The majority of road related incidents have one common theme: excess.
Excess speed, excess blood-alcohol, excess recklessness, excess drowsiness, excessively poor road conditions…
When I hit the road that morning of December 6, 2011, many factors were in excess. The road was excessively wet, my tyres were excessively pressured, my stomach was excessively full; I was feeling excessively ambitious while experiencing a joyful excess of exuberance. I expect excess recklessness played its part in my downfall also.
The intention had been to cycle from Kirwee to Oxford, have a coffee and bite to eat, turn around and come home. Easy as you like.
This estimated 120 kilometre jaunt would see me heading up the Old West Coast Road to Waddington, turning off down Waimakariri Gorge Road, crossing the Waimak Bridge then continuing on to Oxford. While not a feat that I had ever attempted, I had in the past cycled up to, over and around the bridge so was familiar with the roads for at least some of the journey.
The day’s mission was to extend that Northern Frontier.
Donning my most publicly-endearing cycling ensemble, I stuffed into my bum-bag a cell phone and some cash then set off into a heavy drizzle. Around 20k of easy incline and several gruelling hills later, I made it to Waddington. Drizzle had become rain. Turning right down Waimakariri Gorge Road I raised my speed in anticipation of things to come. From 42kph peering back at my rooster’s tail, I was amazed at the volume of water lying on the road. Five minutes later the gorge was in sight. Not a minute after that I defiantly whizzed past the REDUCE SPEED sign.
The descent to the gorge loops down the side of a hill in three tiers before reaching the bridge. Each tier comprises a left, a straight, then a right hand bend.
I hit the first tier at 45kph, took an easy left, pedalled frantically up to 48; took a smooth right. Water spraying from my tyres I squinted through the mist to work out my next approach. Glancing at my odometer the second left hander went by at 52kph. Short stint of pedalling followed by easy right. Not fast enough. The odometer was flicking between 51 and 52kph. I was pedalling as hard as I could. Water spraying up from the road was greasy. Sneakers were sodden. Legs were covered in a sleek grey film. I pushed on.
Bottom tier. Last chance for speed before going up the other side. I changed to a higher gear. I pushed like never before. 55kph. I wanted to go faster. Faster. Faster.
The first bend was upon me. Inside pedal up, easy left. Pedal. Push. Harder. Harder.
Push. Harder. Harder. Harder…
The bend had come up on me faster than expected. My line was all wrong.
Too late to do anything about it now but.
Steadying my shoulders, I lifted the inside pedal and threw the bike into the corner – I hadn’t realised it was so much tighter than the others.
My folly was immediately apparent. I had limited control. I was travelling much too quickly and had begun my manoeuvre at least a tenth of a second too late. At such speed things happened very quickly. Braking was no longer an option. I was committed. No hope of speed reduction now. No escape. I had messed it up and I knew it.
Nevertheless I was calm.
I allowed G-forces to draw the bike across the road. My wheel ran on the inside edge of the road’s left hand wheel track. It was rough with corrugations. I was almost at the apex of the bend and still trying to bring the bike in. The oscillations coming through the handlebars were intense. I kept pulling the bike around. I was treading that tenuous line between control and capitulation. Breath was held as my front wheel drifted slowly across the worn wheel mark. I was now almost on the outer white line. I knew if it went that far I was gone. Road paint in these conditions is tantamount to wet glass. I kept pulling it around. I was winning the battle. I rounded the apex having just managed to bring the bike back into the wheel track.
This was my next folly.
The wheel mark at that point on the road was beaten down to pure tar and totally smooth. With the water and all the diesel fumes, it was greasy. My racing tyres were rock hard and practically bald. In these conditions they were ball bearings to the road’s grease.
Without warning the front tyre skidded. I pulled it back.
The front wheel shimmied again and started to go down. I used all of my abdominal strength to pull the handlebars back up; in doing so pushed the back out.
It was too fast.
In a split second my vision went from the road ten metres ahead of me to the road ten centimetres from my face.
I reflexively turned my head away, kicked my feet out of the stirrups, released the handlebars and took the impact with my right shoulder. I heard a strangled grunt as the wind was knocked from my body. Then I was tumbling. End over end. I saw flashes of my bike ahead of me. I heard unfamiliar sounds being forced from my throat. End over end, over and over.
Then nothing. I had stopped. I focused my eyes. I was lying on my back, on the roadside, upside down; legs up a bank. I couldn’t quite believe what had happened. I started to wonder if it really had happened. I had memories of tumbling down the road and seeing my bike crashing into the roadside ahead of me yet, I was feeling no pain. My breathing was steady. My heart rate sounded as though it had returned to normal; shit man, I was smiling. I felt awesome.
I stood up and surveyed my bicycle from a few metres away. It looked wrecked.
I turned and jogged to the top of the hill in the hope of locating cellular coverage.
There was none. I walked farther. Still no decent reception. I finally found enough to send a message disclosing my whereabouts and beseeching assistance.
I jogged back down the hill to find that a car had stopped at the sight of a twisted bicycle lying in the grass devoid of rider, along with a wide, person-like skid-mark leading off the road. The lady appeared horrified at the sight of me. I assured her that I was fine and that someone was coming for me. With that, she left.
An hour passed. As did many trucks. The abating rain came to a stop. I ran up the hill; sent another message. I ran down to the almighty Waimak Bridge, routinely dropped a loogie over the side then jogged back to my bike. I began to feel cold. Also hungry. I kept jogging in place, feeling colder; hungrier with each passing minute.
I assessed the scene of the crash. I pulled my bike free from the grass. It wasn’t as bad as I’d suspected. Then I looked at me. I was certainly the less well-off of the two. Blood trickled from my right elbow and dripped from my fingers. My shoulder was opened up and I could only imagine how much blood was congealing under my shirt. My right leg was grazed most of the way from hip to ankle, protected only by Lycra bike pants.
The worst injury was to my right knee. It oozed blood, it ached, it throbbed and if it remained inactive for more than ten seconds, it began to seize.
After spending some time bending and straightening gear-shifters and handlebars, nothing else for it, I mounted my self-propelled chariot and made my way back the way I had come. Oxford could wait. I was freezing. Inspired by the cold I cycled with more fervour than I could recall. My knee was excruciating. My helmet wouldn’t sit right either. I made it back to Waddington, dismissed the Old West and headed back down the Main West Coast Road.
The Main West mightn’t have had any major declivities but overall, it’s just one big gradual decline – ideal for a man who has over 20k to cover under the power of just one piston.
Despite my leg’s incapacitated twin I was still cracking 45kph for the duration of the ride back to Darfield. Stopping at the public toilet, I dismounted and promptly toppled. Such was the fatigue imbalance in my legs that I had to practically crawl to the urinal.
Finally back in Kirwee I called in at the garage to collect my mail; received a handful of startled looks from loitering motorists, then went home.
The reason for my unruly helmet: I had clean smashed the back out of it.
The reason for the startled looks: take your pick – as well as blood dripping from fingertips and shoe, ripped and torn shorts and shirt; a helmet that had clearly been an integral part of a near-death situation – my face was spattered with mud, grass, grime and painted with smudges of blood. Guess I resembled something of a wartime latrine digger.
The reason for my unanswered call: the intended recipient was operating a grinder all morning thus could not hear his phone. Not until I had left the gorge did he show up. Nice one.
After putting away my faithful steed and giving the saddle a loving pat, I hobbled inside, stripped off my garb and stood under a hot shower for the best part of one hour.
Best Crash Ever.
Article by Mit Reklaw
Edited by Rick Lush-Nash
Photography by Constance Payne