Hwy 10, West of Mandan

Hwy 10, West of Mandan

Thursday, November 22, 2012

A New Beginning

The race was proceeding better than expected.  I reached Dakota Ridge within three and a half hours with no problems.  My legs felt strong.  The bike was working flawlessly.  Emotionally, I was buoyed by the confidence gained after briefly leading the second wave up the gravel road following the start.  Really, the race could not have been going better.

My fortunes took an unexpected turn for the worse just as I began my descent off the ridge.  A rider who I'd been sparing with throughout the day failed to negotiate a tricky downhill switchback.  I didn't see him sprawled out in the middle of the trail until I rounded the first part of the turn.  I quickly decelerated, but the loose, off-camber singletrack made it challenging to keep my balance.  I fell hard to my right, landing squarely on my shoulder.  Shaken, I unclipped as quickly as possible, righted my bike on the trail, and then checked my body and bike for damage.  My clavicle wasn't broken, but there was a dull pain in my shoulder.  The bike needed a slight adjustment to the right brake lever.  I fixed it and continued riding.

I finished a little more than 70 minutes later, just managing to sneak below the five hour mark.  A personal best.

Once the post-race high dissipated, the pain set in.  Showering, breaking camp, and loading the truck were one-armed activities.  Advil failed to provide relief.  Sensing a serious injury, I skipped the celebratory beers with the Epic crew - who rode fantastically that day, with three earning spots on the podium - and drove home.

A trip to the Med Center walk-in clinic the next morning proved inconclusive.  X-rays showed my clavicle intact.  I was instructed to give the shoulder a few days to recover.  If the pain persisted late into the week, I was to inform the doctor.  It did, resulting in a visit to the orthopedic surgeon, then the MRI clinic, then back to the surgeon to hear the verdict.

I tore my labrum.  Details can be found here.

Surgery was set for October 29th, nearly two months following the crash.  Very little went as planned during surgery.  My arm had to be 'manipulated' during the procedure (via a 10 lb weight attached to my hand), and there was considerably more damage to the shoulder than indicated by the MRIs (e.g., cartilage damage, bone spurs, and bits of bone in my armpit).  What was projected to be an outpatient surgery turned into a three day hospital stay.  Pain management following surgery proved challenging, as the prescibed medications failed to dull the pain effectively to allow for restful sleep.

Now about three weeks hence, I realize sleep only comes in two hour spurts.  Everything I do I do with at least half the speed and efficiency prior to surgery.  I'm of little help around the house, and my productivity at work has reached an all-time low.  It's been incredibly frustrating, but my experience is not unique.  Injured shoulders are painful following surgery, and recovery is slow.  My physical therapist informed me during our first visit I should expect a 9-12 month recovery period, assuming all goes well.

This experience has prompted me to reevaluate how I spend time on my bike.  In short, the likelihood of participating in races like the Dakota 5-O in the future is small.  Perhaps my feelings will change as I regain function to my shoulder, but not without the caveat of exposing myself to another serious injury.  I think a transition to a different sort of riding is needed, one that is still physically/mentally difficult, but with much lower risk of injury.

Last year I participated in my first brevet, the James Canyon Jaunt, a 200 km ride along the northern Colorado foothills.  The ride was transformative.  While there were time limits along the route, it wasn't a race.  There was camaraderie among the participants unlike anything I've experienced before.  I learned later the ride was a randonneuring event.  Whatever it was, I had a great time, and it's something I pledged to do more in the future.

According to Ranndonneurs USA (RUSA), randonneuring is long-distance unsupported endurance cycling. This style of riding is non-competitive in nature, and self-sufficiency is paramount. When riders participate in randonneuring events, they are part of a long tradition that goes back to the beginning of the sport of cycling in France and Italy. Friendly camaraderie, not competition, is the hallmark of randonneuring.

This blog will be dedicated to my randonneuring experiences, with occasional posts related to general bicycling topics.  I intend to post monthly, possibly more depending on demands at work and home.  As I've recently 'unplugged' from Facebook, this will be my sole social outlet via the web.