The ways in which life chooses to teach us humility are myriad and unpredictable.
This is not exactly what I was thinking in the millisecond between recognition of impending catastrophe and actual collision with it. What I was thinking is not appropriate for newsprint.
Before that defining moment in my seasonal training plan, I had been careening down a mountain with a friend on a glorious stretch of autumnal bike trails. He has a decidedly big-brother kind of attitude, in the sense that he is encouraging and dangerous. In an effort to not disappoint, I let the throttle out and pedaled with the kind of childish glee and reckless abandon that leaves me with bugs stuck in my teeth and the occasional broken bone.
Some years back, I had a similar experience with my actual big brother, in Santa Cruz, California, testing a new bike and trying to look fast. I kissed some rocks and busted my legs up something fierce. Then there was the time I was riding with my dad in Baja and, carefree with the wind in my hair, crashed in front of a family of picnicking rancheros and bled all over the sand.
If I looked for a pattern in my propensity to crash, there are some constants: I’m on something wheeled and there is a boy around who I perceive to be better at the things. I seem to be determined to appear worthy of some unspoken club of coolness.
The perpetual little sister in me has something to prove. It has been going on since I began looking up to my big brother as an infant. This is associated with a memory of him putting me in a laundry basket and spinning me in circles. Thankfully, we didn’t have stairs.
Later, we transported ourselves to the school bus or egg deliveries or lake plunges on our BMX bikes. My memory is that every time I laid myself out on the road and came home a bloody, gravel-embedded mess, the cheers of my brother only heralded my speed and undaunted fearless pursuit of radical cycling feats. My pain was replaced with a swell of bravado.
At 45, nothing has changed. Only now he calls it “pushing the envelope.” His sage cycling advice is that we can’t really know if we’re finding our edge unless we go over it from time to time. He must have a better health coverage plan than mine.
None of that was in my mind as the Great Crash of 2023 was in progress. It happened so fast (I’d like to think this was because I was moving so fast) I did not even have time to contemplate the laws of physics that were in play. I launched over a boulder and some sort of slingshot, forward momentum, catapulting thing happened. My bike stopped midlift, thrusting my entire Scandinavian figure over the bars, through the air, and then slamming it down with immeasurable G-forces – WHAM! – against the ground. It was like Mother Nature was a WWF heavyweight and I was a rag doll rookie.
There might have been some sounds before the final crunch-skid-whomp, because various parts of my body made contact with various surfaces – mostly rock – before I actually thudded against the forest, no doubt causing seismologists of the Northwest to glance up from their games of solitaire. As I groaned and coughed up a pine needle or two, I heard the panicked voice of my companion, “Don’t move! Oh Jesus! Just stay still for a minute.”
It was too late. I had already rolled over, which is step one in determining whether I am still alive or if I even want to be.
If I could have spoken, I would have asked, “But did it look rad?”
In the moment though, I was still too injured of body to recognize how injured of pride I would be. It wasn’t until I stood up that I realized the cool breeze against the right half of my rear end was reliable data: A sizable (and essential) portion of my shorts was missing. This was now a PG-13 ride at the very least.
Humbled, bleeding from three of my limbs and gasping for air, I accepted my friend’s gracious offer and let him ride in front. I wasn’t sure if he couldn’t bear watching me crash or just couldn’t watch me bared.
Standard protocol had me warn the family about my impending arrival. I like them to know before I strut in bloody and broken. They prepped the first aid kit as I googled methods of self-suturing and tried to count how many ribs I’d cracked.
“When do you need her back?” my mechanic asked when I bought my bike in a few days later.
“No rush,” I said, “I’m on a no-crash diet for a while.” The longer he keeps my bike, the safer we all are.
Ammi Midstokke can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org