I had been on the bicycle since 7 that morning. I had already ridden between 65 and 70 miles as I glided downhill along a thickly wooded country road in the scenic farmlands of Frederick, Maryland. It was probably noon as I approached what could be the most beautiful single lane steel bridge that I have ever seen.
I was really excited when I first discovered that bridge just a few weeks earlier. I returned there the very next day to fish under that bridge and a few days later I returned with our 4-year old daughter to give her her first rock-skipping lesson underneath that bridge. Soon afterward, I began incorporated it into my weekend solo bike rides.
It was a late September day and one of the first that really felt like fall. It was cool, cloudy, and it had drizzled on and off throughout the morning. I was exhausted and wet by then but with only 15 miles to go I was urged on by the knowledge that I’d soon be home relaxing with my wife and daughter. By now it had begun to rain pretty steadily and my back tire began to rooster tail as I picked up speed.
I had only ridden over that bridge on my bike 5 to 6 times before that day but it had never been wet. Over the weeks, I gained confidence and recently began riding over at full speed. I learned I could even pedal as I crossed in order to maintain more momentum as I approached the hard climb that awaited on the other side.
I tried to quickly weigh out my options and felt sure that I wouldn’t need to stop and walk across. And that was very nearly the last mistake I’d ever make.
As I approached I realized that I would need to quickly scrub off more speed, but it was already too late as I almost locked-up the brakes trying to slow down on the wet pavement but I managed to save it just in time to coast onto the bridge’s glimmering steel grates. I was fully focused on staying upright. Absolutely no pedaling. I remember thinking “Good. I’m gonna make it.” Just then I felt the bike slip ever so slightly to the left. As I tried to correct I realized that my tires where no better than skis on ice. And I reflexively unclipped my left foot and began skating over the bridge as if on a single roller blade. My cleat finally got snagged in the grates and was whip lashed into the surface of the bridge like a sack of potatoes as I slid to the center of the span.
The next thing I remember was hearing the river. At first I was confused, and when I opened my eyes and saw the Monocacy flowing gently below me, I was even more confused. Next, I noticed the blood slowly pooling on the “I” beam just below my face. I was bleeding badly from gashes all over my body. My left ear had been partly torn off of my scalp and I had broken ribs, as well as, a pinky that was barely attached.
I somehow got to my feet and picked up my bike. Amusingly, I was actually disappointed as I realized that my bike was too badly damaged to ride home. I soon realized however that I was not out of danger yet. As I tried to take my first step, I began to get an idea of how badly I had been hurt. My legs were like noodles and I felt drunk as I stumbled sideways towards the edge of the bridge. I came close to falling over the side several times, each time grabbing a steel cross beam just in time to keep me on the top.
When I finally got to the other side and laid down on the shoulder, I immediately felt an improbable sense of peace coming over me. The purest peace I had ever felt. Like that of a death row inmate whose been granted a reprieve just seconds before the light went out for good. It was as if I were born anew on that bridge.
I calmly pulled out my cell phone and called my wife, then 911. Just then, two women drove across the bridge. They promptly got out and put a blanket over me. They then helped guide the ambulance to our location and said a few prayers as they held my good hand and comforted me with assurances that I’d be okay and that help was on it’s way.
My bike helmet had the bridge’s steel grill marks so deeply indented into it that as we rode to the waiting helicopter, one of the EMT’s felt compelled to place it atop my bound feet so she could snap a photograph of it. After the photo, she gently placed the helmet on my chest and assured me that there would have been no need for the helicopter had I not been wearing it.
That helmet has hardly left my side since. I will forever help convince anyone that I can to, “WEAR A HELMET! I have even written a new mantra to the growing list of wisdoms that guide my life:
“You cannot spend “too much” money on your bicycle helmet.”
This I Believe
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