Sunday, January 08, 2017

Grateful for Many Things BUT NOT for Rumble Strips on Highway 76

On Saturday October 22, 2016, I was riding the Oceanside Double Century.  I was having a pretty good ride.  My photos from the day are HERE.

The climb up Montezuma from Borrego Springs was brutal with temps on my Garmin up to 108 so that took a lot out of all of us … it was a scorcher. 

I was trying to get past the descent on Highway 76 in the daylight … but with the heat on the climb, the sun went down about a half hour before I got to the descent.

I was descending down Highway 76 in the dark.  I knew that I should keep my speed down because it was dark and the road is steep.  I made it down the first 2 big sweeping switchbacks and remember looking back not to find any cars behind so I was able to take the lane, no problem.

A car came up behind me so I thought I better go the right to let them pass.  I had two headlights on HIGH … each putting out 650 Lumens so I thought I had plenty of lights.

I moved to the right from the center of the car lane over to the bike lane.  Much to my surprise, my bike was suddenly shaking uncontrollably and I quickly lost control of my bike.  I thought my bike was falling apart as it shook violently underneath me.   I applied my brakes to try to get my speed down.  The next thing I know I was heading into the dirt to the right of the asphalt with the bike totally out of control.  I crashed hard and landed on my right side.  I didn’t lose consciousness thanks to my helmet taking the blow.  I sat there thinking that I just need to sit there and see what my injuries are.  As I looked around, my bike lights were lighting up the cause of my crash: the Rumble Strips on the right side of the white line in the bike lane.


You can see my Strava Report HERE.

At mile 153.2 on my Strava, I was traveling at 32.9 MPH.  I crashed at the first 90 degree left turn after switchbacks, 1.6 Miles up from Jilberto’s Taco Shop, and 1.674 Miles up from the intersection of Highway 76 and Valley Center Road.  You can see the Google Earth of the area HERE ... I believe this is where I hit the dirt.  The Google Map is HERE  

If you zoom in on the map on my Strava Report, you can see when I veered to the right and lost control of the bike.  What I didn't know as I veered to the right in the dark was what was in the bike lane ...

Rumble Strips on the downhill section of Highway 76
Photo by Karl Rudnick

The crash was horrific.  The nice people in the car behind me pulled over and the wife walked back up to see if I was OK.  She said I crashed “stupendously”.  The entire family with husband, wife, and 3 kids all saw it happen right in front of their eyes.  As I sat there in the dirt, she asked me a series of basic questions and I was able to convince her that I was mentally OK.  So she helped me up and much to my surprise, I was able to stand up.  I came down hard on my right shoulder and right hip.  I tested my shoulder and could reach in all directions so I was convinced that my shoulder seemed OK.  She and I then walked my bike to the other side of Highway 76 to load it into their mini-van.  Looking back, I have no idea how I was able to do this.  They drove me down to the next Rest Stop on Cole Grade Road.  I was able to walk and take the bike to the Rest Stop area.

I then had to make a difficult decision: do I get back on the bike and continue?  I had already tackled most of the difficult portions of the ride.  It was a nice night.  Lynn Billie Irwin was there making incredible smoothies for everyone. 

Lynn took this photo shortly after the crash  
Looking back, I have no idea how I was able to stand up!!
This shows the power of adrenaline

I made a decision that even though I had tackled most of the difficult portions of the ride, that it would be best for me not to get back on the bike.  I had learned from others that once you crash, the adrenaline kicks in and you think you are doing much better than you actually are.  So often, cyclists who get back on their bike after a crash end up crashing again.  I knew the crash was high speed and bad so I called it a day.  Looking back, this was absolutely the right decision even though it was very depressing at the time.  Fortunately for me, Richard Ciolek-Torello was there and loaded my bike into his SAG Wagon then drove me back to the finish in Oceanside.  I was able to load the bike into my van and drive home.  Looking back, I have no idea how I was able to do that.  At home, I was able to walk up the stairs to take a shower and had dinner with my wife, Carol.  Looking back, I have no idea how I was able to do that.  I slept real good Saturday night but when I woke up Sunday, I felt like a truck had driven over me.  I nearly passed out as Carol was helping me to the Bathroom.  When trying to walk, my right upper thigh and hip hurt a lot with every step. My right leg would buckle whenever I put weight on it.

On Monday 10/24/16, I went to the Doctor to get checked out.  It was painful to move around even with a walker.  My Doctor concluded that it was a miracle but that it didn’t look like I broke any bones … just had a LOT of soft tissue damage.  X-Rays of my Right Leg and Hip didn't show any fractures.  She thought there might be a bone bruise.  So she recommended that I Ice the area, Stretch, and Rest.

On Tuesday 10/25/16, in the middle of the night when I couldn't sleep, I started to relive the crash.  I wondered if anyone else had crashed on those rumble strips.  I did a google on "palomar mountain highway 76 rumble strips cycling accidents".  The very first link was labelled "Rumble Strips Hwy 76 - Caltrans - California" which you can see HERE.  This well written document by Karl Rudnick on June 4, 2015 to Seth Cutter, Caltrans District 11 Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator does an excellent job of describing the Rumble Strips on Highway 76.  I reached out to Karl and found him to be so helpful.  He knew so much about those Rumble Strips and had done so much good work documenting them then bringing the problem to the attention of CalTrans.  He put me in contact with many other cyclists who are working with CalTrans to change the policy of installing rumble strips on country roads like Highway 76 in San Diego.  Karl is a serious cyclist as well as shown HERE.

On Wednesday 10/26/16, a giant bruise of all colors showed up on my hip … about a foot long and 6 inches wide.  I’m icing a couple of times a day and taking plenty of Advil.  I was able to ride the Ergometer (indoor trainer) Tuesday night with no pain once so I spun for 15 minutes so I could get some blood flow. 

For the first week, I could only walk with the aid of a walker.  


On 10/31/16, the giant bruise had grown to be a monster about 18 inches long and 12 inches wide as shown here.

So why do I show this?  Because it gives you a glimpse at how much this crash hurt and how bad the injury was.  I was BLESSED BEYOND MEASURE not to have broken more bones!!

Bicycle Advocate Darell Dickey wrote to me and other Bicycle Advocates in California: 

"My sincere condolences and happy thoughts for a speedy recovery from your injuries.

For the rest of us, can we please respect Chuck’s situation and stop calling everything bad that happens on the road an “accident.”

This was entirely avoidable. This was not an act of god that was not foreseen. This crash happened because of poor infrastructure. That is not an accident. This was an “on purpose.”

Vanishingly few crashes are accidents. Let’s not continue to use the euphemism that works against our goal of road safety."

On 10/27/16, I wrote to Karl: "I am now 65 years old so I believe it’s time for me to shy away from the really hard Doubles … I am really hurting today.  The bruise on my right thigh and hip are huge.  I can only get to the bathroom with a walker … my right leg is all messed up.  I imagine I will need some serious Physical Therapy to get my right leg working again … I don’t want to spend the rest of my life with a walker or a cane.  I feel like I’ve been run over by a truck today."

For the second week, I progressed up to walking with a cane but needed it since my right leg buckled when I put weight on it.

I increased my Vitamin D and Calcium supplements to 10,000 IU of Vitamin D3 a day and 4,000 IU of Calcium for the next 3 weeks.

Coach Robert Kahler recommended that I ride the Ergometer every day to help with the healing.  Looking back, I think this made a world of difference in my recovery.  I know it helped my mental outlook.

On 11/03/16, I hobbled into my Doctor's office.  She couldn't figure out why I was walking with a cane and limping since the x-rays didn't show any fractures.  So she ordered a MRI to see what was really going on.

On 11/08/16, I had the MRI which showed a large hematoma and 3 fractures of my pelvis and hip bones.  The Orthopedic Doc said it was OK to continue to ride the Ergometer and recommended a lot of Swimming and Jacuzzi time which I did.  He recommended that I continue to walk with a cane until I no longer needed it.  I was quickly seeing how easy it is to become reliant on a cane to walk to I set a goal to not walk with the cane as soon as I could walk pain free.  He said it would take 6 to 8 weeks for this injury to heal. 

I work out at Mr. Jill's Body Firm.  I'm positive that those workouts helped my crash so I wasn't injured more as I hit the dirt.  My trainer, Roxy Kahler, was so helpful in my recovery.  She explained that I was limping because my hip flexor muscle on the inside of my upper leg was sore because it had been overcompensating for the muscles on the outside of my leg by the giant bruise.  She taught me how to stretch my hip flexor by standing and rotating my leg in circles.  This was really painful at first but became less so as my leg recovered.  This stretch helped my recovery immensely.

On 11/21/16, I spoke to John Swann on the phone from Davis.  Karl had put me into contact with John who had been doing some heavy lifting on the Rumble Strip Subcommittee.  He asked me to testify in a meeting with the California Bicycling Advocacy Committee under the auspices of CalTrans on 12/01/16.  It turns out that my crash showcases well the problems with cyclists and Rumble Strips.  John described it as "driving a car and then your steering wheel falls off."  John is retired now and bike advocacy is his part time job.  He had a horrible experience with Rumble Strips himself in 2010 in Vancouver.  He didn't crash but it was a close call and very scary.  We both agreed that decision makers at CalTrans need to understand how bad these Rumble Strips can be for cyclists.

On 12/01/16, I was on a phone call to Sacramento with John Swann who was in attendance at the meeting of the California Bicycling Advocacy Committee along with Karl Rudnick who also phoned in.  John did a great job of describing my horrific crash and I was able to testify that these Rumble Strips on steep descents like Highway 76 where cyclists are descending fast can be EXTREMELY DANGEROUS.  Once I ran into those Rumble Strips at 32 MPH, there was no way I could have kept the bike under control.  I challenge any cyclist who hit those Rumble Strips at that speed to keep their bike under control and not crash.  I testified that I was lucky to be alive but the next guy may not be.  Karl also testified as to the danger especially since he rides his bike often in that area on Highway 76.  Thank you to John and Karl for helping to get the word out so fast.

It is now January 7, 2017.  I was able to ride 92 miles today on the Carbon Canyon Century.

I am blessed beyond measure!!  I had plenty of time to think about how I'm no longer a youngster who just can just bounce back from crashes like this.  I'm 65 years old and it's hard to recover from these things for sure.  

One of my favorite Church hymns is "Count Your Blessings" ...

"So amid the conflict, whether great or small,
Do not be discouraged; God is over all.
Count your many blessings; angels will attend,
Help and comfort give you to your journey's end.

Count your blessings;
Name them one by one.
Count your blessings;
See what God hath done.
Count your blessings;
Name them one by one.
Count your many blessings;

See what God hath done."

I'm a firm believer that it makes a HUGE difference to have an attitude of gratitude ... and by Counting Your Blessings you can focus on all of the things in your life to be thankful for.

Certainly I am thankful that my crash took me into the hard packed dirt on the shoulder.

Certainly I am thankful for the many incredibly beautiful country roads in California that are so fun to ride a bike on and thankful to CalTrans for all they do to allow cyclists to ride on these roads. 

Certainly I am thankful for a Guardian Angel who was watching over me and brought me in for a relatively soft landing.  It could have been so much worse.

Certainly I am thankful for so many friends and family members who gave me a hand.

Certainly I am thankful for cyclists like Karl Rudnick and John Swann who work hard on trying to solve problems like this.

But more than anything, I am thankful for my much better half, Carol, who picked me up and helped me every step in this recovery.  There is no way I could have recovered so well from this without her help.  It's really easy to lose your sense of humor when things hurt so bad .... but she never lost her sense of humor and that made a HUGE difference!!  As many people know, I married WAY above myself the day she decided to marry me.