Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Cycling Crashes and Chief Niwot's Curse

For me, suffering has always been more of an obsession than a hobby. As an avid cyclist, I consider myself extremely blessed to live in a place where I can express my duel passion for cycling and suffering in numerous ways. As cycling is not a risk free sport, every cyclist has at least one story of a memorable crash. So for the next few moments, please brew yourself a nice cup of chamomile tea, put on your cozies, turn on the fire and sit back and enjoy the story of my most memorable crash, won’t you?

The ride from Boulder to St. Vrain Canyon towards the Peak-to-Peak Highway and the back to Boulder via Ward is among the many classic road bike rides surrounding our bubblelicious town. The ride is a 65 mile round trip ride featuring an elevation gain of 4,000 feet and almost continuous climbing of 25 miles.

Twas a hot summer day in Boulder with the mercury tickling 100 degrees and St Vrain Canyon, which is just 12 miles northwest of Boulder is a stream-lined and rocky canyon, provided little relief from the intense heat. St. Vrain is named after Gunter Vrain who emigrated from Germany to Boulder in 1890. Gunter is also known as the patron saint of lycra and was known to frequent the local coffee shops in Boulder always decked in his lycra cycling shorts. Carrying 300 lbs on his 5’ 7” frame, many at the time considered lycra a poor fashion selection for Gunter. But, as Gunter liked to say in his German accent. “Zere iz nothing zat keepz ze boyz in check like mein lycra!”

At any rate, I had set a rapid early pace on up the canyon and soon I was starting to show the telling signs of “pre-bonk syndrome.” This occurrence displays itself in various ways. Some have stated that they have seen they have encountered the twins from the Shining. One individual said he recognized comedic genius in Benny Hill. For me, this occurrence begins when I start to look for meaning in bad 80’s songs. On this day, the Tiffany song (see video below) “I Think We’re Alone Now” held me captive as pondered the plight of Tiffany and her lover and their quest to find solitude in a world which encroaches on their attempt to enjoy the simplicity of their right to personal freedom.

Trying to overcome the unfortunate melodic 80’s haunting and Tiffany’s dilemma, I finally made it up to the small hamlet of Raymond, CO which is a lovely creekside, log cabin community nestled by a stream. It is a peaceful village with simple nature loving folks and probably at least one axe-murderer. Raymond is also a key landmark along that ride as it signifies the point where only 12 miles of climbing remain. The town also possesses a small General Store where I often refuel and top off my water bottles. At the store, I attempted to engage the clerk in a dialogue on how we could be more sensitive to Tiffany’s quandary but he argued that given her young age, she deserved the exact supervision that she so sought to avoid. I commended him on his wise perspective and purchased two Cokes. Forsaking hydration benefits to pacify a strong caffeine and sugar Jones, and putting Tiffany behind me, I tried to get myself psyched, both mentally and chemically for the 12 mile ride to Ward. This section includes several long climbs and what seems like an ever-present headwind. At this point, my legs where jelly and my mind soon began acquiescing to the pain with Chamberlinian-like appeasement.

Ward at last, Ward at last. Extremely dehydrated and with nothing left in the legs, I finally made it to Ward. Ahhh, soon I would be at the Ward General Store where I could rehydrate and get prepared for the ride down to Boulder. I had never been so glad to be in a place where I felt so unwelcome. The previous comment requires some explanation. For those who don’t know about Ward, here is a brief summary of the town: Its inhabitants are people that don’t really care for outsiders (even the dogs in the town seem to have an attitude and to this day I swear I actually saw one flip me off!). Hubcaps and broken-down cars and buses decorate their front yards. I’m not saying that the town is a completely Spartan, but even Ted Kaczynski stopped Summering there as he felt the town was lacking in certain amenities.

At any rate, I stopped off at the General Store in Ward which, much to my sincere dismay, was closed. So there I was, standing over my bike in a bonk-like state in front of the store. The store’s closure had left me cursing and preaching of conspiracy theories. How could this happen? Why didn’t I hydrate better? They closed this store to personally penalize me for riding up here. What is the minimum number of vegetables needed to make a vegetable medley? Why in the world would anyone ever buy a ferret? Once my tirade had ebbed, I got back on my saddle and headed home. Fortunately, I had thought, it’s pretty much all downhill from here.

It is true, the great majority of the 19 mile ride from Ward back into Boulder is downhill. The steepest part of this descent is the first mile-and-a-half drop from Ward down to Lefthand Canyon. The deceptively sharp turn at the bottom of the section is affectionately known as “the turn of events.” This moniker stems from its proclivity to claim many a road cyclist. Having cleared this infamous turn, I checked my speed, 40 mph, and fruitlessly grabbed for my already empty water bottle. After returning it in disgusted fashion to the water bottle cage, I returned my attention to the road in front of me and realized I was heading off of it.

Wham! The events that followed are somewhat clouded. I remember being on the sandy shoulder of the road and trying to steer myself back onto the road. I also remember their being a ditch above a creek directly on my right. Then, WHAM (and not the good Wham featuring George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley) I was down hard on my left shoulder and sprawling in the same line that I was trying to travel.

The aftermath. I lay there dazed and writhing in pain on the street with my feet hanging over the shoulder of the road and my face resembled that of Mary Decker Slaney after being tripped up by Zola Budd in the 1984 Olympics. An oncoming car that witnessed the accident stopped to assist me. I looked for my bike and saw it some twenty feet back up the road. Another oncoming car belonging to a Wardite rushed up to Ward to summons their paramedics. Ward paramedics? No! These people are probably still administering leaches and practicing bloodletting.

I was able to finally get up five minutes later and was led to a shaded area by the creek. At this point I began to assess the damage. My left shoulder hurt like hell. The skin on my left hip was raw as well as the majority of my back, my left elbow and both sides of my knees. My head was sore and my helmet was cracked above my left ear. An empty water bottle that I had stored in the back pocket of my jersey had the bottom sheared off of it! The damage to my bike was also severe as the front wheel was tacoed and there was an indentation on the top tube of where the handlebar had swung around into it.

I felt nauseous when the Ward paramedics arrived. I was extremely dehydrated and the flies by the creek were demonstrating a fetish for the exposed areas of my skin. Much to my surprise the medics seemed to have most of their teeth and looked like ordinary people. Further, not one of them commented that I had a pretty mouth which, for some reason, made me feel unattractive and self conscious. Upon cutting off my jersey it was revealed that in addition to losing massive amounts of skin, I had also probably suffered a severe shoulder separation (AC III separation). This revelation required hospitalization in Boulder. This was good news for the flies feasting on my wounds as it meant that the buffet would be open for another half-hour until an ambulance from Boulder showed up. Upon hearing this, the flies quickly ordered out for a keg of beer and called for a DJ. When the ambulance finally arrived I felt a great sense of relief. Even though I attended the University of Colorado, this was my first experience with morphine and upon its being administered, the pain quickly began to subside.

Chief Niwot: Badly injured, pleasantly drugged and admiring the drive down Left Hand Canyon to the hospital from the back of the ambulance, I began to think about the Arapahoe Indian Chief for whom the canyon was named; Chief Niwot. Niwot in Arapahoe Indian language means “left hand.” Chief Niwot earned his nickname (Chief Lefty) as a short-reliever pitching for the Cleveland Indians AA farm club, the Arapahoe Indians. While Chief Niwot never realized his major league dreams (he never developed a change-up to complement his 90mph plus fastball), as leader of the Arapahoe tribe, he would lead them up this canyon every summer to avoid the summer heat. In those days broken down carriages and wagon wheels adorned the homes in Ward, which even then, promoted its unwelcome demeanor. Chief Niwot told many tales of this journey through Ward and even referenced a local dog the he affectionately gave the Arapahoe name, “Dog Who Gives the Bird.”

Unfortunately, in the summer of 1858, the peaceful Arapahoe Indian tribe had their first encounter with outsiders in the form of gold seekers who arrived in Boulder. It is said that these gold seekers were drawn by the breathtaking landscape and a potential for prosperous gold mining. Understanding how the region would soon be overcome with trust fund babies, wannabee hippees and helicopter moms (stay tuned), Chief Niwot placed a curse on the region. (To this day there are some that speculate the origin of the curse had more to do with his lifetime of frustration of not being able to find a pair of scissors that suited his left handedness). The curse was:
“People seeing the beauty of this valley will want to stay, and their staying will be the undoing of the beauty.”

Little did Chief Niwot know that this curse would not only plague the people and the beauty of Boulder, but ultimately, it would become the mission statement for the town of Ward.

Reflections on a Recent Loss

It hit like ice water. I was so absorbed in my morning until I got the call. “It says that he is no longer with us” said the voice on the other end of the phone. “No, no it can be” came my reply. “He has three kids, a wife, he is a picture of health and they are a picture of perfection.” “His family, his family”

So comes death and loss. Everything which at one moment seemed so important is overcome by the rawest sense of reality.

So often in life, we get so caught up in living for the future that we lose focus of our present blessings. This statement of course is nothing new. We are aware of this behavior yet the struggle to overcome this mindset is, at its core, the constant battle we face in trying to balance the material versus the spiritual world.

By living a life that fully integrates spirituality with the material world, and thus entirely connecting us to our creator, we can live a life of love, generosity and compassion and we can nurture our eternal soul. On the contrary, and as Rabbi Simon Jacobson says, “If materialism rules your life, then you are bound by its laws.” For this person, death indeed represents “the end.”

To the individual that can live their life seeking spiritual gains, their legacy of good deeds will live on through their family and friends. The realization of this influence, unfortunately, is the most profound upon the departure of an individual who lived their life this way.

For Kevin, it is obvious that the impact that he left on so many will continue to live on through his inspiration.