Dear Diary 012: A Twig Snapping

Cyclists crash all the time. I realize I’m not special.

But hitting the ground the way I did 12 days ago – and what happened in the time that it took me to get to the pavement – jarred me in a way that other accidents haven’t.

In my description of the crash I write about the one million thoughts that happen in the fraction of a second. What I didn’t write about was everything leading up to that moment. How I’d been in an emotional tailspin for the better part of two weeks. How I’d been in bed all day that day, working from my computer but crying intermittently and without explanation. How it had taken three people to convince me to throw a leg over the top tube.

“Go ride your bike right now!” from Sal.

“You should get out and ride your bike… right now!” from Russell.

Then a text from another friend, “Go ride!”

oki’llfuckingridemybike.

The effort it took to pull on spandex and fill water bottles is indescribable.

But sinking my teeth into those first two LT intervals? Masochistic consolation. Yes, there’s something for me here. Yes, this is the right place to be.

I might still pull over and sit on the ground and put my head in my hands but, goddamit, I’m out in the world on two wheels.

I was finished with my efforts and headed to get a pep talk when I hit the deck. Among the other previously described thoughts that went through my head as I went down were these sentiments:

Are you all happy now?

This is fucking perfect.

I knew I should have stayed in bed today.

When I stopped sliding, I remember looking up at sky and tree branches and feeling a great relief.

There, I’d done it.

The physical manifestation of whatever was emotionally kicking my ass. This blood? This road rash? This mashed shoulder and broken bike? I can deal with this shit. I can see it.

This is good.

Going to the emergency room isn’t good. Crashing isn’t good. Broken bicycles aren’t good. None of the specific results of the crash were good. But that fraction of a second when I was moving through the air toward pavement, with so many terrifying questions in my head? That feeling of uncertainty about whether I was going to walk again, be able to write, whether I would scrape half my fucking face off or put my teeth through my lip or ever be able to bathe myself again?

That part was good. It was a twig snapping. A warning in the woods. A split-second wake up call.

It was Heidi Swift don’t make me shake you by your fucking shoulders any harder. Wake the fuck up and snap out of it.

So I did.

Dealing with the immediate aftermath was enough.

Here is your body and it will tear apart in a heartbeat. You’re this fleshy lump of love and passion, so make it count while you’re in it.

Skin torn open is an amazing sight – all those layers and the blood. We’re made up of soft stuff that won’t last. We’re made up of fragile stuff that is hard to heal when it gets shredded.

For three days after the impact, I couldn’t sleep. Pain killers would lull me into a stupor and then I would immediately slip into a falling dream. Stepping off an unexpected drop from a sidewalk. Falling off the bike again. The usual shit. No surprises. But there it was, over and over and over and over again. Peace, peace, peace, peace, peace, PANIC!!!!!!!!!

Bolt upright in bed, heart beating in my chest.

They went away and I found rest. Racing on Saturday, just a few days after it happened, seemed like the only thing to do. I didn’t think very hard about it. I didn’t expect very much. I just knew I had to pedal.

The race course is easy and safe. Predictable loops with soft places to land. Friends announcing my name over the loudspeaker every lap. Teammates to split a caramel apple with after the race. A carpool, adrenaline, a little bit of mud. It felt good. Oh, right. This is bike racing. This is safe. I’m ok. I’ll be ok.

This morning I rolled out with good friends for a day of skills on Mt. Tabor. Slippery fall leaves, roots, rocks, off-camber hairpin turns, stairs and steep little punchy climbs.

We laughed and drank coffee afterward and my legs felt good.

Oh right. This is bike riding. This is safe. I’m ok.

I can still remember everything that went through my head while I was falling, but it all takes on different meaning every time I think about it. It doesn’t matter anymore because the reset button has been mashed and things are clicking along inside of me again.

My well-intentioned friends were right that day. I did need to get outside the house. Outside my head.

And, at the risk of assigning too much meaning to a random event, I might even have needed to crash.


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3 comments

  1. Thank you for putting into words something lots of us wrestle with on a regular basis.

    We all have different ways of getting outside of our heads. Sometimes it’s a bike ride, other times it’s shooing my partner out of the house (“could you please take your laptop over to the cafe, dear?”) so I can play my drums as loudly as possible. Sometimes we need to do physical feats that hint at danger so we can get away from the danger in our heads.

  2. Like Beth says, Heidi, thank you for putting, so beautifully and succinctly, into words those feelings that I am sure so many of us have experienced. It took me three weeks to get back on the bike but when I did I had a newer appreciation. Life! I’m riding my freakin’ bike!!! Get ready for the eurphoric mania that follows! :) or maybe that was just me?

    I also developed an irrational fear for a certain brand of inner tube!!!

    Thanks.

  3. Absolutely great post!

    Sometimes we do very much need a wake-up call. As horrible as it can be, a crash or something like it can be very cathartic/healing in the grand scheme.

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