Monday, July 1, 2013

I Saw A Man Die Today

I saw a man die today.

There's no easy way to say it.  And I'm struggling with emotions and conflicting feelings and goals and dreams and plans.  And fear.

My husband and two great friends had ascended the peak of Mt. Lemmon, the beautiful mountain outside of Tucson, Arizona on what was to be the hottest day of 2013 thus far.  We had prepared our bikes, got plenty of sleep and planned our nutrition to get the maximum benefits from this ride - a training day for the upcoming LOTOJA Classic in September.  Due to the extreme heat advisory, we chose to start our trek up the mountain at 5am, avoiding the inferno-like scorching temps, and into the mild weather of 8000 ft. high-desert forest.

If you've never ridden to the top of Mt. Lemmon, here's a quick synopsis: you start at the base of the dry oven-baked cactus foothills of the Catalina Mountains, and climb your way up to the amazing cool breezes, majestic views, and pines trees via a 26-mile winding two-lane highway. The road passes various campsites, trailheads and even a ski center at the summit -- the southernmost ski resort in the US. The road is designated a National Scenic Byway, one of only 100 in the country.

So it was, of course, a treat and a haul to ride up.  And after more than three long hours of climbing, we had reached the summit, enjoyed a cool beverage and a Payday candy bar, and were ready to face the white-knuckle descent that lay ahead of us.

Neither of us gals were excited or looking forward to the quick and scary downhill journey.  The road home requires balance, coordination, intense focus and  confidence in one's bike and one's abilities.  Other bikers whiz past on their own rocket descents, all while sharing the road with cars, motorcycles and pedestrians.  It's a dicey combination.

At mile 17 of my heart pounding downhill journey, I was finally feeling confident and rewarding myself somewhat with a little less force on the brakes and a little more wind in my hair, when I happened upon a horrific scene.  Off to my left, just around a wide curve, a cyclist lay on his back, surrounded by four other cyclists off their bikes.  He had obviously lost control of his bike and careened across the road and into the side of the mountain.  He lay flat and still, eyes closed, not breathing, his bike 10 feet away, in a crumpled pile of spokes and metal.

I stopped and got off my bike, shaking in fear and dread while those who had witnessed the crash started CPR and worked tirelessly performing compressions.   The cyclists took turns pumping his chest and as cars passed, a nurse jumped out to offer help and another man on a bike rode up and ran to the scene to help, as well.  Hikers came off the trails to assist.  Cars who passed drove up to find cell service.  And after about 15 minutes, a sheriff's vehicle pulled in and turned on his lights.  He radioed for help.  And tried to clear the area.

The four of us, stunned from this turn of events, now mounted our bikes to clear the area and the road.  We started downhill and passed an emergency vehicle racing up the canyon road - lights blazing and flashing, whipping it's way around cars to help the victim.

Me?  I started praying.  For the man, his family, my family, my friend's family, everyone I loved.  Let him be okay.  Let ME be okay.  Let me GET OFF THIS MOUNTAIN SAFE.  I prayed for the next 11 miles for everything to be alright.

As I sit here today, I'm wondering what I take from this.  Is cycling too dangerous?  Should I live in fear?  Was this a SIGN?  I've received tons of positive FB messages but one stands out from a friend and triathlete Bev Crupi: "I know this could happen to anyone, however, it reminds me of the serenity prayer!  God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference."

Today I will accept this tragedy.  And send my thoughts and prayers to his loved ones.  And try to finish my training for LOTOJA.  My heart is heavy.  I can't change my love for the bike, but I will for sure change the risky rides and dangerous routes that tempt my soul to conquer.  I will resolves to slow down (though I'm already slow) for safety, not tempt fate for the sake of a PR and remember -- riding is for fun.

Fun.  Remember that.

When it stops being fun, its just not worth it.

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