Don't look back

Lessons while cycling the lovely curves of the Yakima River Canyon Road
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The Yakima River Canyon

Lessons while cycling the lovely curves of the Yakima River Canyon Road

The blood squirted onto the inside of my sunglasses as if had come from a water pistol. It was translucent, creating a moment in which one half of the visible world is seen through rose-colored glasses. I was puzzled by where it had come from. I knew I had gone down hard after the front tire of my bike had leaned into another'ꀙs back tire. I had tried to correct a serious wobble resulting from my stupidly trying to look backward at a sign. Big mistake.

Moving at about 12 mph on the bike and then hitting the lumpy macadam road I skidded some, then made contact with the road on my right shoulder and right knee. They hurt. Sprawled on the Canyon Road down river from Ellensburg, I was stunned. Other cyclers pulled up, instantly offering first aid.

'ꀜI'ꀙm an ER nurse,'ꀝ said one. 'ꀜHere. Press this (it was toilet paper) against that cut. You'ꀙll need to get stitches.'ꀝ She advised against cycling back. I had that rare experience of sensing that I was getting advice from someone who knew exactly what she was talking about and that I would be wise to do just what she said.

The fall had happened fast. Later I noticed that on my right hand the scrapes were on tops of my knuckles, telling me that I had no time to free my hands and brace my fall.

On Saturday, the day before the spill, my best pal, Marla, and I had driven the camper over Snoqualmie Pass and almost to Ellensburg when we turned off I-90 and approached the canyon that the Yakima River had carved through the ancient basalts. I love this canyon. I associate it with a carnival roller coaster. All visible lines are flowing and curving into one another — the hills, the road, the river. There is not a straight line anywhere, only the rise and fall of the grassy hills. The river flows strong and persistently as it twists and turns its way to the Columbia. The road above it twists and turns also. The light is subdued; the direct sunlight is mostly blocked out by the hills.

At a BLM camping spot we had met up with two other families, Nordic skiing friends of Marla'ꀙs. They were setting up tents, their children happily whittling boats out of sticks. I love the efficiency with which I can pop up the top of the VW camper and turn out a meal. Baby two-burner stove. Baby fridge. Baby sink. It'ꀙs really like playing house.

Someone had brought firewood and we all relaxed into a lovely evening — no traffic, no city lights, a sky full of stars — a convergence even, boding ill or good. (It turned out that I was to experience both.) A new moon slid up the sky from behind the dark silhouette of a hill.

In the morning the parking lot filled quickly with about 500 bikers. Lots of tandems sporting that endearing profile of the daddy in front and a small child on a kid-height back seat, pedaling away to beat the band. The ride up to the top was 18 miles. I was just trying to get a measure on my fatigue — should I turn around now? — so that I had enough energy to get back to the van, where I had kenneled up the dog. Then I went down.

What happened next was one of those times when all sorts of people — other cyclers, the volunteers (Crime Stoppers!) who had organized the ride, The Medic One drivers, the ER nurse and doctor, even the admitting hospital staffer — were incredibly nice and kind and helpful. I must have said thank you a hundred times. Having stitched and bandaged me, they said I was done. Impulsively I gave the ER nurse a kiss and thanked her profusely.

My body had absorbed a serious whack. But the cuts and bruises will heal and add their mite to the scars and protrusions that decorate my body. And although I wish that the fall had not happened, I was moved by the helpfulness and kindness and competence of all the folks that came to my assistance. It'ꀙs almost as if I was doing the ambulance and ER folks a favor by presenting them with an opportunity to do their stuff.

The next day I wrote a letter-to-the-editor at the Yakima Herald, thanking these folks profusely and promising not to bloody up their nice road when I came back next year. The learning is this: Don'ꀙt look backward when you are on a bike.


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