It was bound to happen.
If I was going to traipse around the world, hiking, cycling, marathoning, and triathloning, I was bound to
hurt myself somehow.
It comes with the territory. You can take as many precautions and reduce the risks as much as possible, but you can’t prevent the inevitable.
Living life is a risk. Sitting in a moving vehicle is a risk. Heck, spending most of your time in a chair in front of a TV or a computer is even more of a long-term risk than any hiking, cycling, gyming or marathoning I might be doing. Do I need to remind you about obesity, diabetes, heart disease and all the other myriad risks of sedentary living?
What was bound to happen? My bike wheel got caught in a tram track—you know, those huge, menacing, gaping linear holes in the ground present in many modern European streets. I fell—my right arm outstretched—and as I hit the ground the first thing I was aware of was that my shoulder had popped out of its socket. The second thing I did was to look behind me and make sure I wasn’t in the way of cars (or an oncoming tram). I wasn’t. I slowly pulled myself up from my strewn position on the road in downtown Brussels and as I did, my shoulder slipped back into its socket.
That wasn’t my first fall of the day, believe it or not. My husband and I started a four-day cycling trip in Belgium and Holland earlier that morning. By mid-day, we were cycling through the Belgian city of Ghent. Beside Amsterdam, I had never seen so many city cyclists in my life and they were all cycling around like headless chickens. They were so random and seemed so distracted and unfocused that it made me feel extremely wary and uncomfortable cycling in their midst. It wasn’t their fault, however, that my bike wheel got caught in a tram track on one of Ghent’s narrow streets. Yes. My shoulder popped out later that day after falling because of a tram track for the SECOND TIME. My first fall shook me. I had some minor scratches. But when I got up, a dashingly handsome, blonde construction worker standing just ahead on the road caught my eye and nodded at me, basically asking if I was all right using the secret language of eyes I reserve for handsome men. That made me feel better so I immediately got back on the bike.
Only minutes later, still in Ghent, I almost fell another time. We were cycling along a busy road that had cars and lots of headless cyclists and pedestrians in it. One said pedestrian decided to cross the road right in front of me without looking down my side of the road before crossing. I managed to stop the bike just as I hit her many shopping bags. She apologized with a smirk on her face. All I could say was, “Shit!”
This trip was not meant to be. I’m serious. We originally meant to do it in May. But my husband fell off a horse in Cairo and broke his collar bone, requiring surgery and weeks of recuperation and physiotherapy. Two of my husband’s colleagues were supposed to join us on the cycling trip. They decided they wouldn’t go if we weren’t going. We all postponed the trip, and our ferry reservations to Belgium, to October. Three days before the October trip one of the two colleagues told my husband he was having back problems and wouldn’t be able to make it. The other fellow was his friend and cancelled as well. Colin and I went ahead with the trip alone.
It was just one of those doomed trips. What can I say? I feel lucky that all I got out of it was a dislocated shoulder.
My second fall really shook me. But after I got up, Colin pulling my bike off the ground and two Belgians insisting on calling emergency services, I whirled my arm around my shoulder to make sure it really was in place, found that it was and that I only had some scrapes and minor bleeding here and there, so I told my Belgian rescuers that I really was fine. I promise. No. Please don’t call the emergency services but thank you for caring. We were less than five kilometers from the hotel district, so I managed to get myself back on the bike and cycle just that little bit more.
By morning I knew this trip wasn’t happening. And here is my whole point about writing this blog post.
My shoulder popped right out of its socket but I was still, albeit only remotely, considering continuing the cycling trip. That was STUPID. I know I wouldn’t have thought that way if I was alone. But something in the back of my head was worrying about Colin’s trip. I didn’t want him to be disappointed. We had been planning this trip for ages and we were both really looking forward to it.
There were other things that day. We didn’t stop once for a proper meal even though the full distance of that ride was 120km. We stopped several times for snacks. We had tons of an energy date cake I had made that was great. We ate bananas. We drank lots of water. But 120km is a long distance to go without a proper meal when there is no reason on earth not to stop for one. There really was no reason. We told each other we’d eat when we got to Ghent, our halfway mark. Instead, I told Colin we could just eat cake and bananas and if we got hungry later we could stop then. There never was a later. The further we cycled, the nearer we got, the more we just wanted to keep cycling to get to our destination. When you’re tired and you’re low on energy you are more likely to make mistakes.
I had also designed our daily cycles for this trip as a distance challenge. Three of the four days would have been in the 120-135km range. I wanted us to test ourselves to see if it could be done. I had cycled an average of 100km/day when I cycled across Europe the year before. We had recently participated in a 100 mile cycling event. I had been doing some speed training on the bike. I wanted to see if I could keep up a good pace over a long distance. I probably could have. But two falls in one day and one almost-crash have me thinking.
Different kinds of activities require different kinds of preparations and plans. It’s not the end of the world to cycle 100 miles during an official event over mainly empty country roads, stopping only very briefly to boost one’s energy at the event’s official pit stops. But that’s different from cycling several days consecutively. Cycling alone is not the same as cycling with other people. Cycling through cities is not the same as cycling on country roads. Navigating by yourself is not the same as cycling in an event where clear arrows are placed every few kilometers pointing out the way. Touring with 15kg of weight on your bike is not the same as racing on a light road bike. Cycling in an area or a country you’re familiar with is not the same as cycling in an area or a country you don’t know. Preparations, plans and execution need to be different for each kind of cycle.
I don’t know whether me being a bit tired might have played a role in my two falls that day. I might not
have made a single mistake that day and it was simply fate. But this experience has taught me that I need to be every bit as vigilant and as smart as I was when I cycled alone across Europe for two months as when I’m doing other kinds of cycling.
The morning following my fall, my shoulder was aching terribly. I did a quick Internet search of websites I knew to be credible and realized I needed to see a doctor and to get x-rayed. The Belgian doctor told me my x-rays were fine but that I needed to keep my arm in a sling for two weeks and to see a consultant when I’m back in the UK. Two weeks later (today), the British orthopedic surgeon told me I had a very minor fracture on the head of the humerus (the upper arm bone) but that I could take my arm out of the sling and start physiotherapy. My arm is still sore and quite weak, but it’s good to know I can start to try moving it a bit. Now I can start nursing it back to strength.
Falls are bound to happen. We “fall” all the time in life. We just pick ourselves back up, dust ourselves off, and work on moving on. But it’s really important we learn lessons from our falls and failures. I’m so grateful that my preparations included a first aid kit, making sure I had my travel insurance in tact, and knowing I had enough money to cover emergencies. And I’ve taken in a lot to consider for future trips and events. Falls are bound to happen. When they do, we deal with it. But it is so important to do everything possible to prevent them from happening in the first place, and to be properly prepared in case they do happen.