What comes to mind when you think of the phrase, “This is the place that I should have died?”
My wife and I decided to make the trip to the site of my near fatal bike crash 365 days after the fateful event. My wife filmed me, “in the raw,” at what a revisitation did to me. Any ambiguity that might have existed about the potentially fatal nature of that day was resolved. I should be dead, but I am not. We only stayed there for ten minutes, but that visit impacted me more than anything that has happened this year.
What the video below doesn’t show was my sweat. It was cold and raining, but my body reacted to the place as if it were a toxin, trying to push it out of my body through my skin. My heart rate was elevated, but my body needed no extra blood flow. It reacted to the place. My body was only remembering what happened the last time that I approached that CCC era bridge. It didn’t like what it remembered.
There were emotional undercurrents bigger than the physical ones. My wife and I didn’t get along the day leading up to the visit; for all the times I accused her of overreacting, this was my day to reciprocate. I was all but falling apart as I heard one set of words and reacted to another. Emotionally, I was about as mature as a teenage girl who had just broken up her boyfriend. OK, maybe I wasn’t quite that mature.
There was a temptation to conclude that the visit was an event. Turns out that last bridge on highway 215 before the Blue Ridge Parkway was part of a process. After all, I am almost three weeks removed from the visit, and this is my first effort to record what happened.
I didn’t hesitate to walk down the embankment to stand on the exact spot my bike came to rest after flying off the bridge and hitting 30 feet below the road’s edge. I shook my head with my hands on my hips. I shouldn’t be here discussing this.
How did I climb out of the riverbed back to the roadside? My wounds were significant enough to require four days in a trauma ward. I needed respiratory therapy the very day I was placed in the trauma bed. I have two different attending physicians remind me that I was lucky to be alive. Yet, how was I reactive enough to walk up the embankment and away from the river to a place that I hoped might get someone’s attention? I shall go to the grave with this unsolved mystery.
This time, when I reached the top of the embankment and stepped back onto the road, I was more winded than I otherwise should have been. I run marathons and ride my bike a hundred miles at a clip. It made no sense that I was breathing heavy. Another mystery.
A year after the wreck, my shoulder is still not 100%. I remember getting back on the bike a few weeks after the wreck wondering if I would ever come back here. I heard stories of how people who were victims of crime visit the perpetrator in jail. It was part of their healing and the empowerment that comes from looking at the one who hurt you in the eyes and saying to them, “never again!”
This old stone bridge could have cared less what I said or what I felt as I relived that day. There were no “observers” watching me relive the reunion with my perpetrator. There was no feeling of empowerment as I stood on the bridge and looked down at the river. Had I landed three feet to the right, I would have landed in flowing water. Game over. Three feet straight ahead, behind or to the left, and I land on large boulders. Game over. I happened to land on a sandy surface after the front wheel of my bike hit solid rock. The front forks of the bike absorbed much of the impact and exploded. I stood up seconds later. I was unharmed from the waist down. My head never touched the ground. My chest was a disaster area, but I was alive.
A year removed, I remained in a state of wonder. Yet, a roll call of my choices since then seems appropriate.
I have written four and a half books. One was therapeutic and shall never be published. I have people competing for my words.
Thoughtfully, I have gotten back on my bike. I have raced and done well. I have learned that I will never be elite, even for my age group, as I will not descend at crazy speeds that require evaluating the risk that a “bridge here and there” might have on mortality. I have not yet cycled over a ridge or a bridge and not found myself feeling anxiety.
I pray like there is no tomorrow, literally. I cry for people I haven’t talked to in years. They have made me into an excellent writer. I see heaven in a much different light now. I am closer to it than from it. I wish I knew that a long time ago.
I have limitations that I wasn’t expecting. Who expects limitations? I cannot do heavy bench press. The best news is that I don’t care.
Every time I ride, I get new ideas to write about. I shake my head in humility and awe as I rewrite that sentence. Every time I ride, I get new ideas to write about.
I will be riding the Blue Ridge Parkway a couple of times this Spring and Summer. I will pass by that place many more times this year. I hope my reaction to exposure isn’t like it was this last time.
However, if it is, it is worth it. My books are touching thousands of people. If it cost me some time in the hospital, some PTSD therapy, and some lost sleep, it was worth it. My god is worth it. You are worth it.