That's a question you never want to be able to answer. But I've recently become something of an expert on the topic so I figured I should share my experience. But before I get into the details I have to back up about 4 months.
Sailing Season Canceled
Most years my summer schedule is full of fun activities like racing sailboats and men's league baseball. This year was different. High water levels on Lake Ontario lead to the unfortunate cancellation of the sailing season. How can too much water cancel a sailing season you might ask? Well it's complicated. Anyway this left a big hole in my calendar and left me missing my weekly racing fix on Wednesday nights for the first time in a couple years. Luckily for me, both of my parents are avid cyclists and my dad generously offered to let me borrow his "backup bike."
Borrowing a Road Bike, the start of an addiction
When my dad first offered up his spare bike I was very interested in seeing what all the hype was about. He and my mom each log a few thousand miles every year so it must be fun, but I had no idea just how addicting it would be. So one day at my parents house I hopped on my dads Scott Speedster 10 for the first time and did some soft pedaling on the trainer while he dialed in the fit. He had it geared for hills with a compact chainring and 11-32 gearing, I had no idea what that meant, but after the first ride I was hooked. I spent much of that first month pedaling around my neighborhood collecting miles and reading everything I could find on the internet about cycling.
Coolest parents on the planet.
The summer brought a lot of fun rides, with a lot of interesting and new friends. Some of the highlights of my first summer on two wheels included these gems.
- Sight Seeing in San Francisco
- First Metric Century
- GVCC C-Group Ride
- CanAm Century Ride
- Introduction to
- East Arcade Road Race
- Ride's with Lisa
- Morning and Afternoon Commute
Have you ever had a stressful week of work? You get that feeling where you just need to go blow off some steam, think about something that isn't work for a while.
Yeah I totally love all of these things too.
But for me, on this particular week the answer was a bike ride. I knew I wanted to suffer a bit, so that meant finding some hills and putting in a big day in the saddle. Quick aside, "suffering" is one of the many super weird things about cyclists. The concept behind "suffering" simple yet insane. When you "suffer" on a bicycle it means you work so hard that it hurts, your legs burn and your lungs burn but you don't relent. The most perverse aspect of "suffering" is that the only reward is getting stronger so that next time you can "suffer" even harder. Cyclists are weird. Anyway, everything near my house is pan flat, so to find any kind of elevation meant going south. Any time I go out to ride unfamiliar territory I fire up Strava and plan a route, this day was no different. I created a route that looked pretty fun, I planned the route to avoid major roads as best as possible, and as an added bonus I'd get to cruise around one of the Finger Lakes.
Planned route for the day, 105 miles of tranquility, probably.
So after my morning latte, I kitted up (cyclists have a special word for 'getting dressed', I told you we are weird.) and hopped on the bike. After 45 minutes I rolled through the Village of Spencerport, snuggled up next to the Erie Canal, feeling good, enjoying a beautiful day. Temperatures in the 70's, sun shining with barely any wind. Another 15 minutes saw me clear the village of North Chili. I felt strong, happy to be undertaking the challenge of a solo century ride. I was fairly certain I could handle the distance having done it one time before, although that ride (the CanAm Century) I had the benefit of riding in a group where decreased wind resistance lessened the workload. But I had been working hard since then, surely my added fitness would be enough to get me home (spoiler alert: I didn't make it home that day).
By the time I made it to the town of Avon two hours into my ride it was time for a short break, I found a bar with outdoor seating that hadn't opened up yet and helped myself to a table, ate a few Larabars and drank some water. I felt good, I was a third of the way into my adventure and feeling confident that I'd have enough in the tank to get me home.
Within another 30 minutes of pedaling I had made it to the northern tip of Consensus Lake. In my head this was going to be a short and quick lap, I thought might take me 45 minutes, but I hadn't fully realized was that it's 10 miles tip to tip. Getting around the lake was a grind, narrow roads with pickup trucks hauling boats and jet-ski's all in a hurry to enjoy the brilliant sunshine on their lake. I did my best to stay on the line and just knock out this section of the ride quickly and safely. But there were a few white knuckle passes where trucks came a little too close for comfort (I was about to get a lesson in just how close you can get to a car).
I stopped for a second time around 55 miles into the ride at a nice park on the west side of the lake, I sat there for a few minutes, eating, and texting with my family, proudly showing off my accomplishments from the day so far. This stop even included a rest room and a drinking fountain to refill my bottles. Jackpot! From here it was all downhill, literally, not metaphorically. Metaphorically I was about to get hit by a car, well literally too I suppose. Words are hard.
Enjoying a break by Consensus Lake
After ripping up and over the last climb of the day I was cruising though the college town of Geneseo, eager to knock out the last 30 or so miles home and order a large pizza with wings and enjoy a few IPA's for dinner. Several times during the ride I closed my eyes to imagine just how delicious that pizza was going to taste (pizza somehow tastes even better when you've "suffered" for it).
So with about 25 miles left I was navigating the simple ride home, and then... I was being lifted into an ambulance? I think... Wait, where was I? It was bright, and who were all these people talking? Yep I was definitely in an ambulance now I remember realizing several minutes later after my brain resumed recording the world around me. I remember talking to the guy next to me, he must have been a paramedic, I think his name was Rob. I had no idea what we talked about, but it probably wasn't a sophisticated discourse on role of art and aesthetics in society. It was probably something more like this, "AAAHH, OWWWW, THIS HURTS". Whatever we talked about I appreciated Rob being there and helping me.
By this point I think I had figured out that I was hit by a car, but honestly I don't remember. I do remember arriving at the hospital and being whisked past the entire line of folks in the emergency room, and seeing my wife for the first time, that's what really hurt the most. Well aside from the broken bones, pneumothorax, road rash and other lesser injuries. Seeing her and knowing that I had selfishly put myself in this position was painful, I still can't imagine how scared she must have been getting a call from the sheriffs telling her that I was hit by a car and being taken to the hospital. If I needed to unwind so badly why couldn't I have just had a beer? Or taken a short ride around the roads I know well? Or done a sufferfest session on the trainer at home? These are the questions that popped into my head several times during my stay in the hospital.
After the first CAT scan I realized that I wasn't going home that day, and that meant that I wouldn't be at my kids birthday party the next day. Remember when I said all those broken bones hurt the most, nope, this hurt way worse (the painkillers must have kicked in by now). Selfishly going out for a long ride on unfamiliar roads had meant ruining their birthday. This was devastating to me. Of course over time I've realized that this accident could have happened anywhere, but these were the feelings I had at the time.
Here I am shortly after arriving in the ER, that's not even my handsome side.
The first CAT scan revealed that my C7 vertebrae was broken (that's bad right? That seems like it's bad), but what was really causing me pain was my teeth on the left side of my mouth, they felt like a jigsaw puzzle. Next up was an MRI and another CAT scan followed by the pure hell that was an ultrasound of my neck on that same left-side to check that my carotid artery was still doing it's job. A little while later another doctor casually mentioned that they would fix my broken jaw after I've had spinal fusion surgery. Wait what? I have a broken jaw? Thanks for letting me know! Well that explains the pain on the left side of my face. I guess the jigsaw puzzle analogy wasn't far off.
I spent the night in the trauma ICU waiting for spinal fusion surgery the next morning. That surgery successfully fused my C6-C7-T1 vertebrae, stabilizing my spine. I had maybe 4 more days in the hospital recovering from that surgery before I got sent home, for a grand total of two days, only to return for jaw surgery.
Walking for the first time in 3 days!
The jaw surgery was also successful, but the combination of surgeries left me in a neck brace with my jaw wired shut. Not exactly the most comfortable combination, but at least I was alive. At least I wasn't paralyzed, at least I would have a full recovery. After spending a total of 7 days in the hospital it was time to head home to recover.
Surgeries done, ready to heal.
I guess it's time to finally answer the question, "how does it feel to get hit by a car?". Well if you want to be super technical about it, I have no idea what the actual impact felt like. I'm guessing it sucked. I'm fortunate that the "driver" dude in my brain that's in charge of recording the world around me shut it all down for a while so I wouldn't have to remember the actual feeling of impact (If you got that Phish reference you are awesome).
But "I don't remember" is a cheap answer, if I had to pick the most efficient way to describe it, it would be "overwhelming". Every part of the experience has been overwhelming, amplified, exaggerated. The most obvious overwhelming feeling I had was pain, the first two weeks were extremely painful, but pain can be managed, pain fades, and ultimately pain is forgotten.
The next most prominent feeling that overwhelmed me was gratitude. That feeling has not faded, and I remember every day how fortunate I am to have so many people in my life who care about me. I will not let that feeling be forgotten. The number of people who have helped me and helped my family is nothing short of astounding. I'm humbled and overwhelmed by the visitors I had in the hospital, the get well soon cards, the meals made for my family, gift cards, texts, visits at home, help with every aspect of my life. It makes me well up now typing this to realize just how many people have stepped up to help me. You know who you are, thank you, it's meant the world to me.
With all of my new found free time I've been reading Phil Gaimon's Draft Animals and came across this passage that seemed particularly relevant.
One day, I rode inland to San Dimas, to pee on the spot where I'd seen photos of paramedics crowded around me after my crash, because who gets to piss on their own symbolic grave? ...that night, I hung up the San Dimas leader's jersey that they'd cut off of me in the hospital, still bloody and dirty. That was the first time I'd danced the line between life and death. I was proud that I'd overcome it, and it seemed like something I shouldn't forget.— Phil Gaimon from 'Draft Animals'
This accident was the first time in my life I'd ever had to address my own mortality. Before this accident I never considered that I could live a life that spanned less than 80 years. I'm young, I'm in shape, I will live forever. Nope, that's not even remotely true, and having my brain process that 180 in perspective has been challenging. My goal as I recover is to continue to live a passionate life full of fun and challenging activities, but with extra emphasis on enjoying the little things. Every hug from my boys has been more meaningful, each kiss from my wife sweeter. I am lucky to be alive, and I feel it every day!
This accident has unlocked an enhanced ability to feel gratitude that I simply couldn't access before. Sure getting hit by a car sucked and I really don't recommend it, but at least I'm here to tell you about it, and for that I'm grateful.