On Monday I had an unanticipated day off. The sun was shining, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and so I loaded the ETSX onto the back of the car and headed over to Mountain Highway. My plan was to lap some of the green and blue trails lower down the mountain, and then power up to the Grouse Peak for some serious cardio and a rocket of a ride back down.

It started off well. I took a spin on Roadside Attraction and King of the Shore, which seemed a good level for practicing and building confidence. I was reminded again that so much of the success of downhill riding lies in trust. If you believe that you can ride through something, you relax and can easily shift into the right position and absorb it. Stay nervous, and you get bounced jarringly over the top.

King of the Shore

I looped back up on the fire road, planning to hit Bobsled for a quick, flowing ride down. But a sign on the right lured me down to Griffen, which looked like another good practice trail.

It was a simple rock roll that did me in. It probably wasn’t more than two feet tall; one slightly higher, uneven rock on the left, and a nice smooth roll on the right. I went to hit it and pumped the pedals around one last time on the run in. I wasn’t quite fast enough. The left hand pedal clipped the very top of the uneven rock, tipping me sideways. The ride out was very narrow, and as I came down I threw a foot out to counter the tip. But I was too late; the front wheel was already off the trail, and my foot met nothing but clean air. I realized that when the wheel hit I was going over the bars, with nothing at all to cushion my fall.

Everything froze. For one endless second, I had all the time I needed to mentally process what was coming and yet not enough time to take a single physical action to help me avoid it. In the space below the wheel, a steep embankment littered with piles of rock and broken branches. And one thought: this is really going to hurt.

Except that it didn’t, not right away. Initially it was just jarring and noisy. I flew off the bike, hit the rocks hard, bounced and came down again. Behind me the bike clanged off the rocks and then crashed hard into my lower legs. It all seemed a lot harsher and more abrupt than any fall I’ve had before: banging metal, unforgiving rock, and tearing skin.

When the movement and noise stopped, I lay still for a moment. I’ve learnt from previous accidents that the first few seconds, when the adrenaline is flooding, are not the time to make an assessment of how badly you’re hurt. I raised my arm, and saw blood dripping from my elbow. I pulled my phone from my backpack, and checked that I had a signal in case I needed to call for help. I moved one leg, then the other. Everything felt jarred and shaky and hurt, but nothing screamed or refused to respond.

Fromme crash

I untangled myself from the bike and made my way back to the top of the embankment. I sat there for a few minutes in the rays of light filtering through the trees, waiting for the adrenaline to retreat enough to allow a proper assessment of the damage. Apart from the elbow, my legs felt battered and my right shoulder and neck were starting to twinge. As the shakiness subsided I dragged my bike back up to the trail, popped the chain back on, wobbled back to the fire road, and then started riding uphill toward my original objective. Within a couple of kilometres, it became clear this wasn’t a good plan. The elbow jarred and throbbed every time I hit a small rock, and my neck and shoulder were starting to seize. I turned the bike around and headed back to the car.

All in all, I was lucky. I gashed my left elbow pretty badly, pulled a muscle in my right shoulder, and bruised up both legs quite severely. Looking back at the crash site, I could very easily have broken bones. It was a small mistake that normally wouldn’t even have resulted in me coming off the bike, but in that particular location it had consequences. Rocks and wood are not terribly forgiving surfaces for a hard landing. If I want to keep doing this, it’s time to get some body armour.

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