Newsletter - 2003 Archive

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"Get your stinkin' scissors away from my jacket!!"

Tom Hocking


Monday, November 4th, 2002. It was yet another one of those glorious days we'd been having this autumn. I felt joyful because life was good and I was out riding my bike. In two week's time my wife Janice and I were planning to toss a couple of mountain bikes and our beloved tandem onto our van and head south to Arizona for a month. It would be fun playing at being "snowbirds" and extending our riding season to mid December. We were planning on meeting some friends and fellow tandem riders there to ride "El Tour de Tucson". Since this is a timed event, I wanted to ensure myself that we could maintain a high enough average speed riding "two up" over rolling terrain. It would be a disappointment to have driven all that way only to DNF because we'd not finished within the allowable time limit. So, we'd been training with the tandem on some local roads that would mimic the route of "El Tour". We'd done well on our most recent training ride and I felt confident of our success in Arizona. Since Janice had to work today, I thought it would be fun to blow the dust off my road racer "half-bike" and I was also feeling the need to blow some of the cobwebs out of my own ever-ageing bod. This could be accomplished by doing a brisk 50 K ride with some long hills added to the mix.

I'd started out from home and rode south above Nanaimo on the Island Parkway to the Cedar interchange. I turned around and continued north, back over the long hill up to the university. The hill climbing was feeling good. I'd been able to stay on top of the gear while remaining seated for most of the way. Occasionally I would upshift a cog or two, stand up out of the saddle and count out 15 pedal revolutions before resuming the spin I liked to use while seated. I crested the summit and pushed the pace for another 16 km until I came to the lights at Superior Road where I decided to head for home. Feeling pleased with my performance I glanced at my computer to see that my average speed was around 26 kph. I was strong, the day had been fine, and I was thinking about how much I loved being out on my bike. As I turned for home, a quick glance upward revealed an ominous trough of low-pressure cloud closing off half of the sky. It looked like the dreaded monsoon was finally going to make its cool, soggy appearance. The afternoon was wearing on and, with the sun gone, I decided to switch on my LED taillight to be more visible to vehicles approaching from behind. I recall thinking that, despite the noise and the fast moving traffic volume, this stretch of highway, with its wide paved shoulder, actually was quite a safe roadway. When my odometer read 42 km I knew I was about 20 minutes away from home where a nice hot shower and cup of tea would be a fitting end to another fantastic, life affirming ride.

The impact comes without any warning. I feel as much as hear the sound of crumpling sheet metal. My instantaneous reaction is one of total surprise. At some deep, primal level, I realise that I have been struck hard from behind and my reptilian brain feels the intense need to retaliate.

Then everything goes black.

Distant voices are now speaking. A voice says, "One, two, three...LIFT!" My eyes open and I am staring at the ceiling of a motor vehicle. I am vaguely conscious of a small group of individuals working over me with clinical precision and professional concern. I am dimly aware now that I'd been struck by a large, fast moving vehicle.

I am feeling no pain, or discomfort of any kind. A technician's face comes near and he speaks, "It looks like your bike is OK, man. Don't worry, we'll take good care of it for you." I feel strangely comforted and reassured by the idea that my bike has survived intact. My awareness seems to be coming in short film clips.

I am feeling very cold. My mouth feels very dry. The two most important things in the world now are warmth and water. I am in the ER of Nanaimo Hospital. A nurse is nearby and I ask her for a blanket and a glass of water. She produces a heated blanket and I seek comfort in its life-giving warmth. She tells me that water is prohibited until they determine the extent of my injuries. She inserts an IV of some colourless liquid that I assume must be saline or glucose. Now Janice appears at my bedside. She tells me that the RCMP phoned her from the scene, having found the ID and emergency contacts I always keep stowed in my seatbag. I reassure her automatically that the accident amounted to nothing, really, just a bump, and state that I expect to be back to riding on the weekend. Then I send her off to look after my bike.

A nurse approaches with a frighteningly large pair of shears and informs me that she intends to cut my clothes away from my body. I remember that I am wearing a brand new polypro shirt under my irreplaceable Randonneur's club jacket. This jacket earned its stripes in 1999 during my first 1200Km Paris-Brest-Paris ultra-marathon race and I tell her emphatically that her scissors will not come any closer to my jacket. She seems annoyed and disappears momentarily, only to reappear with an assistant who helps her to undress me the old fashioned, one-arm-at-a-time way.

I become aware that I have acquired a new accessory. It's an oxygen hose that thrusts up into both nostrils and reminds me of Lloyd Bridges from "Sea Hunt". I start to feel giddy about playing frogman but each time I try to remove it, some attendant places it back in my nose.

For the next several hours I am poked, prodded, examined, and X-rayed. Between procedures I lay naked and freezing under the once toasty warm blanket, long since grown cold. Gradually the pain and stiffness begins creeping in.

My mind begins to drift back to the accident, but the circumstances are incomprehensible to me. I have a bit of a headache; there is an ache in my pelvis that makes moving difficult. I know I've got some pretty serious abrasions, but over-riding all of this is a very sore right shoulder. I 'm sure that I was on the right side of the white line, that there was a wide, paved shoulder to my right, and that high-speed traffic was moving past on my left. Why, then, was it my right side that was so battered? It didn't make any sense.

The attending physician parts the curtains, introduces himself and refers to his clipboard just as we've seen those docs on T.V. do. He states that the X-rays were negative, nothing is broken and, as I have not exhibited any obvious signs of a head injury, no CAT scan is needed and I can be discharged this evening.

Prior to my release, an RCMP officer takes a seat near me and informs me that I was struck from behind by a Dodge pickup truck travelling at highway speed. The driver had fallen asleep and drifted onto the paved shoulder between me and the concrete barrier bordering the ditch. It was the driver's side mirror that struck my upper back near my right shoulder. The force of the blow was sufficient to tear the mirror off. It was later located some distance away. The police sketch also shows fresh damage to the box of the truck. I had been unconscious for approximately twelve minutes.

The officer hands me my gear one bit at a time. My favourite Giro helmet is broken in four places. The right lens of my goggles is opaque with scratches from sliding across some surface, the pavement or possibly the truck itself. My right glove has been buffed through in several places, while the right thigh of my tights looks as if it took a direct hit from a shotgun. Even my right sock has a hole at the outside ankle. My shoes, however, are fine. I mourn the loss of my faithful helmet, which was my constant companion on all of my countless training rides and endurance racing over the past four years. Farewell, friend. You died saving my life.

The weekend came and went and I was not able to get back on the bike. As I write this, a week has passed since the crash. I feel like I've been hit by a truck. It hurts to walk. My right shoulder is still very painful. I've got real, honest-to-gosh, pro peleton-style road rash on my right knee and elbow. Many friends have been saying how lucky I was to have escaped more serious injury, but to be perfectly honest, I'm not feeling all that lucky. I'm just not there yet. Nor do I dwell on 'What if the truck had been two more feet to the left and had hit me square on?' I am, however, certainly glad that my helmet and glasses did their job. My last serious collision came when I was just 13 and during the past ten years I have ridden over 50,000 km without once kissing tarmac. Yet now I feel angry and frustrated to have suffered painful injuries, and I am impatient to heal.

Perhaps when my shoulder stops hurting and I am once more able to ride I will assume a more philosophical perspective. My trainer says it's going to take time, but I haven't entirely given up on the idea of riding in the Tucson event. After all, I've still got my old Randonneur jacket which is going to look great topped off by a new Giro helmet.