It looked too steep
that, how something
, so completely bad
and yet so inexplicably tempting
drew me in as I surveyed the smooth
, grass covered surface
, the narrow
and the undergrowth
it on both sides
. The feeling
I had known before
. It had got the better of me that time
and I'd been lucky
from the result
, bleeding convincingly
from a head wound
. I ran
the bottom edge
of my helmet
out the ridge
of the now
, which sat just above my sunglasses
The ground looked quite tame and the cyclable path widened towards the lower
half of the slope. There were walkers down there and I allowed them time to
wander further from the bottom while I took in the details of the ground. The
cover provided by the grass suggested there was no loose dirt to eat up my grip.
I shifted my weight back on the saddle and eased off on the brakes.
The first sign that I'd made a mistake was when I began accelerating more
rapidly than I had predicted. I squeezed the brake levers slightly, being
careful not to overdo the front and lock the wheel. I didn't need any more signs
once I realised the grass was wet. Just a few seconds into the roll I found I
could no longer use my back brake at all. The slightest pressure from my gloved
fingers brought on a full lock and the tire slipped freely across the green ice
beneath. At this point panic began to rise within me only to be greeted by the
absolute knowledge that my choice to make the descent had been absolutely wrong.
With no means of controlling my speed I started to rush down the hill and to
my terror, I discovered the ground was not as smooth as I had thought, but was
covered in lots of small bumps. Each one the front wheel hit jarred my
handlebars upwards, hurting my wrists and demanding all my strength just to
point them the way I wanted. Each one that met my back wheel kicked the seat up
into my rear end and lifted me clear of the bike. As my speed increased the
bumps hit harder, my feet started to lose the pedals and I found myself half
flying down the hill, bouncing above a bike I was clinging onto for dear life.
Control of my plight slipped from me as did cries of fear as my steering became
less and less effective.
Just as I had almost lost hope I cleared the steepest section and things
almost seemed to be going my way. I was nearing the run off area I had seen from
the top and if I could just hold my course it was possible the softer
undergrowth would slow me down. Right then a large rut thudded under me and
shoved me sideways. I no longer had any choice of direction, but the shear
instinctual fear of injury forced me to do whatever I could to hold the bike
upright. I flashed past a young tree, surrounded by a barbed wire topped wooden
fence and found myself pointing directly at a large grassy ramp.
I believe I was already falling as I hit the mound. My front end was thrown
upwards and I surrendered the handlebars to bring my hands up and cover my face.
As I did so I looked down at my right foot as the spinning tire lifted it into
the forks and my front wheel locked. Then the back wheel hit and the saddle's
impact on my coccyx felt like a cannon ball. I rolled in mid air and discovered a
frightening, yet beautifully restful moment of clarity. I cursed myself for
having done it again. I'd made the same mistake twice and I knew I'd have to
pay, but then I realised I was wearing my helmet this time and a blend of relief
and self congratulation lit up my head. It was immediately destroyed as I
thought of my sunglasses. Childhood experience had taught me that glass and
eyeballs don't make good partners.
My head brushed against something hard, the ground, and the moment vanished.
My legs came up and my head went down as I took on the pheotal position, but
still somehow managed to fend my bike off with my arms. Even then I was able to
think how nasty it would be to break my arms, but I knew that getting hit in the
face by a metal cog was no gentle alternative. My back thumped the ground next
and my bike was thrown over me, tumbling down the hill to rest. I had no notion
of how far I'd flown from the mound as I came to a stop. All I knew was that
something in my back was seriously wrong.
I had never known pain like it. I could believe that this was what it felt
like to break your spine. It was pain like fire, like I was being crushed in a
vice, like I'd been impailed on a spike. As the sun beat down the only thing I
could find to alleviate the terror was that I could move my legs. Move them I
did. I could find no way to ease the agony as I rithed around, rolled over and
over, clasped my head and protested at the injustice of life. I tore off my
helmet and thanked myself for having the straps over my glasses. They'd stayed
in place the whole time. As I twisted and contorted my body on the wet grass, I
pulled off my cycling gloves and found part of the flesh from my thumb stuck to
my palm. I couldn't even feel it as I picked it off and then reached back down
to clutch my spine. I could move my legs. I couldn't have done any proper
damage. The pain would ease. It would be ok. I would be ok.
An hour later I felt I could sit up. It fucking hurt.
Another hour later I managed to get to my feet. It fucking hurt, but the
worst of it had passed.
That next day I made my way home by train and pushed my bike the four and a
half miles back from the station. I was pleased to find it wasn't too badly
damaged. The back wheel was bent in half, but still went round. The front wheel
had a couple of minor wobbles in it. One bar end had twisted slightly downwards
and the back reflector was bent. I didn't feel I could ride it.
Well mothers, eh? Mine sent me to the local doctor to get my back checked
out. I got pain killers and an x-ray appointment. Just to make sure it's ok, but
just take care and don't do anything that hurts for a while. Cool.
Five days after the hill the appointment came up. Dad dropped me off outside
the hospital and I walked in. They x-rayed me. They looked a little unsettled.
They strapped me to a hard stretcher and rushed me by ambulance to see an expert
in another hospital. They x-rayed me some more, but this time they wouldn't let
me move. Instead a team of four nurses log rolled me and they all looked quite
stressed. The expert told me I'd crushed l3. I'd broken
my back. If I'd been unlucky and it had been unstable, a single movement could
have caused the bone to slip through my spinal cord and it would have paralysed
me instantly and permanently. I looked a little unsettled.
I couldn't ride my bike for six months. They said my back might be back to normal in a
year. They didn't know. My doctor's never seen anyone my age with a wedge
Next time it looks too steep... I'm not going down.