Today's blog post is by William Watts, an IndyCog contributor.
About a week ago, I was riding to dinner at the new Marriott hotel downtown. I never arrived.
Instead, the first thing I knew, I was in the emergency room at Wishard Hospital, about two miles from my destination. It turned out that I had been there for three hours, and had no idea how I had gotten there.
I still don't know. The best guess is that I hit some wet train tracks and had my front wheel slide out from under me, throwing me to the ground. I had suffered a concussion, and an ambulance had taken me and my bicycle to the hospital. My son and my wife had been talking to me during those lost three hours. They
said that I had no memory of the most basic facts of my life for the past six months. I did not remember the party I had gone to the night before, or where I had gone on vacation over the summer. I also didn't remember the results of the election, which I had followed closely the month before. They say that I was very glad to learn that Barack Obama had been re-elected.
In the week that has passed since the accident, I have regained most of my memory. I still have not, however, regained strength in my left leg, and I walk with a cane and pronounced limp. I've only been on one bike ride since my fall, and it proved very painful. When I got home from that one ride, I was too sore to dismount, and my wife had to bring a step stool out and help me off.
I'm taking it more slowly now, trying to nurture my fragile recovery.
During this period of forced retirement, I have been thinking about the safety of cyclists, and the risks we take when riding. This line of thinking was sparked when a friend heard about my fall and said, "boy, Bill sure has bad luck on his bike." A second friend corrected her, saying, "no, Bill has had good luck, given how much he rides. He is on that bike all the time."
I tend to agree with the second friend, but it's a tough argument to make. For I have had four accidents in the past dozen years that have landed me in the hospital. In the first accident, I was riding home from work in January of 2001. It was dark and a little icy, and I did not notice that a sizeable tree had fallen across the canal towpath until I was on top of it. I flipped over the tree and broke my elbow. A surgeon put my elbow back together with screws and a plate, and I was in a cast for about a month.
My second accident occurred about seven years later, again on the canal trail. I was crossing Meridian St. when a car turned right on red without looking, and plowed into me as I was in the crosswalk. I broke my tibia, and, again, a surgeon put me back together with pins and a plate. I was back on my bike in about a month.
Then, a year later, I was riding home from a trip to Louisville, Kentucky. Just as I was about to cross the river, a motorist crossed over into my lane instead of turning left, and hit me. I didn't break any bones this time, but had to go the emergency room to be checked out. I was sore for the better part of a month.
And now, once again, I am off of my bike, hoping that I will not have to serve my usual month of penance.
I often hear people say that they would ride if it weren't so dangerous. And my record of accident would seem to confirm their good sense. Even so, I agree with my second friend, who says that I have been lucky given how much a cycle. For I travel everywhere by bicycle--to work, to the grocery store, and to restaurants-and I have done so all of my life. In the past dozen years, I have taken up long-distance touring, with the result that I sometimes ride 8,000 miles a year.
Given the frequency of my rides and the distance I cover, four accidents in twelve years doesn't seem so bad. Moreover, we need always to remember that all of the various ways in which we move around in the world carry risks. Encasing ourselves in tons of metal in ever-larger vehicles does not make us safe. The thirty to forty thousand motorists who die each year on our highways make this stark reality quite clear.
The difference, of course, is that the cyclist is more obviously vulnerable than the motorist, and will lose in any direct showdown with a motorized vehicle. Those of us who ride every day know that our number will come up one day. We just hope that it won't be too bad, and that we can return to our bicycles as soon as the bones heal and the muscles come back to form.
But even if I thought that cars were absolutely safe, I would not change my habits one wit. There is no pleasure like riding around in the open air, and getting from one place to the next by your own efforts. I can't give that up.
And so, I sit here, popping Ibuprofens and thinking about when I will be able to return my cane to its closet, and when I might need it again. But, most of all, I think about where I will go on my next ride.