The Facebook post dropped on my news feed like a ton of bricks "Heading to Ukiah via ambulance. Hit by a car.” It was January 30th, 2015.
My good friend, Deb Banks, owner of Rivet Cycle Works, had been involved in a serious crash along with four others while doing a 300 mile credit card tour in California. With just shy of nine miles left on the first of three consecutive 100 mile days, a car careened into her and her crew.
This shouldn’t have happened. It was 5pm. It was a beautiful day. There was plenty of light left in the sky. The pavement was dry. The road was curvy but she was on a very straight section of it. Everyone was an experienced rider who knew the rules of the road and that cars always have the upper hand. But it did happen. And it gets worse…it was criminal.
The 18 year old driver had a blood alcohol level of 0.22. To put that into perspective, here’s how a variety of reputable sources describe that state of being: "Stupor - Lose Understanding - Impaired Sensations - Severe Motor Impairment - Loss of Consciousness - Memory impairment” The 42 year old passenger had a warrant out for his arrest. The crime - murder.
After surveying the scene, the driver coolly stated, “Well it looks like you guys are alright so we should get going.” Unfortunately for him though, Laura, one of Deb’s crew was now under the car. Not good.
For Deb, the rest of the next hour or so were spent in a ditch and in a blur. Slipping in and out of consciousness, she didn’t hear the approaching ambulances and didn’t see the Flight For Life helicopter that whisked Laura away to the hospital. She also didn’t see the police making two arrests. The next thing she knew, she was in an ambulance heading to the hospital as well. Pretty soon she would learn that she had a cracked pelvis, a compound fracture in her right ankle, and a serious gash on her left arm. Fortunately, there were no obvious head or neck injuries. Deb has had surgery to fix the broken ankle but the doctors removed a significant amount of cartilage. She’ll learn the impact of that over a long period of recovery that for now has her in a cast and immobile.
The rest of her crew sustained a list of injuries reminiscent of an intense dialogue from E.R - compression fractures, multiple contusions, broken clavicles and ribs, abrasions. Serious and painful as they were, no injuries were life threatening and despite the long road to recovery, everyone will walk and presumably ride again.
Although she is still coming to grips with the accident, I asked her for some perspective. “I’ve ridden 10,000 miles a year for the last 5 years. I’ve been incredibly lucky not to have anything serious happen so far. I guess sooner or later things happen. It’s the nature of the beast.”
Despite her willy-nilly feeling toward bike accidents, even Deb admits she is angry and has her dark moments. “I’d like to see the driver put away for a long time. Sure he’s in jail. But he’s getting three meals a day on the taxpayers’ dime. I may be walking by August and who knows when I’ll be back on my bike. I cannot drive for the foreseeable future. Yeah, I’m angry.”
I asked Deb what her dark moments are like. She spoke of the fear of never being whole again - wondering if she will walk without a limp or ski, another passion of hers. 10,000 miles a year puts one in really good shape and she can already feel her body slipping. At 57, she is too young to ride a motorized cart around the grocery store but she has. “I feel like my mother,” she says.
But like the experienced randonneur she is, Deb pushes on. “I’ve set my sites on the 2016 1200 kilometer Great Southern Randonnee Australia. With any luck and a lot of work, I’ll be there.”
I admitted to Deb that I was currently a bit unglued about riding myself given that she’s the first person I’ve really known to have been involved in a major cycling accident. The response - classic Deb.
"You love riding your bike. Do the things you love.”
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