So...as you may know, I had a bit of a life changing experience on Saturday 7/28. Not life changing in the sense that my mobility has been temporarily impaired, or in the sense that I'm dealing with a short-term setback. Life changing in the sense that I appreciate the perspective that this accident has brought me. That's why the word accident is in quotes in the title. It wasn't an accident. It was the universe delivering exactly what I needed at exactly the right time. With that in mind, I don't want to spend a ton of time talking about the accident itself, but since you want to know...
I wrecked descending off of Brasstown Bald. I came into a corner at a high rate of speed, but allowed my self adequate time to brake and get around the corner safely. I had safely navigated that same corner twice within 12 hours of my accident, so I knew exactly what I needed to do to get around the bend. With about 75 meters until I needed to make the turn, I started applying the brakes hoping to slow the bike down from approximately 35 mph to 18-20 mph. That didn't happen. Instead, the brakes locked up almost instantly. The bike began fishtailing and I tried desperately to bring the bike back under control. I managed to ride out one fishtail at about 30 mph, and release the brakes to stop the bike from further fishtailing. The problem is that the bike and I were now right on top of the corner, and we were still traveling at a high rate of speed. So I grabbed the brakes again. They locked up again. And this time the fishtail was too violent to manage. The bike lurched sideways and I was thrown off the bike at approximately 20 mph. Luckily, I was deep enough into the turn that the upper part of my body was launched into the dirt. The lower part of my body landed on the road, with the brunt of the impact being directly on my hip.
When I wrecked, I flagged down the first person I saw. An older couple stopped their vehicle and offered to call an ambulance. In denial, I asked if there was anyway they could just drive me and my bike back to my car. Another group of people then stopped and offered water, and a physical therapist in the group tried to help diagnose what was going on. I was scared, in pain, in shock (not actual shock) but I wasn't alone. The comfort and care that they provided to an absolute stranger was amazing. After unsuccessfully trying to lift me into the SUV - the pain was too intense - they set me down, offered comfort in the form of water and a towel, and loaded my bicycle in the back of their car. Sweet, one less thing to worry about. We tried a different method to get into the SUV, and I slowly, painfully dragged my muddy self into these complete strangers' vehicle. They took care in coming off the mountain to not turn too quickly, or to hit any bumps, and they provided water and a couple Aleve. As we were driving to my car, I started to come to grips with the fact that something was really wrong. The couple suggested going to the hospital and I conceded. They didn't just call an ambulance or drop me off at the hospital though. Instead, they drove to my car, and drove my car to the hospital. They loaded my bike up on my car and everything, and waited to make sure that I was in good hands and able to contact my family before leaving. Complete strangers that leapt into action - didn't think once about stopping to help. They didn't think about the inconvenience or liabilities associated with loading a guy and his bike in their car, and then driving that guy's car to a hospital 30 miles away. They just did what the could. They were my heroes on that day.
When I arrived at Union General Hospital in Blairsville, the severity of the accident still hadn't really set in. I attribute this largely to the level of care provided by my newfound heroes as well as the staff at the facility. Anita and Tiffiny became my new heroes. Anita took charge in managing my pain, my expectations, and was just a really steady, comforting force. Tiffiny on the other hand, initially came in to get me to fill out paperwork. Great. This is the last thing I want to deal with right now. She dropped the paperwork off, asked if I could fill it out at my convenience and left. When she came back some time later, I figured it was to hound me about the paperwork. Instead, she conveyed that she felt horrible about me being there alone, and asked what she could do to help. She made sure that I had a phone charger, she ran out to my car to get my laptop and iPad, she had security go out and ensure that my bike and car were secured, she brought me Chapstick, etc. All before I filled out a single form. It seemed like her job description shifted, and instead of being the paperwork person, she was the hospital mom. I can't express how grateful I am that she executed this job so well.
Anita and Tiffiny's care took my mind mostly off the injury. I wasn't thinking about the severity of the accident, or the long-term impact. I was comfortable that no matter what it was, that I would get the care I needed. It was only when a doctor came in post-X-rays that it started to really set in. To paraphrase, the message was: this is really bad, you're very lucky, but you may never ride again. And this is where I should have hit my low. But I didn't. I called my girlfriend, who had already developed a plan with my parents to get up to Georgia as quickly as possible, and she comforted me. Her words plus the outpouring of support from friends via text and Facebook never let me get down. Concerned? Maybe a little. But how can I fail with a support network like I have, and with strangers in this world that are heroes in hiding.
After the X-rays came back, a plan was devised. I'd be taken to Northeast Georgia Medical Center in Gainesville, GA for surgery on the hip and femur. Ok, now I'm scared. I've never had surgery and I've heard all the horror stories about surgeries gone wrong. This is bad. But this was the situation. And all I could do was attack the situation with the best mindset possible. So I tried to get myself to this space. They loaded me into the ambulance for a bumpy ride across the mountains, and Anita loaded me up with pain medicine for the journey. The EMT chatted with me in the ambulance, and I appreciated his demeanor. He wasn't talking to fill the time, or to take my mind off the pain. He was talking to me genuinely, and he became my pal for an hour. I appreciated his friendship so much in that moment. He paused our conversation when I was obviously struggling, he stopped to allow me to speak with my parents, and he just all-around cared. I was so thankful for his friendship.
I arrived at Northeast Georgia Medical Center at around 6pm. I was taken into the ER while they prepared a room, and I was struggling. I had become very nauseous from the pain medicine. I became very pale, light headed, and started to sweat profusely. The nurses calmly dialed up some anti-nausea medicine and walked through the gameplan with me. I was going to be transferred to a room when it was ready, I was going to meet with a surgeon and an anesthesiologist, and I was going into surgery as soon as possible - either tonight or tomorrow. By this point, my mom, dad, and girlfriend were only a couple hours away. Their arrival became the perfect landmark. Just keep it together until they show up, and everything will get better.
My recollection of my time in the ER room at Northeast Georgia Medical Center is quite foggy. I don't remember much from what I believe was a brief stay, but I do remember being rolled away down a bunch of hallways, an elevator, and what felt like an endless number of turns. I had made it to my hospital room. Another landmark. By this point, the anti-nausea medicine had started to kick in, and I had started to feel just a little bit more human. I was still overwhelmed by what felt like 10 people that descended on my room within minutes of my arrival. The nurse, the nurse tech, the surgeon, the anesthesiologist, etc.
Even in the moment, I found myself astounded by both how difficult these individuals' jobs are, and by how perfectly they perform their jobs. To offer someone care and comfort to the extent that they're not even worried about their pain, their injury, or their long-term status speaks to how well-suited the staff at NGMC is to offer primary care. Their ability to empathize, to be patient, to be consistent, to be caring, and to be really, really intelligent is an impressive combination. I found myself blown away by their excellence, as we talked through the next steps. I especially appreciated the surgeon's approach. Here's your situation. Here's what I'm going to do. Here's my goal - to get you back to doing what it is that you love. Here's the thing - it's going to be a long, hard road, but you're going to control your own recovery.
As the surgeon was talking to me, my family walked in. Another landmark. And man, what a major landmark. Despite all the care that the various individuals offered me throughout the day, there's nothing like a hug from mom and dad and a kiss from the girlfriend. They came at the perfect time too. The staff was gearing up to rush me into surgery, and everything felt very hectic. Add to the mix my own nervousness about surgery, and it was a very unsettling moment. It was nice having them there to talk to the surgeon with me, and to ask questions that I was either too doped up, or too dull to ask.
Everything was happening so quickly. It felt like every time a staff member left, they were replaced by a new staff member. I was trying to catch up with my family, but everything was moving quickly. They were intent on getting me into surgery as soon as possible. The surgeon felt as though it gave me the best shot at a successful surgery, and a full recovery. Before I knew it, we were on the move. I say "we", because mom, dad, and Yasmin were not going to leave my side until they had to. We got to the operating room and said our goodbyes. I was so, so thankful to have them there.
I talked very briefly with the anesthesiologist. He mentioned seeing a nasty wreck in the Tour de France due to a riders' brakes locking up. This guy understands. Comforting. He then says that he's going to hold my Adam's Apple to help put me under. I was out before he even touched me. I woke up gasping for air. I was drugged and had no idea where I was, but I remember almost yelling "Was it a successful surgery?". I asked a couple different times, as I darted my eyes around the room. I must have looked like a possessed man. I pretty quickly slumped back down into the bed and closed my eyes. I was so disoriented and so drugged. But I heard the doctors clear as day, when they said that the surgery was a success.
The next couple days were slightly less chaotic, but filled with more of the same - incredible care by the NGMC staff, heartwarming messages from friends and co-workers, unconditional love and support from mom, dad, and Yasmin, and just a general sense of comfort. Yes, there was a lot of pain, and there were some tough times, but the luxury of comfort - afforded to me by all the love and support - is so important at such a difficult time.
I don't have any concerns about making a full recovery. I know that I have the support structure to help me through this process. I always knew this, but the love and support that I've received from friends, acquaintances, and co-workers has reminded me once again of this. I'm talking about friends from Ohio that I haven't spoken to in 20 years sending me stories of cyclists that have returned to form following hip injuries. My boss checking on me daily and encouraging me to take my time in my recovery. My girlfriend being a steady source of love, compassion, and day-to-day assistance - like discarding my pee when I peed in a urinal container because it was too painful to get out of bed. My mom and dad dropping everything and not ever letting it show that they were annoyed, or worried, or anything besides loving and supportive.
I also have the benefit of perspective - a renewed sense that people are inherently good. My experience could not suggest otherwise. But beyond that - there are heroes that walk amongst us every day. They could be a complete stranger, they could be caretakers, or they could be the people that are the closest to you. Don't ever take these heroes for granted. This accident gave me that perspective, and man, that's a whole heck of a lot more important than is riding a bicycle.
biking blue ridge (4/28 & 4/29)
It started as an innocuous conversation about my birthday...
[Amazing, lovely, awesome, etc.] Girlfriend: so what do you want to do for your birthday?
Me: I want to ride my bike in the mountains.
And the plan was hatched. Kind of. Initially I was thinking that I would ride Pine Mountain. Pine Mountain, located just outside of Columbus, GA, is a short 3 hour trip from Tallahassee and features a few moderate climbs. I discovered Pine Mountain during the now defunct Wheels O' Fire century. And I immediately fell in love. The climbs aren't particularly long or particularly challenging (with the longest topping out at approximately 1.5 miles and with a 5-7% gradient) but the ride itself is incredible. You ride for miles and miles along the spine of the mountain and are treated to amazing views, fun rollers, and ultimately a really peaceful experience.
On top of just loving the ride, Pine Mountain was appealing due to the distance from Tallahassee. My girlfriend and I could reasonably work full days on Friday, take our time getting out of town, and still make it to Pine Mountain relatively early in the evening. It was also appealing due to my familiarity with the bike rides in the area. I've ridden Pine Mountain enough that I know where I'm going and know that I won't get into too much trouble. Additionally, given my point in my training Pine Mountain made tons of sense. I've just started back on the bike and haven't hardly ridden at any distance or with any elevation. Easier climbs (that's an oxymoron if I've ever seen one) align perfectly with my fitness right now.
Perfect. Pine Mountain makes all the sense in the world.
Let's go to the Blue Ridge Mountains.
For years I had heard about how good the cycling was in North Georgia, and then I started researching. In my research, I stumbled upon this little fellow known as Brasstown Bald.
"7th hardest climb in the U.S."
"Highest point in Georgia"
"...a portion of the climb known as 'The Wall', with gradients exceeding 20%"
I must meet this fellow.
And this is one of my reasons for blogging about my journey - to encourage you to do something crazy, seemingly impossible, or incredibly challenging routinely. Riding on roads in North Georgia that I've never even seen is crazy. Driving 6 hours after work to do so is crazy. The climb itself is impossible given my level of fitness coming into the weekend. Screw it. What do I have to lose from trying?
So off we went. To the Appalachians.
So the plan for Saturday, my birthday, was to get a longer ride in with tons of climbing. Check and check. I pulled up a cue sheet titled "Ride Around Brasstown" put out by a local cycling group. I had no intentions of following the cue sheet except to get from where I parked my car to Brasstown Bald. I'll be damned if I'm riding around Brasstown Bald. Nah. I'm riding up Brasstown.
Brimming with exuberance and false confidence I point my bike in the direction of Brasstown Bald. I record a video highlighting the days plan and encouraging everyone to donate of course. Said video is having difficulty uploading to this site, but may go up on my Facebook page.
At the time that I record the video I believe that I'm already on the Brasstown Bald climb. Little did I know that I was actually on the climb leading up to the climb. Ummm. What? I'm from Florida. We don't have climbs leading up to climbs. Hell, we barely have climbs. What is this nonsense?
I know that Brasstown Bald is a 3ish mile climb, but outside of that I don't really know where it starts. So when I'm suffering and when I've been climbing for about 15 minutes I'm thinking that I'm in good shape. Working hard but I can hold this pace until the end of the climb.
No problem. I reach the visitor center thinking that I've maybe got another mile or so of climbing. Sweet. Then I see this...
Problem. Big freaking problem.
At this point I realize that I haven't even started Brasstown Bald yet. I've climbed about 2 miles to get to the start of Brasstown.
I unclip and take a quick rest because I've got the perfect combination of having worked too hard too early, complete frustration at myself, and being fearful of the remainder of this ride.
But I'm still having fun. Onward.
Ok. Not having as much fun anymore. Wow. Within feet of starting the climb, the gradient has pitched up to 13%. I'm huffing and puffing within seconds. Quad sucking. Soul sucking. Welcome to Brasstown.
I plug on for maybe half a mile, which translates to about 5 minutes of climbing, before I just can't do it anymore. Patience. Take a little break, slow the heartrate down, and keep ticking off the miles. I take a few photos on my breaks (posted under Day 2).
Onward part II. Ass kicking part II. Brutal. Brasstown Bald is unrelenting. When climbing, even the slightest little bit of flattening-out goes along way. Even 15 feet at 3-4% gradient would do the trick. Let me recover. Please.
Brasstown Bald ain't having that. Unrelenting. Every turn brings a seemingly more challenging section than the last. I grind through a couple more sections with 13 and 14% gradient. And I'm done...again. Another break.
Keep plugging along, Jason. Bit by bit. One pedal stroke at a time.
Onward 3.0. 13% gradient 3.0. I make it through another tough, tough section and I'm starting to feel really close to the top. The trees are thinning out. There aren't many more points in Georgia that are taller than me right now. I've got this.
Then...The Wall. Again, I still have no idea that this is actually The Wall or where The Wall was going to come in the climb. But it comes at about the 2 mile mark, after 20 minutes of climbing. Which, given my nice preamble to the actual climb, means that it comes after about 4 miles and 40 minutes of climbing.
I see The Wall and I know I can't make it up. I don't even know if I could walk up it at this point.
I waive the white flag. That's the end of Brasstown Bald for me. Time to get some mileage in.
I start exploring and stumble onto a climb that just doesn't seem to stop ever. It's at about 6% gradient for nearly 5 miles, so I'm loving it. I ride that climb very well and, feeling mostly proud of my day, start to head back to the car.
I hit the car at 61 miles for the day and over 6,000 feet of climbing. Solid day.
The plan for day two is to get about an hour of climbing in. As I said in one of the videos, simulating the topography of France is difficult, so I need to get climbing time in. That said, I know that I worked really hard yesterday and that I don't have a ton of juice left. Oh yeah...I also need to get back home at a reasonable hour so that I can study for my last MBA exam ever, and ya know, get ready for the work week.
As I'm loading up I'm feeling the effort of yesterday. But just being in the mountains is so fun and so energizing that I'm looking forward to my ride.
Today my girlfriend makes the trek over to Hiawassee with me. Because of its great view, and because I simply can't properly describe Brasstown Bald to her, we actually drive up Brasstown before starting my ride. I show her The Wall and explain how I don't even think I have the right climbing gears on my bike to make it up the climb.
I drop her off at a coffee shop and head towards the mountains again. I'm debating on whether or not I even want to try Brasstown Bald again, or to take on one of the longer, but less challenging climbs that I discovered yesterday.
How often will I get the chance to climb Brasstown Bald? Done. Bike pointed toward the highest point in Georgia for the second day in a row.
I set out towards Brasstown Bald and it only takes one hill to remind me that my legs are trashed. The combo of trashed legs, plus riding Brasstown the day before, plus driving it this morning add up perfectly though.
Being fatigued forces me to be extremely conscious of my energy expenditure. Unlike the day before, I don't let the exuberance get the best of me. Patience.
Being familiar with the climb allows me to set landmarks, to compare how I'm feeling on Day 2 to how I was feeling on Day 1 at the same point, and to generally understand how to attack the climb.
Being a psycho leads to me making the decision to tackle the climb before Brasstown Bald plus Brasstown. I take the climb from the opposite direction as yesterday, which makes the climb a little longer but also a little more gradual. I now know this climb as Jacks Gap - a 4 mile slog at an average gradient of just under 7%.
I take Jacks Gap at a reasonable pace, placing an emphasis on not ever working too hard. My legs feel like I'm working too hard, but my breathing isn't labored, so I know that I'm not making the same mistake I made the day before.
Jacks Gap takes a lot out of me though and as Brasstown Bald comes into sight again, with its "Steep Grades Next 3 Miles" sign taunting me, I have serious doubts about my ability to even make it up the first 13% section. I tell myself that I'll just go as far as I can and turn back around.
Something weird happens though. I start the climb and all of the sudden I'm feeling great. Within 10 pedal strokes I make the decision that I'm making it to the top of this damn mountain. Today.
As opposed to yesterday, my breathing is under control. My legs aren't screaming in quite the same way. Don't get me wrong - every pedal stroke is work, and every one hurts, but not the way it did yesterday. Weird. But awesome.
I realize that I'm ready to suffer today. I knew today was going to be a suffer fest from the first pedal stroke, just due to the level of fatigue. So I've settled into that mindset. And when you settle into that mindset, man, you can move mountains...or...climb them.
Instead of trying so hard to block out all the pain and the noise and the doubt, I embrace it. Ya this is hard. Really freaking hard. But guess what? I'm just a little bit harder.
That's my mindset as I slowly but surely snake my way up the mountain. As I reach the second 13% gradient section I'm feeling the effort but I'm also feeling like I've got just enough juice to reach the top. After about 5 more minutes of climbing I hit the third 13% gradient, which happens to be right before The Wall.
The Wall. Aka the end of my climb yesterday. I prepare myself for The Wall by talking through how much it's going to suck. I want to manage my expectations. It's going to suck and it's going to take everything you've got. You're going to have to work hard as hell to get up The Wall. Is that what you're prepared to do?
And I'm glad that I prepared myself in that manner. You've already been climbing for 50 minutes. Now, empty the tank.
I've been alternating between climbing in the seated position and getting out of the saddle for the really difficult parts. As I approach The Wall I preemptively get out of the saddle. Each pedal stroke becomes harder and harder as the gradient goes from 17% to 18%. 19%. I almost tip over.
Empty the tank. I try to speed up my cadence because not doing so means I'll be tipping over. Doing so means that I'll be working harder than I already am.
20%. My breathing has become so labored that it hurts my core. I feel this deep burning pain in my lungs, my core, and of course my legs. Sweat pours out of my helmet and down my glasses. I've been on The Wall for 60 seconds already. How much longer can this last?
21%. Every pedal stroke is happening in slow motion. Everything hurts. How much longer can I sustain this?
22%. I'm not even looking up at this point. Head down and try to keep the bike moving forward. So when I hit the 22% section of the climb, I don't even realize that I've only got maybe 50 more meters of The Wall. When I do glance up and see the end in sight I start to celebrate. The pain is still there but it's washed away. I'm freaking doing this.
After 1:40 on The Wall, the climb levels out. And levels out by Brasstown Bald standards means gradients at 10%. Still really, really hard. But at this point it doesn't matter. From driving the climb that morning, I know that I only have maybe a quarter of a mile before I've done it.
So I take the last quarter of a mile to reflect on the accomplishment, to take in the sights of the Appalachians, and to remind myself of the value of taking on something impossible routinely.
After 6 miles of climbing and just under an hour, I've freaking done it!
What a moment.
I'll be routinely blogging, vlogging, and otherwise talking about my preparations. Primarily, I'll be doing so to allow contributors to follow my progress.
I'll also be doing so because I hope that the transparency throughout the process encourages someone to try something that sounds crazy, impossible, or any combination of the two. The Haute Route sounds crazy...it is crazy. Perhaps a new level of crazy for me. But I firmly believe in tackling something that sounds impossible on a routine basis.
There will be challenges throughout. There will be times where I don't think I can do it. And I want to be transparent throughout that process.
Maybe doing so helps someone in some way.
Maybe it encourages someone to do something impossible.
I'm a proud Big Brother, and despite my Little wishing that I wouldn't run so much, a proud endurance athlete. I started my endurance career by signing up for a marathon when I couldn't even complete a 10k, and I started my Big Brother career by volunteering when I wasn't sure I even could offer a youth much. Both processes have showed me that stepping outside of your comfort zone serves as the best method of improving yourself.