Darkness Descending

That’s me lying in the ditch. It took me a year before I was ready to view this image. Easier now on the eye but still hard on the psyche. The look on Andrew Taylor’s face (centre) says it all about the situation. In the space of a few seconds my great passion for road cycling had left me undone. This post and the two which follow cover my calamitous crash back March 2011 and the story of a recovery which turned out to be different to the one I’d expected. 

The 5th March 2011. I managed Dumfries Cycling Club’s website and posted routes for our club runs. The route for the 5th was a reccy of the Wild Hills course, the premiere race in our cycling calendar. I had had what cyclists call ‘ a good winter.’ I’d worked hard on the turbo, watched my weight and maintained my cross-training with regular running. I was in good shape and confident.

Before we started riding, one of the boys mentioned that part of the route covered a road which had been a problem with road works. We decided to press on. Cyclists usually find a way to navigate difficult roads. The cycle to Moniaive was the usual winter run mode; some banter, some punctures and regrouping for guys drifting off the back.

We climbed out of Moniaive (direction Carsphairn) as a group with a couple of guys breaking away up the road, testing their legs after the winter’s hibernation. Cresting the climb the pace picked up for the lengthy descent. I remember being at the back as a large group was shaping into formation. This confidence I spoke of earlier made me power over to them. The same confident cyclist saw the road shelled with pot holes, loose grit and debris. Every few seconds a shout came of ‘holes!’ or ‘stones!’ The road narrowed and began to snake left and right. I looked at my computer – 25mph.

                                                    my tyre marks on the verge

I caught the verge and started riding along the grass. What should’ve happened was me righting myself back onto the tarmac or at least coming to an embarrassing halt. What actually happened was my front wheel found an irrigation ditch about 2 feet deep. The bike jarred into it and I was catapulted over the bars. So unexpected was this moment that I didn’t bring my arms out to break my fall. My head took the full impact, smashing against a rock in the ditch. I remember hearing the crack of bones and then a bizarre moment: I saw my arms float down beside me in slow motion like snow flakes.

I heard shouts as though they were somewhere offstage in a dream I was having. I coughed out blood and broken bits of teeth. Alastair was the first on the scene followed by the other boys. Looking back now I see that they knew how serious it was before I did. I was lying paralysed, asking to be put back on my bike. I needed to stretch my upper back and I’d be fine. They organised an ambulance, spoke to me calmly and discussed the right time to contact my wife.

Gradually, very gradually I sensed, lying in that bed of rocks and dirt that something monumental had happened. I tested my feet and toes, moving them slowly. I moved my fingers one by one. They all checked out. Why couldn’t the confident cyclist raise himself from that muddy hole? I was to find out the next day my upper back and 8 ribs were broken.

Dave Niblock, a fellow clubman sat by me on the cold moor road and spoke to me quietly, reassuring me as I held his hand.  He never asked to be relieved, never looked away, answered everything I asked. It was an act of great generosity on his part that I will never forget. Other guys showed the same spirit speaking to me encouragingly, keeping me conscious, alert and hopeful. I asked if my bike was okay – a pointless but nonetheless typical cyclist’s question. It didn’t have a scratch on it.

I lay in that ditch a long time, unable ot move. Everything, the sights and sounds of the natural world was above my eyeline. The world would be out of my view for the next four weeks.

Everyone was growing cold. A passing car stopped and offered some old sheets and blankets. Eventually the ambulance arrived. But the road was so bad they said that conveying me in an ambulance would only exacerbate my injuries. They called in an air ambulance. My sense of shame was huge, greater than my injuires at that time. I had spoiled the run for the boys and the medics had come a long way. These men had better things to do. I didn’t want to use a helicopter – keep that for someone who really needed help. My wife and daughter were waiting for me at home.

The paramedics offered me some morphine, a drug which would at first befriend then obstruct me in my quest to be ‘normal’ again.

After some delicate manoeuvring the air ambulance gathered me up. Strapped in, prone, we took off towards Dumfries Infirmary. Little did I realise then that it would take more than a helicopter to raise me fully from that irrigation ditch on the road to Carsphairn.

End of Part 1 (Thanks to John Andrew for the images and for the sensitivity to send them to me only when he knew I’d be ready to look).

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