This was the last day official day of our East Coast tour. From here we were all headed down to Asheville for a Specialized product launch. We didn’t have to work at the launch, we just had to be there, we got to play the part of minor celebrity, schmoozing with the crème de la crème of the cycling media. Basically we were being given the opportunity to show off in front of even more people, so we were looking forward to it, because through osmosis or strict concentration we’d all learned something from the ULTRA school. But we still had to get there. And that meant we had to get packed and ride back to Blacksburg.
Now Kate was already gone when we woke up, having risen and escaped early—ostensibly because she wanted to be home to take care of her boyfriend and her boyfriend’s daughter on Father’s Day, but we all know she was merely fed up with us and the easiest to do was to get out of dodge before the roosters started cock-a-doodle-doing. We missed saying goodbye, especially Daniel as he was hoping she would’ve been able to confirm the presence of a certain full moon ghost runner. Honestly, at this point it is plausible Kate was taken by that ghost runner and that now she only exists in some transitional zone between life and death. We will never know for sure. As hardy amatuer adventurers we understand and accept that from time to time the unexplained will happen, the mysterious intervenes, the world gets turned on its ear. Such was the case with the disappearance of Kate.
No matter, the show must go on. There was the question of our foodstuffs and the arduous 15-ish miles back to our motel. Accepting that the end was upon us, all food rationing protocols went out the window. Breakfast was a feast. Triple coffees, double oatmeals, and whatever wine or beer was left hanging around. No one, and I mean no one, was interested in carrying anything extra back out to Blacksburg. There was no need.
We got to the riding. The first order of business was to check out the mountain bike jump line we’d ridden by as we descended into camp on the first day. Now, these things are not BMX-steep but they were doubles and they were built. I.e. not something that I should have necessarily taken lightly. But lightly I took them. After warming up on a long sender with a bench landing (meaning I could come up short without casing the transition, which I did a few times before clearing the thing) we moved up to a hip step-up with something like a 7-8 foot gap. Call it confidence, I’d probably call it stupidity, but after coming up very short on the first attempt, like tomahawk/sickening-cracking sound short, I decided to try again and that the solution was very simply to pile on more speed.
I mean come on, I came all this way, all 17-ish miles, to go camping and I’d be damned if I didn’t clear this jump on my pack bike.”
Attempt number two was probably my best, barely pegging the rear tire coming into the landing. I rode away upright and flush with confidence. But following in the grand tradition of idiots everywhere, I needed to take one more pass, I needed to land smooth, to flow out of the jump like the mighty Mississippi flows into El Caribe. And again, all I needed was a little more speed. Yeah, that’s it, just a little more speed. Moments later, while I was in the air on this last valiant/moronic attempt, time slowed down. Or maybe the frame rate of my memory sped up, it’s tough to tell the difference.
I saw the jump pass below me, light tan in the morning sun, the color of a manilla envelope.
I knew that I had not swung the bike over far enough to make the hip landing no matter what.
I was in the air and beyond that now, though.
I saw, very distinctly, the individual bits of gravel and embedded stone that made up the ground beyond the landing, the color of damp ground coffee.
I couldn’t hear Daniel, snapping away as I flew by him, I couldn’t hear Benedict or Moi as they gasped and jeered.
My experience is that in these moments of intense visual input sound is often muted; my brain was at capacity and made the choice to accept all visual stimuli and eschew the audio in an attempt to forestall a system overload.
Eventually it all came to an end. I crashed, slamming hard onto my left side, onto my left elbow. In these situations my normal reaction is to hop up as quickly as possible while running through the functions of all my joints, neck, muscles, etc. Knees, ankles, wrists, elbows, shoulders, necks, hips, etc. get articulated, worked, checked. Everything seemed fine, at least there were no broken bones. But there was something. And as the blood began to drip from my left fingertips I spun my elbow around and there it was, a large, bloody winking eye of a gash. I’d split that saggy elephant elbow skin and life liquid cried out of it.
We evaluated, Sarah sprayed it with a water bottle to clean it out, and honestly the only time it really ached was when she hit that hole in my arm straight on. But my arm worked, in fact it worked fine. As deep as the wound was it hadn’t hit any vital parts. So we slapped some gauze on it, wrapped it with tape and continued riding. In fact Moi, Chris and I decided to hit some technical “black diamond” single track on the way out and as we rocketed by a couple guys on full suspension bikes we could make out the faint sound of their jaws hitting the ground as we left them in the dust. Fully packed, drop handlebars and mixed-terrain tires. Yeah, we were flying.
Back in town the right thing to do was to visit urgent care and get some stitches. Thanks for the access to healthcare Obama! Turns out the chunk I took out of my elbow was roughly the shape and volume of my thumb up to the first joint. Like, sewing thimble size. A little flesh dunce cap. Seven stitches all told and I was cleared to go. After meeting up with the crew I found out I had missed the final golden light getting-the-band-back-together farewell tour sunset shot back at our hotel, but they assured me I was there in spirit. They assured me that on this ride we didn’t miss a thing.