This is an old post from my original website. I am re-posting with hopes you might avoid such a devastating mishap.
My biggest crash occurred on June 5, 2008 (a few months after buying my Stumpjumper). I was riding downhill on a “wash boarded” local dirt road (Anderson Truck Trail). I had adjusted my suspension to “soft” to absorb all the ruts. As I rounded a corner, traveling about 13 mph, I spotted a very deep rut running across the road. I panicked and squeezed both brakes as fast as I could. My front wheel locked (disc brakes) and my front suspension collapsed down (it was set too soft). I was launched over the handlebars and landed squarely on the top of my head (helmet).
I was riding alone (dumb, I know) and I knew my neck was hurt… hurt bad. I tried using my cell phone to call for help but had no reception. I managed to stand my bike up while keeping my other hand under my chin… and hiked about a quarter mile using my bike to stabilize myself, like an elderly person uses a walker.
I managed to make it to the gate of a ranch house. That house sat a good 50 yards off the dirt road. That distance, plus the large teeth of the two barking dogs behind the gate, kept me from entering the yard to get help. I decided to try my phone again instead. I finally got reception and called Cindy (my wife).
I told her I thought I might have broken something in my neck. She asked if I had called 911. I said I thought she could just come and pick me up and take me to the doctor (not thinking real clearly). She called 911.
Just then 3 other mountain bikers came up the dirt road behind me. I was kneeling on the ground with my elbows on a utility pedestal… my back turned their direction… with both hands under my jaw supporting my neck. They kind of jokingly asked what I was doing. I managed to explain the situation to them without moving my jaw. One fella had a cell phone with GPS coordinates on it. He called 911 and gave them our position.
Twenty minutes or so later an EMT wagon managed to get down the dirt road to our location. The EMT’s were just about to strap me to a board when Cindy arrived behind them. A helicopter was next to appear on the scene. The helicopter landed just inside the ranch house yard. The paramedics opened the gate and carried me (strapped to the board) to the door (I don’t know where the dogs went). It was a 2-man sheriff’s helicopter. My feet hung out one side, my head out the other, and the second sheriff was sitting on top of my legs, trying not to hurt me. Then the chopper took off… I have never been so cooooooold as when those blades started blowing the air down on to my sweaty body.
“YOU SHOULD BE DEAD!!” I heard the words from at least 2 doctors and my physical therapist following the crash. That is because I had fractured my 2nd cervical (neck) vertebrae in 4 places. The C-2 vertebrae is where all the nerves that control the heart and breathing exit the spinal column. Luckily, none of the pieces had jutted inward during the fracture and walk, therefore my spinal cord suffered no damage.
“You are the luckiest man in the world,” my friends said. With four bolts screwed into my skull for 12 weeks I didn’t really quite feel like the “luckiest” man in the world, but I am thankful for how it turned out. I did have to wear the “halo” all summer, but my injury didn’t require any surgery or any vertebrae to be fused.
Everyone was great that summer, but especially Cindy and Mom.
Cindy washed my hair every night (which was not an easy job through the halo) and also used Q-tips and alcohol to clean the holes in the skin around my bolts every night.
Cindy was beside me all the way. She kept me well nourished, and made sure I made all my doctor appointments. She had to take-on many of the chores I usually do, in addition to her regular ones. When my bolts became loose during summer vacation (from hiking) she drove me all the way from Bridgeport (Ca) to the Mammoth (Ca) Hospital to get them tightened. She and my little brother (Jamie) tightened the bolts when they came loose on the way back from summer vacation.
My mother was her usual self following my crash. She raised me and knew exactly how active a person I was. She would bring lunch most every day, play card games, watch movies, do crosswords with me, exercise with me, or just sit and talk… anything to make things more lively. I am not sure a son could be closer to his mother than I am.
Having Bubby and Sissy (my grandkids who live with us) was also great. Every time they saw me they had a million questions about the halo and the crash. I could not do a lot of the things I usually do… but I could still read them stories.
“Are you going to give up mountain biking?” everyone asked. “Can I take your Stumpjumper to the swap meet and sell it?” Cindy asked. Well, 6 months later I was back mountain biking. I had to attend dozens of physical therapy sessions and spent a couple of hours every night twisting my head with a towel in our Jacuzzi. I had to get a new helmet since mine had spit exactly in half from the crash.
My neck may have lost a few degrees in rotational movement but I have become a much better rider since the crash. I never take my front fork setting off of STIFF and I have adjusted the position of my front brake lever so I can only reach it with one finger (index). I use two fingers for all my rear braking. In addition, by following Nate, Drew, and Caleb from Hut to Hut (see Tabeguache for more details) I learned that my bike will practically ride through anything as long as I lean back and lift the front tire a bit. I have since ridden over many deep ruts, much deeper than the one that caused me to panic, and almost become dead. I don’t hink Cindy or I could take another serious mountain bike crash.