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Where Am I?
Valley Traverse 1000
Ride dates: September 10-13, 2022
by Eric Fergusson

I'm looking around. It's dark. There are trees. So I'm in a forest at night. But there's also pavement. Just off the pavement is a bike, my bike. Where am I, and why am I here?

Am I really here? It feels like a dream. "Wake up, wake up..." Nope, it doesn't seem to be a dream. Am I on some sort of midnight meander, and now lost in the woods? Maybe I'm going somewhere. No, that doesn't sound right either. Maybe I'm on a brevet. You know, I think I'm on a brevet. In fact, aren't I riding a 1000, my 1000?

I look at my bike. I dig through my big front bag and find a mini light. Everything in the bag is familiar, and where it's supposed to be for riding a brevet. Some memory is creeping back. I look around again. I know this place - it's the Graham Crescent hill. I'm still not sure where I'm going, but I'm pretty sure I'm supposed to be going down. I pick up my bike and start wheeling it down.

I walk and I think. I must have fallen. It would have been a crash on that super steep stretch of the descent. I'm not feeling any pain, so it couldn't have been a bad crash. My right torso is a little achy. And, well, I think with the memory loss, I must have a concussion.

I'm now on the flat. I can see in my mind's eye the roads I need to get to Fort Langley. I put my chain back on, I get on the bike and start pedaling slowly.

I'm trying to concentrate. I can't see much further than Fort Langley on my mental map. I think the finish is Broadway and Boundary. How do I get there? A complication is that I don't have a route sheet. I didn't print one because I didn't imagine needing it - I knew the route cold.

Gradually, my mental map becomes a little less foggy. I need to get across the river, and it's going to be on the Golden Ears Bridge. I ride through Fort Langley: Mavis, Glover, Billy Brown to 96th Ave.

There are a few gentle ups and downs on 96 Avenue. Going up even slight grades, my arms are straining. I'm feeling a loss of control. Going down while braking I feel a bit weakness in my arms and hands, and a similar loss of control. I decide that I'm going to walk the steep ups and downs, from here on, and be very careful even on the lesser grades.

By the time I cross the Golden Ears and Pitt River bridges, my mental map is clearer about where I am, and where I'm going, though my thinking remains a little cloudy. On the Brunette River trail after Hume Park, I am seeing things that aren't there.

My bike knows its way home. In no time I'm at the McDonald's at Broadway and Boundary. Ahhh.



My stenosis is pressing me to be more careful about which grades and routes I choose. The Hemlock Valley, Rider Lake, Graham Crescent and Woodside climbs are all off the menu now, though I'm happy to walk them. On day 3 of this 1000 I was going to say goodbye to the Olund Road climb, beginning at 926 km. I thought I might be able to ride it one last time. "Here goes nothing."

I take it really slowly. I'm riding just fast enough to stay comfortably upright, but it's still very hard. It feels like I'm straining as much as I ever have on the bike. The "top" is not at the end of the road - the steep grade levels out about half way up. As I approach the leveling, I find that my arms are straining at least as much as my legs. They are starting to shake, and I'm weaving. My arms are not letting me steer properly. My hands are having trouble gripping the handlebars. There hasn't been a car yet on this stretch so I let myself weave and eventually make it to the leveling point.

On the one hand "Yay", I did it. On the other hand, what has happened to my arms and hands?

The next grade to worry about is the short hill after turning right off Hawkins on to Mount Lehman. Again, as I close in on the crest, my arms fail and I nearly weave into the traffic lane where this time there is a car. Going down the other side, I feel more arm and hand weakness when breaking, so I descend very slowly. I find I at least have the strength to manage this grade. The gentle climbs up Taylor and then McTavish also prove manageable and give me confidence that my arm and hand strength is coming back to me.

I stop at Bradner to test my arms and hands in various positions doing different actions. I then roll down McTavish testing the same motions. The problem seems very slight now, and I sense everything will be ok as I make the right onto Graham Crescent.

As on Mount Lehman, I want to take this descent very slowly. I alternate left and right hand brake pumping intending to inch my way down. The grade on Graham Crescent hill is extreme. At some point the grade clicks over from steep to sheer. This is where I realize I have made a terrible miscalculation. I am braking fully at this point and still not slowing. My arms are failing and I am losing control. This is the moment when the gap in my memory starts.

"I'm looking around. It's dark. There are trees..."



As I mentioned above, while on the ride it wasn't clear to me that I was injured at all. Adrenaline was masking pain to be sure. I'm also wondering if I might have intentionally crashed to avoid crashing further down at a higher speed. My last memory was pumping those brakes hard and not being able to slow down. Maybe a pre-emptive controlled dive to the ditch explains my relatively lightly damaged body.

I realize in the days that followed, that my injuries are far worse than I thought that night. There is clearly rib damage - coughing, sneezing and laughing have been very painful, and there's some ugly torso bruising. My right knee was bruised and swollen, though the swelling has gone down in the last few days. There was a little bleeding at the contact points. The memory loss experienced on the ride suggests concussion. Other than the short-term memory loss at the crash scene, I didn't/don't have any of the other symptoms. There is no real impact damage to my helmet, though there's a slight scrape on the right side where you'd expect it to be. I'm calling it a mild concussion.

More generally my body is mending steadily, though two weeks after I'm not ready get on my bike. Too bad. There's a lot of late season sunshine out there - a good reason to go for a walk.


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September 30, 2022