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Notes from the Scrum: ‘I could hear you screaming’

Velo's Matthew Beaudin takes a tumble, takes a free ride, takes a beer ... and makes a huge mistake

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So this is how it happens. It happens fast.

Sounds drift. Cars and voices. I can sense them, can feel the crush of the morning and I know I am sitting here awash in it but I cannot hear anything. My head is in my hands and I am curled up into myself on the road. The only noise is the buzzing static of shock; my entire head is in a seashell. The whir of self-assessment goes on.

“I could hear you screaming.”

The last thing I remember is touching the front brake. Whispering on it near the bottom of an on-fire descent as I reeled in a truck. Unseen marbles of gravel. The noise of a rasp and then nothing for brief moment between saddle and road.

My left hip touches first, the angry road surface a prairie fire to Lycra and skin. I am combustible. The left elbow is next to touch down, a rock boring a hole into my arm the size of a shotgun shell. Then the pavement is a hot razor blade over my shoulder blades. It was loud in my ears, that sound of fear and pain and mashing into the road. It was then she says she could hear me screaming.

“I’m OK, mostly,” I say. There are a few people around now, and they want to know if I’m sure. I check my teeth. Always with the teeth. All there. The mental list goes on but by now the sounds are back and I know nothing is as bad as the pain on my road-eaten skin seems.

A man in a white truck, the one I slowed and smashed for, implores that I get in. I’m in no condition to ride, he says. I see my bike go into the back and he notes it’s in good shape, save some crooked shifters. I roll into a ball in the shotgun seat, afraid to bleed on the interior.

“That was some tumble,” he notes. “Really bad.” I am grateful for his company and compassion and the ride to Vecchio’s, the shop in Boulder where I store beer in the crowded fridge. Owner Jim Potter soon hands me one.

He’s seen worse, much worse. Potter fixes my bike and the new mechanic, Brian, who’s likely been in more road crashes than I’ve had breakups, tells me what to do. I’ve never been taken apart by the road like this before. Jim hands me a bizarre looking plastic scrubber, like a toothbrush for skin, and tells me to scrub the road rash. Hard.

A friend just said Vecchio’s is where bullshit goes to die. He’s right. And by now that friend, Velo’s technical editor Caley Fretz, has arrived and asks about the status of the bike, tells me I’ll heal, and drives me home after stopping at the store for Tegaderm. Thanks I say. I really appreciate it. He tells me he knew I was about to crash. That I was descending lately in such a way that lent itself to crashing.

Would have loved a heads up. Have you ever tried to put gauze on your own shoulder blades?

A month later, I am cresting Magnolia Road again for the first time since the incident. It is my most loathed and loved road on the Front Range of Colorado.

My [new] girlfriend is in front of me, descending fast, too fast. I think that I need to catch her and tell her to take this one easy, as she doesn’t know the road. I do not catch her before the first hairpin.

I watch her smoking into the turn from about 20 feet back. Handfuls of brake and most of the speed is gone. But the gravel on the shoulder is a tempest. She crashes onto her left side, and I see it happening over long seconds. May as well have been me falling — two for the price of one. I kneel down next to her and put my hand on her shoulder, fully expecting to be broken up with on the spot.

Two men stop their driving tour of the Boulder foothills and offer to drive her off the mountain. They make room for a bike, and move a dog around to fit her in.

I drive us home and think it’s incredible that more things don’t go wrong when we crash like that. I thank the strangers who pick us up when we fall. Because the vulnerability of a life on the road is one we can never fully understand. We ride and we trust and, above all, we hope. Hope that wheel holds, hope that driver sees us. And when those things run out, we take rides from strangers.

Back at my house in Boulder, I hand her the torture device used to clean out road rash. And, again, I expect to be broken up with, on the spot.

A few days later, we come to the top of Magnolia again, out for our redemption. We both go slower than normal, we both keep the rubber side down. It’s not a lesson that needs to be taught often, except for when it does. I can only hope there’s a nice stranger on the road the next time, a friend, and a beer.