Old Man Takes a Hit

Mid-day. Not even mid-afternoon, barely past lunch time. I’m done for the day. On the couch, feet up, ice-pack on my thigh, shallow breaths. As a mountain biker, injury is inevitable, part of the sport. I bought my bike fourteen months ago. Eli, one year in at that point, all but addicted, and needing a riding partner in the off-season, when his team stopped meeting for the year.

When I bought my bike, I started riding with two goals: Regain my mountain bike mojo, twenty years in hibernation; and stay on my freaking bike. I met these goals well. I rode with appropriate caution, but I still comfortably rode with Eli. I realized if I could hang with Eli, I could ride with half his team. I signed up as a coach.

I divide our coaches into two categories. Those who actually coach, and those who serve as extra bodies because a mountain biking team needs tons of adults present. I put myself in the second category, and I think the kids do too. But, with some of the other coaches, it’s not too clear. “Jeff, you’re leading the middle-schoolers today.” Throughout the season my rusty skills improved, my confidence ramped up and my mojo returned, mostly. Once again, I’m a competent rider.

Today, Eli and I rode the trails out of the “Mud Banks” parking lot—easy riding nestled in the middle of the generally advanced Michaux State Forest. I’ve been struggling with headaches and dizziness for months. So far, undiagnosed but an MRI showed no timebombs or land mines lurking in my skull. I wanted to ride something fun, challenging only in an aerobic way. Sort of a test for my brain, to see how I felt during and after the ride.

Eli isn’t so easy to keep up with these days. At some point last season, his skill level slipped beyond mine. He always rode with the strongest riders on the team, while I rode with the middle-schoolers at a much more casual pace. Plus, because of my dizziness, I’ve let my fitness lapse. “Dad, you lead today. I want this ride to be fun for you.”

A mile or so into the ride, I cut off onto a side-path we’ve never ridden. It’s a fast, flowy, downhill trail I’ve run several times that I thought Eli would enjoy. As we approached an intersection, I gave some instructions. “Hard right turn, down the bank and through the stream.” I cut right, dropped off a ledge formed by erosion under a root, and before I could react, my front wheel came to a full stop against an oversized rock. My rear wheel launched up over my head, and I splashed down into an inch of water in the middle of the rocky stream.

“Jesus Dad, are you OK?” I wasn’t. I landed on my right side, my elbow first and then my thigh, at some point my chest. The jutting rocks in a streambed are hard to miss, and I didn’t. After a couple minutes, climbing slowly up the bank and sitting down on a log, I took an assessment. My elbow hurt, but wasn’t bleeding through my clothes. My thigh ached in a dull way that made me think it might cause trouble later on. And breathing was a little painful in my chest.

Three miles of riding got us back to the car. Eli was beside himself with caution. “Dad, let’s walk this section up here, it looks tricky.” And later: “Maybe we should skip this trail and head for the road.” On a long down-hill with no pedaling, my thigh began to lock up, and on the final, easy, mile-long flat, I simply wanted to quit.

When we returned to the truck, I commented that I was happy I could take such a hard hit without shattering like an earthenware bowl. “That’s because you’re in such good shape, Dad.” A really nice thing to hear from my teenage son who has recently surpassed me in that category. The ride home was fairly uncomfortable, my thigh swelled dramatically and became numb.

Now, camped out on the couch—a huge bruise and a pair of cuts on my elbow, a leg I can scarcely stand on, and ribs that remind me of my crash every time I make a heavy sigh, which is far too frequently this afternoon—I’m thinking more about that stay-on-the-bike edict. Maybe I got cocky, maybe I was pushing too hard because I wanted Eli to have a good time, maybe I was trying to send it like middle-schoolers I ride with so frequently. Whatever. I’m fifty-eight. A smart thing to remember while I’m out riding with the kids.

Photo by Rok Zabukovec on Unsplash

35 thoughts on “Old Man Takes a Hit

  1. Sounds like it could’ve been a whole lot worse. But doesn’t just suck that we can’t get up, shake it off and keep going like when we were younger?!
    Every time I get hurt, which is frequently cuz I’m a klutz, I’m always shocked by how *much* it hurts, and how long it takes to recover. I keep thinking “I’m only 52, that’s not *that* old”🙄🤦🏼‍♀️😂😂😂
    I hope your recovery is speedy!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Ouch!! That sounds like a tough fall off a bike. I am not a graceful faller at all. I know this about myself and avoid all things that might lead me in that direction. Whenever I could get a kid to run with me, I forbade them from running on sidewalks close to curbs, because (maybe it is the mom or the faller in me) I saw them falling off the side and twisting an ankle or breaking a leg.
    I hope you are feeling better soon!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I can be pretty spastic too. Yesterday I was running some busy trails. Every time I passed someone, I put up my buff and because I can’t do two things at once I tripped on root. I’m lucky I didn’t break something yesterday.

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  3. Ouchies! Best to rest…and take good care of yourself. My good friend had a rotten mountain biking accident in Nicaragua several years ago and is going on three surgeries to repair the damages to her leg/hip and foot.
    I personally prefer walking !

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Janet. This weighs in a bit on my whole internal dialogue of how old is too old to mountain bike. I guess the argument could be made that I’m no worse off than I would be if I was thirty, but I doubt I’ll heal as fast.

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  4. Glad ya didn’t crack your skull!! Though your injuries are what I’m terrified of every time I mountain bike 😳. Hang in there. I am pretty sure you top the skill level for most peeps in your age group. Glad to hear the inside of you head is alright too!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Jeff, I feel your pain (emotionally and physically). My hiking/biking partner is 15 years younger than I am. I used to train him for triathlons and now have trouble keeping up. I suspect he hangs out with me because he feels sorry for the “old man.” You can grow old gracefully or you can end up like me. (I can recommend some good orthopedic surgeons. ) You’re too young for a rocking chair. If you want to maintain that rockstar lifestyle maybe you should try some rail trails.

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    • Ack. Rail trails? Where we were riding is called the “family loop”. It’s supposed to be pretty easy. I know you’ve b een through this already, but it’s sort of hard to realize I’ve relinquished my household top dog roll to Eli. Plus, Susan’s on the verge of out running me. 🙂

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  6. Terrific story telling on a cautionary tale for, er, mature age sports people.
    I’m not fit, Jeff, and a few years on, so after a tennis fall last February, I haven’t been able to play. Knee and shoulder; both fairly important for tennis. Sigh. Hope your recovery continues progressing apace.

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  7. Good god what a story! And that you had to ride out three miles after that, must have been adrenaline that helped you do that. Ugh. Hope you can rest for a couple weeks, this is a good time of year to do that. Nice scenes with Eli though, his love and concern for you.

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  8. Yikes! I hope your superpower is healing, Jeff. That accident sounds nasty! Exactly what I worry about while trail running but on a bike, you’re going faster so less time to react and more energy to dissipate when you come to a sudden stop. On the positive side, your son sounds like a compassionate, thoroughly decent young man. You did good, Dad!

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    • Fortunately, because I just made a right angle turn I wasn’t moving fast, I’ve had some pretty close calls running the trail, including 2 trips this weekend while trying to buff-up because I was passing hikers. No injuries though. It’s hard being nature boy.

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  9. Reading this the next day and hoping you aren’t way more sore. I always find that it’s later … sometimes two days later … that I hurt like hell. Maybe you have knocked the dizziness out of your noggin? That would be a silver lining indeed.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Nooooo! That sucks, and sounds so brutal. I’m always (stupidly) disappointed when things hurt and then take a long time to heal. Rest up. You’ll be back sooner than you think, and guaranteed your fitness has helped you avoid a worse injury. Ribs are the worst.. But.. Ibuprofen?

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’ve decided that my ‘rib injury’ is actually a pulled chest muscle, which doesn’t make it any better now, but I’m sure it will heal quicker. It’s mostly my thigh that’s screwed up (still quite swollen). I think it may take a week before I can ride comfortably.

      Liked by 2 people

  11. Oh, man! I feel your pain! I usually ride at the back of the pack and encourage the kids who feel like they’ve hit the wall one mile into the ride ;). But some days just my hubby and I go out and I find out my true skill level. My favorite ache-inducing thing to do with kids is hike rim to river to rim of the Grand Canyon in one day (and offer to buy ice-cream for anyone who makes it up before I do).

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    • More Grand Canyon hiking is definitely on my to-do list. Back in my big mile-days I really wanted to run rim to rim. Two days past my crash, I feel somewhat better. I just made it down the basement stairs and back to do some laundry… something I wouldn’t have considered trying yesterday 🙂

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  12. You rock (pun intended)!
    Your son is awesome. You and his mom have done an amazing job, raising a kind and considerate child who enjoys hanging with the old man.
    Teens (some, at least) are more aware and sophisticated that we give them credit for. I remember being thirteen, alpine skiing with my brothers and father, the latter being the slowest of us all. I stuck with Dad, a nod to the fact that without him, none of us would be enjoying our time on the mountain.
    Glad your face plant wasn’t worse and that you’re recovering. I hope you’re planning to revisit that trail someday to show it who’s boss.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Enjoyable read. As a mountain biker who is knocking on the door of 60, I can relate to your pain. When do I usually crash? It’s when I am trying to ride to the level of those I think are better riders than I am (and they are, usually), want to go faster. It’s why I rarely lead, but people are drawn to my age and experience, which means I get suckered into leading more often than I want!

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    • I think you’ve put into words what I feel deep inside, when I lead, I put myself under pressure to outride those behind me. There’s never a time I can just relax. This is good for me to recognize. Thanks for reading and commenting.

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