To the unpleasantries of September — contentious and unsatisfying club races, difficulties in getting my Radical prepped for the track, some coward lobbing libelous Molotovs at my employment from (what might turn out to not be) complete anonymity — I can now add a long, jagged fracture of the right fibula, sustained at Austin’s Walnut Creek Trails this past Tuesday. On my warm-up lap. I cleared three jumps on a borrowed Specialized P3 then promptly earned myself a two-month sit-down in the final turn.
Since I was in Austin for the primary purpose of reviewing the new Rolls-Royce Ghost, I stuck around for two days and did my job, walking on the ankle while telling myself not to be a you-know-what about it. This probably increased the difficulty of the repair to come, but I have a great young surgeon who trained with the fellow who fixed my left tibia in 2015 — who, in turn, trained with the fellow who did my femur nail in 1988 and who recently jammed some plasma into my right knee. I’ll be able to ride much of the indoor skatepark season and if I do all my therapy well I should be able to hit the big jumps at Snowshoe when they open in May.
This is going to hurt a little bit, of course, but if you know me then you know what really hurts is the loss of time.
Realistically speaking, I have between twelve and twenty-four months until my son is fast enough on a bike to make my participation a drag for him. We will still be able to hang out at parks and whatnot, but the truest joys — those of running at 30mph over broken rocks on the way to a stretcher of a jump between trees — will be gone. Right now I wait for him, I burn a set of SRAM Code brake pads every weekend to not run him down on the long hills, but waiting is a father’s game, not one for sons.
Cyclists in the so-called extreme disciplines all eventually have to make peace with the circadian rhythm of injury, recovery, and riding. Virtually no one is immune; the most durable rider I ever knew was Big Nick Pearson, who rode from 1984 to 2013 with no broken bones, then suffered a miserable shoulder break going over the gate in a race, then died two years later of a random embolism at the end of a training ride. The rest of us, like John Mayer, are frequently in repair. Last year around this time I pulled a ligament off a toe. Between then and now I’ve had a bad hit to the ribs and some sort of strain/hernia on my right side that doesn’t seem to want to heal. I feel it not as pain but as a presence, like something has burrowed into the area right under my ribcage. I know when it happened — at a pumptrack outside St. Louis — but it doesn’t stop me from riding so I haven’t thought much about it. Maybe I’ll get it looked at now.
After thirty-five years of this stuff I’ve acquired a hilariously warped attitude about pain and injury. I’ll trade pain for time. In the case of the ankle, that means getting a plate so I can ride again faster, instead of just putting it in a cast and letting it heal. This gives me more time with my son — but it also gives me more time with me, the soon-to-be-49-year-old me who might have five good years of downhill and skatepark riding left before the bad injury happens. That’s the injury that takes me off the bike for good.
The intelligent reader will note that if I stop riding right now I don’t have suffer the long-term consequences of The Big One, whatever it will be — but my response is that I’m on a one-way trip, as are we all. If you live long enough, you’ll be in pain regardless. Every experience matters, every moment counts, on the journey from beginning to end. Was it stupid to borrow a bike and ride unknown trails in the advent of late middle age? Absolutely. When those trails are torn down, however, I’ll be able to say that I rode them, albeit eyeblink briefly.
We raise a lot of young men nowadays who have a long list of nevers — never broken a bone, never pissed blood, never been in a fight, never taken an unacceptable risk, never done something that frightened them so much they had to close their eyes to do it. When these men are faced with adversity they look inside and find nothing there to sustain them. So they appeal to outside authority, they complain, they snitch, they rely on someone else to handle the problem. People think that toughness is some sort of innate quality, that it’s something given to Lawrence Taylor or Tex Cobb or Greg LeMond at the moment of their birth. It’s not. Look at Hemingway, look at Teddy Roosevelt. It’s something that any man, even a man with intellectual pretensions, can learn. I’m still working on learning toughness myself. It’s slow going.
For better or worse, some of my attitude has already percolated through the generation gap to my son. Last year he broke his hand in a schoolyard incident. Once the cast was off and he was cleared to ride, we headed up to Ray’s MTB in Cleveland. On maybe his third run, he slipped a pedal, ejected from the bike, and hit the concrete nice and hard. When I got to him, he was sobbing out loud, holding his left foot.
“Tell me where it hurts… take a breath… if it hurts too much you can keep crying.” He gave me the look one gives a particularly stupid person who is saying particularly stupid things, and snapped,
“I’m not crying because it hurts… I’m crying because I don’t want to take another month off!”
For Hagerty, I wrote about big German cars and big German cars that are also big British cars, or vice versa.