Crack!  I was on the ground, startled and confused.   I sat up and peered fuzzily up at four concerned male faces.  My biking buddies were already off their bikes and crowded around me in a circle.

“Was that my helmet hitting the rock, or the sound of a bone snapping?” I asked, only half joking. The guys shook their heads and flashed baffled looks at each other.

“I didn’t hear anything,” Chad said.

I ran my fingertips over my left shoulder, gingerly.  Something didn’t feel right.  There wasn’t a lot of pain, but I felt a strange numbness.

“Are you seeing stars?” someone asked.  The one whose name I can never remember, the environmental engineer.  I nodded.

“Well,” he said, “I’m sure you don’t have a broken bone. Your face would be flushed; I’d be able to tell. You’ve probably sprained or pulled something in your shoulder.”

Right, I thought.  Whatever you say, dude.  I looked at the rock, trying to figure out just how I’d hit it.  When my front tire jackknifed off the edge, I’d gone down so fast that I didn’t even remember exactly what happened.  But I felt I’d better agree with everyone that there were no broken bones.  After all, I didn’t want to be regarded as a hysterical female.

Two hours later, an emergency room doctor laid a couple of x-rays on the cot next to me.

“Is there anyone in the waiting room you want to bring in?” he asked.  I shook my head.  After toughing it out of the woods, first walking my bike and then riding it the five miles on pavement back to town, I’d said goodbye to the guys and driven myself to the emergency room. When I told them I was going to have an x-ray, Chuck had said, “That’s a good idea.  You’ll feel better once you’ve had it checked out”.

“You have a broken clavicle,” the doctor said, tracing the splintered bone with the tip of his pen. “It’s not a bad break, but you’ll be out of commission for a few weeks.  The usual four to six.”  I nodded.  I’d known it was broken, of course, ever since I heard that crack.

I had arrived in this little New Hampshire town six weeks ago to spend the summer with family.  With a packed schedule of adventure races planned for the season, my first priority had been to find people to train with.  I stopped in at Bannigan’s one afternoon, a mountain bike shop on Main Street, and talked to Charlie, a wiry little guy who worked in the shop.  Charlie was friendly, and readily told me about the Wednesday night rides.

“Are they co-ed?” I asked.  Charlie smiled at me, doubtfully.

“They will be if you come,” he said.  Later on I thought, why did I have to make a gender issue of everything? Who cares if the rides are co-ed?

But now, sitting in the emergency room, I couldn’t help wondering, once again, if it really was a gender issue.  I’d spent the past week riding with my old buddy Joe, who taught me to mountain bike.  Joe is one of those detail guys who loves to tinker with his bike parts and perfect his riding technique. Our first day out, in Patapsco State Park, he said, “You really haven’t gotten any better at the technical stuff, have you?”  I was walking my bike over a log at the time.

“It’s purely psychological,” I told him.  “I just don’t have the nerve to try some of this stuff.”  Poor Joe.  He took it personally.  After all, I always introduced him to my friends as ‘the guy who taught me to mountain bike’, and here I was still walking my bike over logs.  For the next week, I was in boot camp.  Joe rode behind me, shouting at me to speed it up.  He set up logs in his backyard and drilled me on bunny-hopping them.  He spent hours combing websites looking for a new bike for me, convinced that the fit of my bike was at least partially responsible for my lack of courage in the face of obstacles.  After a week, I got mad.

“I don’t want to jump logs!” I shouted at him.  “Most adventure races don’t even have technical mountain bike courses.  I’ll just get hurt if you keep this up!”  It was pure defensiveness, and I knew it.  If I didn’t learn to jump the obstacles, I’d never get faster.  Why didn’t I have the same urge to show off that all my male riding buddies had?

That’s what I was thinking about when I watched the four of them jump a steep-faced rock in front of me earlier that evening. I was tired of the embarrassed little giggle I always let out when I dismounted my bike without even attempting an obstacle. And so I slammed into the vertical side of that rock, knowing I wasn’t going to clear it.  As the doctor began to tick off my list of restrictions for the next six weeks on his fingers, I ticked off the list of races and training sessions I was going to miss.  The race in Boston next month, the club race in Denver after that, maybe even the West Virginia race in September.  I tried to pay a little more attention to the doctor’s instructions.

“I guess this is old hat to you, huh?” he asked.  “You’ve broken a lot of bones before?”

I smiled.  I hadn’t, really.  This was only my second broken bone.  I just didn’t want to be taken for a hysterical female.

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