Part III – Bodies… just bodies flying everywhere.
So, it’s still Memorial Day weekend, 2017, and the team is gathered in historic
Charleston, SC to familiarize everyone with the plans, strategy, and to
continue working on skill building for the drivers of the follow vehicles and
A decision is made that, since we're all cyclists, of course we should go for a
bicycle tour of Charleston breweries. Now, before I delve into the details of
this ride, I must preface that absolutely no one in our group was allowed to
ride while drunk/inebriated; in point of fact, we took great care to limit how
many beers were consumed and making certain everyone was sufficiently hydrated
with water due to the unusual heat of the day for that time of year. Cycling
and beer go hand in hand but must be done responsibly.
For those unfamiliar with Charleston, SC; the city is divided between Charleston
proper on one side and Mt. Pleasant on the other side of the Cooper and Wando
rivers. This chasm of water is conquered by crossing the magnificent
engineering structure called the Arthur J. Ravenel Bridge.
The bridge is outfitted with a Multi-Use Path on one side for use by bicycles
and pedestrians. It has drastically opened access to downtown Charleston and
Mt. Pleasant for thousands of people, and now allows cyclists additional route
Now, Charleston is a coastal city and,
as such, has near zero elevation change for hundreds of square miles in any
direction so, when a massive bridge like the AJR is built; it becomes the
defacto location for anyone needing "hill" training. The bridge spans
a total of 2.1 miles and climbing from the Charleston side takes up 1.4 miles
of that at an easily paced average grade of 2%, however; climbing from the Mt.
Pleasant side is a more grueling 0.7 miles at an average grade of nearly 5%...
remember this for later, as it will be essential to the unbridled chaos that
Our tour group was augmented by some local friends of
one of the racers and another couple in from somewhere else was loaned a tandem,
owned by one of the racers. These two were proficient solo cyclists but didn’t
have much in the way of experience on a tandem. Our merry band of misfits had successfully
navigated to four breweries in three hours and we were heading back to Mt.
Pleasant when Murphy decided to intervene and threw a grenade into the fray.
I’m feeling froggy, so I jumped on the wheel of one
of the racers and we hustled each other across the span of the bridge in record
time. As we neared the end of the span, there’s about 60 meters of path before
you have to make a u-turn to continue under the bridge to get to the other
side. If you’re unfamiliar with the area, this will sneak up on you and many
accidents have happened there due to cyclists underestimating their speed and
Our group was not immune, as we would soon learn…
Our female racer was third off the bridge and slowed to make the turn while me
and the other guy were chatting and trying to catch photos of everyone. The
couple on the tandem were really hauling down the path off the bridge and were
not slowing nearly enough to make the turn… on top of that, their speed and
course were not adjusting to avoid collision. Before anyone’s brain could
connect what was about to occur, the tandem collided with our female racer and
literally punted her and her bike another 20 meters to the grass at the end of
the path. It was one of those moments that crystallize in one’s memory, seared
in as only a tragedy of such magnitude can. As the rest of our group filtered
in from the bridge, I was running toward the tandem while the other racer ran
toward the female that was hit.
I wish I could articulate what the body and mind
goes through in the next few moments after witnessing such an event. It’s as if
time itself slows, the center of the scene becomes clearer as the fringes of
the periphery go out of focus and your mind’s eye prioritizes your next move before
you even realize it. If you’re trained in First Aid/First Response, what
happens next is almost reactionary from muscle memory. You instinctively move
toward the chaos to assess the damage and begin the process of damage control.
Basically, with bodily injury; don’t allow the injured person worsen their
situation. Their body is filled with adrenaline and endorphins that are
responding to numb any pain, and they are fully in fight or flight mode.
Injured humans will do stupid things that would not make rational sense to
The stoker (rear rider) from the tandem took the
brunt of the hit as she was thrown forward in the collision and made direct
contact with the female racer. The stoker’s elbow was shattered, she had a mild
concussion, and labored breathing, but coherent and aware of the situation. We
got her stabilized and her arm immobilized when I checked on the female racer.
This is where the situation settled like a pit in my stomach. As soon as I saw
her sitting on the grass, holding her left arm up along her chest like it was
immobile, I knew there was no way she would be capable of holding up her weight
on a bicycle across the country in just a few weeks. Call it luck, divine
intervention, whatever… she did not sustain a concussion, but had fractured the
ball of her shoulder socket and would require extensive surgery to install some
titanium hardware before she’d be allowed to use it again.
With local Fire and Police now on scene, our group
was disbanding and trying to get the logistics in order to follow up with the
next steps. The husband of the racer wanted to hightail it back to their
vehicle to meet her at the hospital… an obvious and expected decision.
I did not want him riding through Mt. Pleasant
traffic alone in a state of emotional distress and distraction from motorists,
so I decided to ride with him. Now, I did not drive myself to the point where
we started and was, instead, riding with another of the crew. She was not a
local, nor was she a skilled and fast rider, so I spent the next 6 miles
playing leap frog to not only make certain he was safe but also waiting at key
intersections so that she saw the direction to turn, then sprinting back up to
him. It was exhausting, to be sure, but I felt better knowing he made it back
to his vehicle.
As we settled on the last section of road before the
parking area, I was slow pedaling on the sidewalk (4 lane, busy connector to my
right). All I really recall was turning my head to see how far behind she was
and if she was catching up when all went completely black. My next memory is
lying on my back staring at a metal gray ceiling with floodlights in it and
asking what happened? The EMT responded that I’d sustained a serious concussion
from impacting my helmet on the concrete sidewalk and that I was being
transported to the hospital. I just sort of went numb inside and tried my
damndest to recall the previous 30 minutes… it didn’t work, and to this day, I
have zero recall of the moments that occurred after crashing.
From her perspective behind me, all she could tell
me was looking up to see my body flying over the handlebars and my left temple
making first contact with the sidewalk. My ride log says I was traveling around
17mph when I crashed and went from 147bpm to 92 in less than a minute. I was in
and out of consciousness as we made the trip to the ER, moved to a gurney,
rolled into a C-Scan, placed in a neck collar, and finally rolled into a triage
room of the ER to be monitored for the next four hours. I was evaluated by a neurosurgeon
and cleared to leave on my own two feet. Luckily my friend stayed with me the
entire time and forbade the EMTs to cut my jersey off while they were
My entire left side was a bloody mess of road rash on knee, left and right knuckles,
left shoulder, and the left side of my face/ear. I was very, very appreciative
of the EMTs, my friend looking after me, and the stranger that stopped to help
after I biffed it.