The day started out relatively cool, but you could tell that as the sun finished coming up it was going to be a warm day. I was a bit shocked to see the number of folks that had signed up to ride in the event, which was a charity ride for Animal Care - a local rescue organization that also provides assistance to animal owners for discounted veterinary care. I haven't heard the exact numbers, but I would guess there were between 150 and 200 people that showed up to ride. Having the ride start at 7:30am was a good choice, as we'd be done before the relatively warm heat of the day got going.
|More folks at the start than I was expecting|
|Ken had a feeling that he forgot something...|
The first surprise to me was that we were actually climbing Calahan Mountain. When I had reviewed the route online, I didn't catch that we weren't taking Dividing Waters all the way to the watershed, but instead would do the ~1mi climb. While the climb isn't very long, it definitely is more challenging than many people might realize. I personally had never gone this way to climb Calahan, and it is a challenging approach. The bonus here is that the descent is awesome, and if you know where to stop you can see the historic Poinsett Bridge. I missed the place to stop, just one of my navigation errors of the day, so we ended up regrouping at the first rest stop which was placed at the start of the climb up the watershed.
|Poinsett Bridge from Jan 2013|
|The view from Saluda was fantastic|
We made it down to the bottom of the grade, and regrouped. This was another tricky area, as there was a lot of gravel on the ground near the turn off. Enough gravel that Ken even decided to go past the turn and loop around to avoid having to take a higher speed turn into it. The next section really was the interesting climb of the day - Fork Creek Road. This is the section that I wrote about a few months ago where we were passed by a truck in one of the curves that really was a bit nerve wrecking. I hadn't gone up this section since that incident, so I was a little on the lookout for cars behaving badly as we rode along. What was awesome is that we were going at a pace where I could enjoy a lot of the littler things as we went, including some great views and sounds of a stream a fair ways below us. This climb is a great primer for Ceaser's Head, and we were all attempting to get Kimberly's confidence up for a trip over that way later this summer. From the turn off on Pearson's Falls Road to the top of Fork Creek is approximately 7 miles, and while it's not quite as much climbing as Ceaser's Head, it's one of the few places where you have that length of climb to get a feel for just sitting in the saddle.
At the top of the main part of the climb is a good place to regroup again, so we made sure we were together and continued on Fork Creek. It wasn't more than a mile later that Sheila ended up crashing. I was far enough behind her that the actual incident is a bit of a blur, but if I close my eyes I can still see her falling. She ended up hitting the pavement hard. We all rolled up, and she was sitting there, definitely in shock and also in a lot of pain. She stated that her hip hurt a lot, and her wrist definitely looked injured. We urged her to stay seated while we gathered up the items that went flying (water bottles, cell phone, etc) and called for medical attention. The issue we had was that the cellular reception up in the mountains was not good. The SAG truck showed up, and between the 5 of us we managed to get enough cellular signal to get EMS dispatched. The ride coordinator also showed up and we helped get an accident report filled out. It took a little while for the Ambulance to show up, and after tending to her wrist they put her on a stretcher to bring her to the Hospital. All in All we sat there with her for over an hour, and I am amazed at how strong she was through the whole ordeal. We got her car keys and loaded her bike up on the SAG truck to bring back to the start, and we told her that we'd take care of making sure to contact folks and get her car back to her house safely.
|Not the people you want to meet on a bicycle ride|
Typically going down the watershed is a point where you let loose and really pick up a lot of speed. This section of road is not technical, nor steep, so you can really have a lot of fun. This day, however, we took it much more calm than I think I've ever taken it, being overly cautious as we went. We stopped at the rest area in front of George Hincapie's "Le Domestique" resort, and refilled our water bottles for the rest of the ride. The ensuing section is a nice distance on Chinquapin Road, back to Tigerville. We continued the trend of being overly cautious and making sure to stay together well.
After we got back to the start, I changed clothes quickly so Ken and I could get Sheila's bike and car back to her house. Ken followed me in his car so he could give me a ride back to get my vehicle. It made for a much longer day than I intended, not leaving Tigerville until mid-afternoon, but I would have traded many more hours than that to be able to say we all made it back safely. I found out later that Sheila was going to have to have surgery that evening to repair her hip and her wrist. I continue to keep her in my prayers.
The important lesson that we all got given today is how much we need to be careful when out riding. I fee terrible that there isn't more that I can do to help her at this point, but even with knowing the route I couldn't have predicted that accident. We all know that there are risks involved with cycling, but unfortunately too often it takes situations like these to remind us that we are mortal. I'm joyful that Sheila will recover, and I'm joyful that my off-road experience didn't end in disaster. I can tell that this day is going to live with me for a while, and that my downhill speed will definitely be slower. I hope it's not a lesson that I ever have to re-learn.