Saturday, March 20, 2021

Mountain Biking is Dangerous (or is it?)

As I sit on the couch, recovering from another broken bone injury sustain while riding my mountain bike, I do have to admit that mountain biking is dangerous.  This time I broke three ribs in my back and sustain heavy muscle trauma (hurts worse than the the breaks) after crashing on on a jump on Misery Whip at Fall Creek Bike Park (Alsea Falls).  It was my second time through the jump line that day and I just over jumped a right hander into the left bank and crashed into a stump at the bottom of the "s" turn.  And I was by myself (though a doctor friend and his doctor friend found me about 15 minutes after I crashed). 

After my friends made sure I wasn't "seriously" injured and my legs started working a little better, they got me to the service road and I road down to my rig and drove to the immediate care facility.  

The final result was broken ribs 6,7 and 8 under the right shoulder, tendon and muscle trauma to both thighs, along with soreness and stiffness in numerous other places.

While I didn't miss a day of work, I have had a lot of time to think about the crash and resulting injuries, and here are a few observations:

1. Mountain biking CAN be dangerous.  I have wrote a few posts about crashing, it is part of being a mountain biker (see my video But the vast majority of crashes do not result in broken bones.

2. Mountain biking is NOT dangerous unless you make it that way.  Meaning, my mountain biking has progressed from thinking a green trail was hard to riding double black diamond trails.  But in my experience, I have only been hurt or seen others get hurt when they are trying something more than just riding.  For example,  I have had three broken bone crashes when I was jumping my mountain bike. I broke a collar bone turning off my GoPro and hit the only rock on a flat trail.  I broke another collar bone riding to the trail in a very heavy fog and hit a curb.  So I have never been hurt just riding the trail no matter how rough or technical the trail was.  So my trying to jump (which I took up in my 50's) is where I have received broken bones.  Otherwise I could have rolled through the spots and been fine.

3. Sleeping in the recliner sucks.

4. It is true that you should never ride alone, but it happens.  So you need to let people know when you leave and how long you will be.  That way people can know where to look if you don't come back on time.  I also carry my cell phone with me and I wear a RoadID.  I am also very grateful for the two mountain biking docs who found me on the trail. The mountain biking community is all about that, helping each other.  Also, I have to say thanks to the hikers in the parking lot who loaded my bike when I couldn't. 

5. Bones heal faster than muscles and tendons. The bruising and tightness of my hamstrings has been far worse that dealing with the broken ribs.  I felt like I could have got back on my bike and pedaled around the block on the flats after a week with my ribs.  But I'm barely able to walk after two weeks and sitting has been very difficult.  

6. Follow-up with your primary care doctor.  Mountain bikers tend to think they are tough, as the saying goes, "Mountain bikers don't sue when they crash, they take pictures of their injuries and send them to their friends." But, when I went to immediate care, they were really only focused on seeing if I had any broken bones in my back.  They never even looked at my legs.  So you have to be an advocate for yourself.  Once I was home and the adrenalin and shock wore off, I discovered a lot more injuries and soreness.  

7. It is tough watching your body change.  I went from a very strong and in shape person, to a person who could barely walk and needed help getting dressed.  My legs are weak, my "saddle toughness" is wearing off and I've put on 5 or 6 lbs. At my age (61) I have to consider is trying to say make that gap jump worth 6+ weeks off the bike.  When you ride 3+ days a week, that is a lot to give up for a "moment" of glory.

8. With that said, don't beat yourself up playing the "what if" game.  I've gone over my crash (what I can remember) over and over thinking things like, if "I would have just been 12 inches to the right..." and you can't do that to much of that or it will get in your head.  Some might ask am I now scared to get back on my bike or "did I learn my lesson." I'm not scared at all, in fact I can't wait to get back riding.  But do I have a healthier understanding of my limitations and skill level.  I have learned that I can take a drop, but I am not good at taking a "lipped" jump.  You have to continue to "ride" the bike even in the air, and I realize I will brake before a jump (not a good thing) and my mind freezes in the air, so I don't "ride" the bike.  While it is an amazing feeling when you hit it all right, I'm not good at it, and I need to face it, and know that it is okay.

I've been riding with a group for about 18 years now and we ride year round.  The Old Men Mountain Bike Club (OMMBC) has also had its share of broken bones as shown below, and most have also been from jumping or pushing the edge:

And in 2020, our riding community (not one of the OMMBC) lost a friend at Black Rock.  So in the end Mountain Biking is dangerous, but I still maintain the danger is self-inflicted vs. a road rider who can not control the dangers around them.  I feel far safer on my mountain bike on a black diamond run than I do in the bike lane riding out to the trailhead. 

So in the end, mountain biking is as dangerous as you make it out to be, and I like that.

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