Close Encounters of the W&OD Kind

Yesterday was the first day since about early June that I would call truly comfortable.  El niño, climate change, or both, have made this summer truly miserable in the mid-Atlantic states.  The sky was clear, the air was dry, the breeze was from the northwest.  At breakfast time the temperature was in the low 60˚ range.

Energized by the weather, I took off for a cruise to Herndon in mid-morning.  Before I got back I had two very unusual encounters, not unknown to frequent riders on the trail, but firsts to me.

I got out to the west Herndon Trailside Park, with its skateboard facilities, thinking that the skateboarders there were enjoying their last week of free and easy fun; those boarding next week would be playing hooky.  After a brief rest I headed back, feeling cool and fast, enjoying the tailwind.  Suddenly the only rider I could see, about 50 yards ahead of me, went down like a sack of potatoes.  It was as abrupt as the moment in the 2004 Tour de France when Lance Armstrong caught his handlebar in a musette bag held by a fan beside the road: the fall was definitive and heavy.

When I got there a few seconds later he was just rolling over, a middle-aged guy with a small backpack, somewhat heavy-set, wearing glasses, a t-shirt and cycling shorts.  He had road rash on the left side of his left knee, and more severely on his left elbow and upper arm.  He said there wasn’t much pain, and he thought he could make it back to his start point.  Then he tried to lift his left arm.  He was suddenly in a world of hurt.  He said he’d had rotator cuff issues, but this seemed different, located below and inboard from the tip of his shoulder.  He got up, in more severe pain (shock wearing off I suppose), and walked over to the chain-link fence that marked the border of the Herndon Centennial Golf course to compose himself.

Trek

Trek Madone 9.2 in “Stealth Fighter” matte black

Meanwhile two other riders passed.  The first stopped, and we discussed what we might do.  We waved off the second.  The fallen rider came back and talked of riding one-handed back to his start point at the Route 28 overpass.  We both thought that was a bad idea, and convinced him to call his wife.  He explained that he fell because he caught a little bit of the grass at the side of the trail, and then lost control when his wheel caught a rut in the grass.  Looked to me as if the front wheel abruptly turned 90˚ left, and he was thrown by his momentum.  Not just a “fall.”  [His bike, by the way, was a Trek Madone series, I think a 9.2 ($5000-$5500) in “matte Trek black/ gloss Dnister black” that everybody thinks is so cool right now.  Ironically, one can also get these bikes in a variety of color combinations that are actually attractive.  Guess his Bontraeger R3 slicks did not handle the grass well.]

The guy turned out to be a former Air Force pilot (Lt. Colonel) who since then has been a captain for Eastern and then United.  He was saying this when another rider came by, and she (on a matte black Felt with green highlights) was an orthopedic nurse.  What luck!  The other would-be assistant left while she got the victim’s symptoms, sized things up as a probable dislocated shoulder, and directed us to the next intersection, Ferndale Avenue, and just down the road to the golf course.  She was determined to wait with him by the street, but then decided he’d fare better out of the sun, so she got the golf course to provide a van to take him to the clubhouse, some ice for his shoulder, someone to carry his bike, and shelter in the shade.  Once all that was settled we took off.  He had

Airbus

United Airbus 320 Not Being Piloted by Fallen Rider

determined he needed to go straight to Emergency Care.  Interesting how he, like most of us, realize only slowly the full implications of a serious situation.  We begin by assuming it’s just a minor interruption to our day, even if it truly means we can’t possibly pilot our Airbus A320 to Houston and Philadelphia the next day, as planned.

The other encounter was briefer and sillier.  I was nearing the top of the low hill between Vienna Community Center and Cedar Lane, almost home, when a vehicle crested the rise.  Vehicles on the Trail are not as uncommon as they should be; I had thought earlier on this ride that it was a rare day because I hadn’t seen one.  No Park Ranger truck, no mower with its huge circular blade on an hydraulic arm, no subcontractor out to prune trees, no electric company vehicle to work on the lines or some wayward transformer.  But here was a vehicle, with headlights on.  It soon was evident that this was a civilian car, moving very slowly.  Another cyclist only a little behind me and I immediately started shouting.  “This is the bike trail. No motor vehicles are allowed.  Get off of here! You can’t be here.”  The car stopped.  It was a red sedan with Virginia plates.  The driver was easy to see and hear because his window was already down. He looked middle eastern, wore sunglasses, and spoke with an accent.  “I know I shouldn’t be on here.  I made a wrong turn.  How do I get off?”  Our advice was to turn around and go back to Cedar Lane.  As he moved on ahead to begin the turnaround process, we two cyclists looked at each other.  “What the hell?” the other one asked.  “Takes all kinds,” I said.

When I got to Cedar Lane a half-mile later I looked back.  There was no sedan to be seen, so I don’t know what he did.  I crossed the street, rode the last half mile, and mused on one of the stranger rides I’ve ever had.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2016

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