that could have happened to
me during this incident but DIDN'T, the luckier I feel. There
are lots worse things that could have occurred than the
injuries I did sustain:
- I could have gone down the long, rocky embankment into the creek
and either died or been paralyzed or so torn up I wished I were
- I could have run into a tree or vehicle.
- I could have been run over by a vehicle coming around the curve
where I wrecked; the road was narrow and I was several feet in from
- I could have broken more bones than rib(s); it's a wonder
my nose or left arm weren't broken.
- I could have knocked some teeth out.
- I could have seriously damaged my left eye. As important as my
eyes are to me, I can't think of
anything much worse than losing my vision.
- Jim could have been out of cell phone reach or out on a remote
trail, unable to be with me as fast as he was. I really appreciated
his presence at the scene (once I realized he was there) and in the
- All my injuries could have been worse; I could be in a coma right
now, but I'm alive and healing quickly and able to type this.
I am appreciative of all that Jim, the people who found me,
others at the scene who did something to help, the
EMS crew, and the hospital trauma team did to assess my
injuries, answer my questions, and treat me promptly. In
addition to profuse verbal thanks,
I have sent cards with letters to the Silverton ambulance crew,
the Swansons, and the Mercy Hospital ER staff.
Surprisingly, some other good things have come out of this
incident besides a reminder of how caring people can be. Most
bad situations, even emergencies, can be a source of something
- I've learned some valuable information about concussions, amnesia,
rib fractures, and wound care that might allow me to help someone else in
- I've been able to connect on a different level with friends who've
also suffered one or more of these injuries.
- I've learned something new about the state of my
60-year-old vertebrae. If the cervical spine CT hadn't been done, I wouldn't know about
some severe degenerative age-related spinal arthritis that I have. That's something
I need to address when we return to Roanoke in a few weeks.
- I've also
re-learned that I can be a tough cookie when the chips are down. I
have a lot of inner resources on which I can draw. I just hope they
continue to be there whenever I need them in the future. Life is full of
uncertainties, stress, and emergencies. This won't be the last crisis
I face in my lifetime.
MY LAST CONSCIOUS THOUGHTS BEFORE THE CRASH
At the present time I am totally fascinated with the topics of
post-traumatic amnesia; I'm reading as much about them as I
have the time.
This is the first time I've had amnesia and it's still there after
three days -- no memory whatsoever of what caused this wreck,
what occurred as I went down, or what happened in the next 20-30
minutes as passers-by stopped to see what was going on, as Jim
arrived and gave me an initial head-spine assessment, and as the EMTs arrived and did the same. I was responding appropriately
(apparently) to these people and others on scene but remember none of them except
Jim. As soon as I was placed on the stretcher and loaded into
the ambulance, everything is pretty clear to me.
That's freaky but fascinating. As I've mentioned, I'd like to
know what happened to cause the crash but I don't want to relive
the crash itself and the immediate aftermath before the shock wore
off and I became aware of pain. I have to be prepared for the possibility
that all this may return to my conscious memory, however.
Pretty scene along S. Mineral Creek Road
I do remember my last thoughts before I crashed and they sort of
make me wonder if I was tripping out on an endorphin high when I
lost control of the bike -- or worse, that maybe I'm a closet speed
My aerobic activity of choice is long-distance running, partly
because of the endorphins it produces to make me feel so good
and be happy. It also takes me to beautiful places that many
folks never get to see. Endurance walking and short bike rides
(because I'm not trained for long bike rides) just don't "do"
it for me, endorphin-wise. I don't get those same "feel good, no
pain" chemical responses with anything but running or fast
walking for several hours.
So I don't really seriously think I was tripping out
on a 40-minute bike ride, as much as I was enjoying it!
I was about eight miles into what was intended to be a nine-mile
ride when I crashed the bike. I went out and back from the
camper and was just over a mile from the end when I wrecked.
Outbound was net uphill, back was net downhill. I had to pedal
hard enough to reach the turnaround that I took a short break to
drink water and let my legs rest. I was looking forward to the
return because I knew I could easily pedal and coast all the
way. It would be my reward for working hard the first part of
The weather was great, despite the storm clouds in the distance.
I was directly under sunshine and a warm breeze. The scenery
along the road was as magnificent as always. I knew I was accelerating even
though I was coasting and not pedaling after passing the
campground where we used to camp:
Our previous campground is in the distance
where the little white RVs
show in the lower center of this photo.
I remember cutting my speed a bit.
I had both hands on the
brake levers, one for the front and one for the back. I remember
squeezing them gently but securely and in unison so I wouldn't brake too
fast. My last thoughts were about effortlessly flying through
this beautiful scene, almost as if I were floating on air. I
remember feeling very relaxed and happy to be alive and in this
At that moment, I may have literally been airborne. I'll probably
never know. I'm just glad it wasn't my last moment alive.
NOT FACE DOWN IN MY SOUP, PLEASE
One of the best quotes I've ever read was someone's comment on
the ultra running listserve a few years ago to the effect that,
given a choice, he'd rather die face down on the trail than face
down in his soup.
I laughed and related. This was a fellow athlete who shared my
passion for exploring the outdoors -- and his limits. It's not
that he had a death wish; he simply was bluntly stating
that he'd rather die doing something active that he loved than doing
something sedentary and ordinary.
I guess where I'm going with this is to say that I am grateful
that I didn't die on that bike ride -- I still have a ton of
living to do -- but I can only wish that when I do die,
it is with a smile on my face, a warm breeze in my hair,
surrounded by gorgeous scenery, and having the same last
conscious thoughts of floating through the air that I
experienced on Monday.
In a happy trail trance at Lake Tahoe
The only thing better would be if it all happened while I was
out running or walking on a trail, and not riding a stupid bike!
LIVE EACH DAY AS IF . . .
Jim and I have both thought a lot and talked about the fragility of life
this week. I've written before about the importance of
making every day count, because you never know when your life
may be snuffed out.
This accident has been quite stressful to Jim, too. He worries
more about me when I go off to run or ride than I've ever
worried about myself -- or him.
I have some concerns about his safety when he goes off alone to
run, but I don't worry about his safety. I know he's careful,
sensible, wise, and has alternative plans in case
something goes wrong. I think I do the same, but I've somehow
ended up in more outdoor trouble than he has the last few
I first realized how
much Jim fears for me while I was running/hiking the Appalachian
Trail four summers ago. In over 2,175 miles I had my share of falls, visits to
doctors, encounters with bears
and rattlesnakes, scary flooded river crossings, and dangerous
storms above treeline. The same things have happened on other
trails before and since. I think the more times I go out, the
more worried he is about me.
I am probably more of a risk-taker than Jim, although most of
the risky situations in which I've been involved have been
inadvertent. I don't think I'm a daredevil or speed demon, yet I
admit that some risky outdoor activities are an adrenaline rush.
likely than Jim to continue hiking up a mountain above treeline when a
storm is approaching, for example. The more times I've been
caught near lightning and not gotten hurt, the less it concerns
me. That's not the best way to stay alive and I know it, but
sometimes the goal of reaching the summit overtakes rational
Into the storm, or turn around and head for
the trees? 7-26-09
This has happened as recently as last week, when Jim, Bill
Heldenbrand, and I were hiking and running on Colorado Trail
Segment 25 between Molas Pass and Rolling Mountain Pass. This is
one of my very favorite trails in the Silverton area because it
is so beautiful -- and so runnable on the way back down to Molas
When we got above treeline on the way to Rolling Mountain
we could see storm clouds rolling in. I was really looking
forward to entering the mile-long "hanging gardens" at 12,000
feet and reaching the 12,500-foot pass another mile beyond that because I hadn't been up
there for two years. I also wanted to share it with Bill, who's
never been on this trail.
Bill was the first to say that he didn't feel it was safe to
continue toward the storm. But he followed us a little past the
spot in the photo above, to the rocky entrance to the wet,
lushly flowered area of the hanging gardens. As Jim and I
debated our options, Bill turned around. Jim soon followed suit.
I hate to admit this, but I probably would have keep moving
forward if I'd been alone. I was on a mission and might have
thrown caution to the wind. Instead, I turned and followed Jim
back down the trail. We got
into rain and sleet once down below treeline but at least we
weren't fried by lightning up in the high basins.
Decisions made, Jim and Bill head back down
the trail to safety.
In the same vein, I think riding a bike fast downhill is awfully fun. I just do
it with less abandon and more caution now that I'm 60 and the
figurative "end of the road" is closer than it was when I was
30. I'd really rather get
my adrenaline/endorphin highs from long, slow runs in
beautiful mountains than going fast on a bike.
When I was in my 30s and 40s
I used to ride down a steep paved hill at Stone Mountain Park
near Atlanta at speeds exceeding the limits of both the park
regulations and common sense. I knew it was dangerous, especially
with cars occasionally entering and exiting a parking area near
the bottom of the hill, but I often flew down that hill at 35-40
MPH. Although I always wore a well-fitting helmet, it
wouldn't have saved me if I'd run into one of those cars or over
the curb at that speed. The only thing that slowed me down was
an officer's very stern warning one day . . . and that mostly just
made me more aware of whether any cops were nearby to catch me
doing it again.
As I've aged I've become more risk-averse. I know I'm more
vulnerable to accidents at my age and recovery takes a lot
longer at 60 than it did at 30. I also feel much less
invincible with every passing year. One of these days my time's gonna be up and I want to have as many more new experiences as
possible before that occurs.
I really do want to live
to be a hundred years old, so I suppose I should "start acting
my age" to increase my chances of making it.
I have no clue if my bike crash three days ago was caused by too
much speed or other risk-taking behavior but those are two of the
possibilities. I'll probably never know. All I can do is try to
minimize as many risks as possible before and during future
rides, runs, and hikes -- without taking all the fun out of
them. I don't see myself making any significant changes in my
personality or lifestyle. I have too big a need for both
physical fitness and adventure.
And I'm not likely to "act my age" any time soon, either!
Next entry: an update on my recovery and beginning the
next "chapter" of our trip
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
and Cody the Ultra Lab
© 2009 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil