On April 8, Lori, my awesome stoker, and I began the day expecting to compete in the 2017 Mulholland Double Century, 196 miles and about 18,000 feet of climbing. On mile 28 of the event we crashed. We spent an 1 hour 20 minutes off the bike and timed out for the double so we only did the century with 13,444 feet of climbing.
That’s the headline now if you wish you can read further for more details. It is important to mention that in over decade of being a tandem captain this is the first and only crash I have ever had on the tandem. Lori and I began riding tandem back in 2011. We have ridden thousands of training and racing miles. We have climbed millions of feet and descended millions of feet on canyons, mountains and rolling terrain. We have ridden through rainstorms, windstorms, daytime and sleep deprived overnighters on our 500 mile events. We have ridden in aggressive roadie group rides and solo excursions. I guess I was beating the odds with so many miles and avoiding so many perils.
The forecast called for rain overnight. It did rain as forecasted even with all the hoping we were doing that it wouldn’t. Our weather forecasters have the easiest job in the country. The weather is almost always the same and many times when they forecast rain it never materializes. We were hoping they would get it wrong. My best guess is it stopped about 3 am, the last time I looked out the window. Rain was not forecasted during the event. As far as I know there was only a very light sprinkle at some point during our 10+ hours on the bike. It was however very windy in the early afternoon. I can’t comment about the weather after 4 pm.
We launched at 630 am with the other double century riders. The ground was wet for the first couple of hours. We worked at medium intensity on the climbs and rollers and cruised easy on the descents. The sun peaked through the clouds every now and then but I would characterize the early morning weather as cloudy and foggy. In some areas the fog was quite dense.
28 miles into the event, while we were descending Old Topanga Canyon we crashed. We were on the last 1.5 miles section of the descent when it happened. The wet and dry pavement were apparent to me. I could see the darker and lighter patches on the road. Just before our crash we banked into a right hand sweeper where I could see a perfectly dry section of road. I then could see up ahead a shaded area so I scrubbed off some of the speed. We entered a twisty section with Oak trees shading and sheltering the road below it. On one of the many lefts and rights we hit a wet patch of road under one of the trees and whoosh the front tire washed out from underneath us.
Crash site just to the right of the blue dot.
You know how when you crash or fall and you think to yourself “that was stupid”? Well that thought never entered my mind. I was riding well within my limits and well within the limits of my machine — or so I thought. I was riding as cautiously as usual and then BAM! We were on the deck! It caught me completely by surprise!
There I was face down with my cheek and chin touching the wet pavement. My mouth was open and as I licked my lips I could taste the ground– the dirt. Immediately I wondered what the heck had just happened? I did a quick inventory of my mental and physical faculties. When I opened my eyes and lifted my head I was looking down the hill. Once I figured out where I was, what had happened and that I could move, I got up quickly and looked for Lori. She was facedown as well but oddly enough her head was pointing uphill with her hands under her body. With her hands under her I later hypothesized that she didn’t have enough time to get her hands out to break her fall which might have prevented her from breaking her wrist or fingers.
I began asking Lori if she was ok. It was only after several impassioned inquiries that I got her first response. Her response was unintelligible, in fact, it can be best described as groans. There were no discernible words… at first. I asked again and again what hurt and if she thought I could move her. She couldn’t respond with something I could use. I know better than to move an injured person but we were still in the middle of the road and on an open course with cars and other cyclist coming very soon. After what seemed like an eternity she started to make coherent phrases but not sentences yet. Meanwhile a couple of riders had stopped at the scene and one of the riders called 911.
Now let me take you back about 11 years. I would like for you to understand what I was processing at the time. Years ago while I was driving my car on a twisty road in San Diego, Highland Valley Road, I was the first person on the scene of a motorcycle accident. The motorcyclist crashed head-on with a small Ford Ranger type pickup truck. The motorcycle rider was thrown from his motorcycle and was lying facedown when I approached him. Numerous times I asked him if he was ok. I asked him what his name was and all I got from him was, you guessed it, groans. Long story short, this gentlemen died at the scene of the accident. Even with the help of emergency services he was not going to make it. They were unable to stabilize him before transport and he died at the scene Unfortunately, I had that experience in the back of my mind while I was trying to extract a response from Lori.
I digress back to the scene of the accident, within a few minutes of our crash Ed Gallegos, roving SAG, drove up, parked his “toaster” as he calls his tiny economical car, and pulled out a camper’s chair and a blanket. Tony Musorafite Sr was also at the scene very promptly. Paramedics, Fire Rescue and an ambulance arrived soon after. Meanwhile hordes of riders were coming down the canyon and doing the looky Lou thing as they passed by us. We were very near the front of the event (top 10 by my count) so the main body of the double century riders were still coming down the canyon as we were being attended to by the emergency services.
Just before the emergency services arrived I was asking Lori typical questions to ascertain her condition. From my perspective the answers should have been very apparent to her. I asked her things such as: her name, day of the week, what event we were participating in, she struggled at first but she was able to recall those things. When I asked her what the specific date was she couldn’t tell me. Generally, I’m not that good at telling you the specific date but an event date is always on your mind as you train for it. She couldn’t tell me if it was the beginning, middle or end of the month. She also couldn’t remember us crashing. I cut her a little slack on that one since she is a stoker and can’t see the road ahead of her most of the time. But when I dug a little deeper she couldn’t remember hitting the deck. Now I was worried.
We both declined emergency services. Our injuries were fairly common for any cyclist that comes to grief against the tarmac. We both had road rash on our left side and significant soreness. I had severe whiplash from my head bouncing off the tarmac. While our road rash was common we had both experienced concussions. Lori took it to the next level by having road rash not only on her left side but with road rash on the right side of her face. Additionally, at some point she was lucid enough to perform a very astute and accurate self-diagnosis of a broken left clavicle. As the emergency vehicles drove away Tony loaded up our tandem in his vehicle and took Lori 1.5 miles to Checkpoint #1. I was ferried to Checkpoint #1 by Ed in his toaster.
The 1.5 mile drive to the checkpoint was very difficult on me mentally. We had a very friendly and helpful reception at Checkpoint #1 by Jennifer, Terri and Q. Although everyone working the checkpoint was already handling us as a DNF I was not prepared to quit… not yet. At the checkpoint, I reconnected with Lori. I asked her several times what she wanted to do. I knew her injuries were worse than mine. I also knew that if she could push the pedals I could get us to the finish. She deliberated for a long time. I could see it in her eyes that she didn’t want to quit either. But I could also see the disorientation in her eyes in the Marine Corps we called it “the thousand yard stare”. I also witnessed the constant wincing as she moved around in what should have been a nice comfortable leather passenger seat in Tony’s Tahoe. Eventually, I said, “Look let’s get back on the bike and if you can’t ride then you’ll know you made the right decision to end the ride here.” I reasoned with her that if the pain was unbearable then she would know. I could see the indecision and after all the time we wasted with SAG, Emergency Services and debating it was time to “shit or get off the pot”. We needed to bring clarity to her decision making and our predicament.
Here was my idea we would go backwards on the course and climb back up the canyon 1.5 miles. That waypoint was were we crashed and entered the SAG vehicles and made forward progress in the motor vehicles. It was very important to me to reenter the course at the crash site. We climbed slowly and then I asked her to stand and climb with me. It hurt her and the bike felt off balance, because she couldn’t put weight on her left hand/arm, but we did it. It was imperative that we could stand because we still had many steep climbs ahead. Climbs like Decker Canyon and Cotharin have sustained sections of 12-15% with pitches over 20%. I checked with my stoker if she thought she could ride and she said yes. We hit the 1.52 mile marker, made a U-turn and descended back to checkpoint #1. Much to the surprise of all the great volunteers at Checkpoint #1, we were back on the bike and requesting a “sticker” so that we could resume our ride.
AFTER THE CRASH
The first few miles were difficult. All told we had been off the bike for over an hour. As you can see from the graphs below we were off the bike from 1 hour 45 race time to 3 hours 2 minutes race time. My best guess is we were off the bike 1 hour and 17 minutes. That’s a long time off the bike under any circumstance but it is especially difficult to get going after a crash. We had substantial injuries now if you compound that with all the time on the sidelines we sure had a long road ahead of us to get back in the groove.
THE NEXT 80 MILES
Something neither of us had considered was how challenging it would be to descend with Lori’s injuries. Steep descents like Deer Creek will put a lot of weight on your hands/arms and shoulders while on a -12% grade. There are even steeper sections peaking at -19%. I was very cautious descending Deer Creek which prolonged the descent and put a lot of strain on her upper body. I could feel her helmet hit my back any time I braked too hard. So now I had to balance keeping the tandem’s speed down while still releasing the brakes often enough to keep the brakes from overheating but then having to apply them quite firmly because the tandem was gaining speed virtually exponentially on the 12% grade. We got through it but it really is one of the least favorite parts of the course for a tandem captain. If you’re not careful the tandem becomes a runaway train at over 300 pounds and overheated disc brakes
THE ONLY TANDEM
We were happy to be the only tandem at the start line for the double century. It meant loosing the three event California Stage Race series was up to us. Two years ago we made a mess of our attempt at the Stage Race with mechanicals on the second event. This year we were lucky enough to have two events relatively close to our homes Mulholland Double and Oceanside Double.
It is important to mention that the Mulholland Double Century is extremely difficult on the tandem while healthy. My suspicion for us being the only tandem at the event is that the amount of climbing and the steepness of the grades is concentrated in so few miles. There are countless ramps of 12-20% grades with sustained sections at double digit grades on the course. So while this event is difficult while healthy it became even more difficult for us and and in particular Lori because she could not put pressure on her left hand/arm. We did our best to “sit and grind” up many of the double digit ramps and stood very sparingly. When we stood the bike was out of balance as we were going 3-4 mph.
Initially after the crash I could tell Lori was nervous and apprehensive while descending so I kept the speed way down. Throughout the day as the roads dried out and I gained her confidence and we descended a little quicker but far slower than our usual speeds.
Eventually we rolled into the finish of the century which also served as the start for the second loop for the Double Century. Because of all the time we spent off the bike and our much slower pace throughout the climbs and descents we timed out and were not allowed to continue on to the double century. 108 miles and 13,442 feet is a good day’s work in anyone’s book.
Oh yes some of you might be wondering the condition of the bike. Of course, because you must be the cyclists in the bunch. The bike is fine. The Left shifter got scraped up, the bar tape was torn and a very minor scuff on the stoker’s saddle. The stoker’s stem and handlebar are secured to the captain’s seatpost. When we crashed the stoker’s handlebars hit the deck. During the remainder of the day we couldn’t get the handlebars straight while not twisting the captain’s seatpost. The best we could do was get her bars straight and let my saddle remain off center. I didn’t want to stop and take the time to loosen and retighten everything without a torque-wrench. We just wanted to continue to make forward progress and leave well enough alone. The last thing we needed was to snap a seatpost collar or a stem bolt on the stoker’s handlebar set-up.
As far as clothing — my highest-end Biemme Bibs (plain wrapper), my REV Cycling branded knee warmers, REV Cycling Pink Jersey (my favorite), and my wool base layer are all torn beyond repair. Additionally, my Kali Protectives Phenom helmet was cracked in several places and needs replacing. A shoutout for Kali Protectives they offer a lifetime Crash replacement program! No hassle just fill out the form pay for outbound shipping and a new helmet will be sent to you. Might be why REV Endurance Sports is a Kali Protectives dealer.
Thank you for taking the time to read my blog. It has been a long time since I have been actively writing and posting on this blog. I appreciate your support. I commit to releasing posts more often. I have over 40 posts in draft mode. They will get released and you will have a lot more material to read.
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