I’m having a great ride. My best yet. Which says both a little and a lot I guess.
A little in the sense that I’ve been riding for only eight weeks so it’s not as if I have hundreds of other rides to compare it to, and a lot in the sense that I’ve come a long way (both literally and figuratively) in a short time: from abject terror to relative ease; from fits and starts in parking lots to hours on real roads; from less than 20 km/hr to more than 90; from a row of zeros to more than 1,500 km on the odometer.
I’m about six blocks from home, headed northeast on Ottawa Street. I plan to turn left onto Union Street North. I’ve negotiated that corner easily many times, even though there is a slight rise before the turn, which makes it impossible to see if there is oncoming traffic until the last minute.
If there is oncoming traffic, my strategy is to kill the blinker and keep going to the lights a couple of blocks away to avoid being hit from behind by someone who might not see me until they crest the top of the slope, too late for them to avoid me as I wait to turn. If there’s too much traffic at the lights, or the light change isn’t in my favour, I keep going to the next set of lights. I’m careful about checking my mirrors, I use my signal lights properly, and keep a reasonable distance from vehicles in front of me. I am ultra vigilant and ride as safely as I know how. I’m not a big risk taker.
I push my left turn signal on as I ride up the incline. I can’t yet see what the oncoming traffic is like. There’s a white SUV not too far behind me. When I get to the top of the rise, I need to make a quick decision. There’s not much traffic. One car at a good distance, a big gap, and then a second car followed by a queue of closely spaced vehicles. I decide not to wait for the gap between the first and second cars because I’m concerned about the SUV behind me. It hasn’t reached the top of the hill yet. There’s ample time to turn before the first oncoming vehicle.
Or is there?
I could switch off my turn signal and continue on to the traffic lights. I choose to turn. I tap gently and quickly on the rear break before downshifting into third. I slow from 50 km/hr (the speed limit in town) to about 30 km/hr, and press on the left handle bar. I roll on the throttle the teeniest bit to be one hundred per cent certain I’ll be in the next block before that first car is anywhere near me. And that’s when I fail to do what every motorcycle trainer in the world yells at every brand new rider: “Look where you want to go! Don’t look where you are going! LOOK WHERE YOU WANT TO GO.”
I fail to look down Union Street North. Instead, I look at the curb. Within a heartbeat, I’m trying frantically to turn my bike back into the street. I might recover if I immediately focus on where I want to go. I don’t. It’s like I’m frozen, and my ride has a mind of her own. I could make an emergency stop. All I need to to is turn the front wheel to the right to straighten it, disengage the clutch and apply the brakes. I do none of these things. I don’t pull the clutch lever in. I don’t reach for the front brake lever and squeeze it. I don’t press the back brake pedal with my right foot. Instead, insanely, I roll on the throttle a little more.
The curb is particularly high where the front wheel hits. The resulting somersault, pirouette, tumble, spin and/or slide occur too fast for my brain to grasp what’s going on. The dozen or so paramedics, nurses and doctors who query me at various times over the next twenty-four hours will all ask me the same question: “What happened? Did you fly over the front of the bike?” I don’t know. All I know is I feel like I’m in a giant high-speed blender for a few seconds before I thump down onto my left side, helmeted head hitting the ground last with a big crack.
I flop over onto my back and lay there, with my knees bent, looking up at the stone wall of what was once a church and is now apartments on the corner of Union and Ottawa. I’m unaware of the fact that my toes are only inches away from the wall. I’ll find that out in a few days. I don’t try to move in case I should discover I can’t. I just lie there looking up. I wonder if anyone is going to come and help me? It’s several minutes before someone does. A man. Middle aged.
“Are you okay?” he asks.
“I don’t know,” I reply.
“Do you want me to call an ambulance?”
“Yeah, I think you’d better.”
I watch him fumble with his cell phone. He taps and swipes the screen. Taps and swipes. Taps and swipes.
“I’m not very good with cell phones,” he says, apologetic.
I see that. I smile inwardly at the irony. First person at scene of accident doesn’t know how to use cell phone to call 911. Poor guy. His hands are shaking. Maybe he’s in a hurry. Late for work or something. It’s good of him to stop to help me.
My left wrist and hand are starting to hurt. A positive sign. I wiggle my toes in my boots. Another positive sign. I’m not crying, which is odd. Normally, I cry at the drop of a hat. But I feel strangely calm. Maybe I’m in shock. Or in a dream.
A woman is suddenly beside me. I see her peripherally. I don’t turn my head. Stay still. Don’t move. Another man comes. I can’t see his face either. But I can hear his voice.
“I’ll put your bike in my driveway,” he says. “It doesn’t look like it’s got too much damage. You might need a new mirror. And a new windscreen.”
“Great,” I say “Thank you.”
Meanwhile, the first man finally connects to the 911 operator.
“I don’t know. I just got here.” A pause. “Yes, she’s conscious.” Another pause. “No I didn’t see it.” Another pause. “I don’t know. Just a sec.”
“How fast were you going?” His tone is clipped. He looks down at me. I can see him clearly because he’s standing above me, directly in my line of vision. He’s not wearing ear buds. He’s getting frustrated.
“About 30 kilometres an hour,” I say.
“Yes, that’s right.” It’s the woman’s voice. “I saw it happen,” she says.
“About 30 kilometres an hour,” the man says into his cell phone.
I hear the sound of an ambulance in the distance. They’re on their way. My left wrist and thumb are starting to throb.
When they arrive, the paramedics check my neck first.
“It seems okay,” they say. But they put me in one of those collars to keep it immobile ‘just in case.’ It’s the same kind of collar the paramedics put on me when I fell backwards on the ice and cracked my head open while I was learning to curl in 2013. There was blood that time. But there’s no blood now. My skull is intact because of the helmet. I’d be able to feel it if there were blood, like I did when I fainted in the kitchen in the middle of the night in 2016 when I got up to get a glass of milk. I was alone then as well. I don’t know how long I lay on the floor unconscious, but it was warm and slippery at the back of my head when I came to. I crawled back to my bedroom and into my bed and didn’t call an ambulance until several hours later when my head began to ache. I went to the hospital emergency that time too.
Living is a dangerous activity. No wonder I’ve suffered so many cuts and bruises, and accumulated so many scars over the years. But this is will be my first broken bone. My first cast.
And, I hope, my last.
© 2021 Susan Macaulay. I invite you to share my poetry and posts widely, but please do not reprint, reblog or copy and paste them in their entirety without my permission. Thank you.