I like to ride my bike. I’ve ridden for years. I have some friends who got me into it nearly 30 years ago, teaching me some of the nuances of the “sport.” It’s not just jumping on the bike and riding. The clothes you wear and why, the rules of the road and how to protect yourself in most situations. Riding my bike has also allowed me to raise some money for charity and travel a bit as well.
Last weekend I was in the Lance Armstrong Foundation “Ride for the Roses” in Austin, Texas, part of his big LIVESTRONG weekend celebration every year. Lance has personally raised millions to fight cancer and his legions of followers have followed suit.
I’ve been a guest of my friend Alex at the ride each time I’ve been there. Alex lost his Dad at 42 years old to cancer and has focused his fundraising on helping the LAF. Alex is a lawyer with a lot of friends so he usually qualifies as one of the top fundraisers every year. The ride is the culmination of the weekend with more than 3,500 participants riding from 90 miles down to just 10, all to raise awareness and money.
Austin, Texas has four seasons, “hot, hotter, very hot and blistering,” one cab driver told me. So despite the fact it was late October, temperatures in the high 80’s are not unusual. That was the prospect of the ride on Sunday as we lined up in darkness just outside of Austin in a little town called Dripping Springs. Armstrong has a “little ranch” there, so he’s familiar with the roads and warned us: “It’s always windy here, and the roads are bumpy, but it’s beautiful.”
He’s right on all three accounts. .
Lance, the actor Patrick Dempsey, NASCAR’s Max Papis, Levi Leipheimer and several other “celebrities” from the cycling world were on hand and they got started right after 8am.
It was cool and overcast, and the cyclist’s enemy, windy. Alex and I cruised through the first 25 miles or so, stopping once to adjust my handlebars but it was going great. I even commented to Alex, “I always forget how much I like being on my bike.” We both laughed and commented that it was going to be a scorcher before long with the sun burning off the clouds.
I’m used to riding in a group. Phil Foreman from Champion Cycling has taught me a lot about that. I’m comfortable in close quarters. But something went wrong that I’m still not sure about.
Riding next to Alex I suddenly felt my bike headed to the left, right for him, going about 17 mph, not too fast, not too slow. I put my hand out on Alex’s shoulder and said something like, “Careful, look out.” I shoved him forward and tried with my right hand to slam on the brakes but realized I was going down. I looked down just in time to see my front wheel clip Alex’s rear wheel and quickly reminded myself how to fall.
I’ve probably fallen a hundred times on my bike. Some worse than others but nothing I probably couldn’t have avoided. I really felt powerless in this situation but figured I’d roll out of it and with a few scrapes; we’d be on our way. The problem was, that’s the last thing I remember.
When I came to I was laying in the middle of the road, on my back gasping for air and I could hear myself moaning. I also had a little dream right before I regained consciousness. Something about a truck, but I can’t really place it. (I know that sounds funny but that’s exactly what happened.)
I saw Alex standing over me, a Med Tech and a woman off to the side. The Med Tech asked me a series of questions, which I answered with no problem but told me to stay down. I was really in a fog and couldn’t remember a thing about what happened. But I felt well enough to get back on the bike so I did, headed for the rest stop and the medical tent. The Med Tech rode with me and monitored my progress.
It was so weird, feeling myself coming out of the fog bit by bit. I did ask Alex “what happened” and he looked at me and said, “That’s the fifth time you’ve asked me that. One more and I’m going to have them SAG you in.”
I rode the last 35 miles, hot, windy and hilly but thought about the different cancer victims who undergo chemotherapy and figured I could get done despite a knock on the head.
I’m aware of the concussion situation and how serious it is. I’ll keep an eye on myself but I can tell you, head injuries are nothing to play around with. I’ve been knocked out twice, both times in high school during the course of games (football and baseball) but now having that experience as an adult, I’ve got a whole new respect for what’s going on there.