From the number of posts I've made here, you all can tell I'm a noob. Haven't ridden a bike in at least 15 years. After turning 50, I decided riding a bike might allow me to exercise without damaging my joints. With the help of quite a few kind people here, I did my research and eventually wound up buying a sweet '12 Fuji Cross in April.
The first few rides were tough. It's pretty hilly on the roads around my suburban home and I quickly realized my quads would need some work before I could join that 30 mile Sunday group ride from the LBS. I've ridden maybe five times since buying the bike as I have just gotten over a three week bout with bronchitis.
So this weekend I vowed to try out the Panola Mountain trails, a system of about 30 miles of paved trails about 20 miles from my home. Most of the trail system is fairly flat and there are "boardwalks" that span the occasional creek or gully. It was one of those boardwalks that was to be my undoing.
The southeast has been hammered by a tropical storm system over the past week; but it had moved on and this morning was overcast, but dry. I parked at one of the trail heads and began my journey about 8 am. I chatted briefly with another young woman who was also beginning her first ride on the trails. The fact that she was not an Athena is what I believe made her ride much more successful than mine.
I started off on the trail ahead of her and shortly came to the first boardwalk. Although a nearby sign warned that the surface would be "slippery when wet", there was no standing water and the boards were only darkened with dampness. I slowed to test the surface and made sure to avoid sharp turns on the boardwalk.
After about a mile of smooth sailing (including a couple more boardwalks), I came to a long one with several bends in it. I got about halfway through and came to one of the sharper bends to the left. As quick as you can say "Bob's your uncle" the bike slipped out from under me and we were both sliding across the surface. I lifted myself and the bike and moved to the side of the boardwalk as quickly as I could.
Quickly looking around to make sure no one had witnessed my pathetic lack of intelligence and athleticism, I saw the young lady with whom I had recently chatted beginning her traverse of the killer boardwalk. Before I could shout "Bob's your uncle" - or perhaps some more helpful phrase considering the death trap she was approaching - she was down too.
I hobbled back to where she had fallen as quickly as I could to see if she was OK. Obviously desiring to avoid the same needless shame that I had feared, she quickly got to her feet as well. After briefly commiserating over the condition of the boardwalk and agreeing that the best course of action would be to walk the bike over any future such surfaces along the way, she hopped on her bike and sped off.
As I began the ten yards back to my bike, it became clear to me that I had not fared as well as she. My fall had happened so quickly it was hard to remember exactly what had transpired. The young lady's fall and subsequent events had also prevented me from going over the spill in my mind until now, but I did have a clear memory of makng some sort of "split-like" maneuver to try to avoid going down. That memory was strongly reinforced by the growing pain in my left hamstring, hip joint, and back.
Seeing the large gouge that either I or the bike had left in the wood of the boardwalk, I thought it best to take stock of the condition of both of us. The bike looked relatively unscathed except for some slime on the handlebar that had been scraped from the boards. It looked good to go. A similar inventory of my own condition led me to the conclusion that I was not. My left leg had clearly been yanked in a direction in which it had not been designed to be yanked, and the pain was such that I could not imagine pedaling - much less sitting on - the bike.
As I began to walk the bike back to the trailhead, I realized that it did not seem to be rolling as freely as it had prior to the spill. I examined the rear wheel setup closely but could not see anything obviously wrong. Watching the wheel spin did not indicate that it was out of true. As I spun the front wheel, however, I realized that it had been knocked out of true and was rubbing at one point in its rotation on the brake pad.
The walk back to the trailhead was quite painful and at times I wasn't sure I'd make it. Moving my body in certain ways would cause a painful twinge to shoot through my leg and back. I had to move carefully and slowly. Eventually I made it back to the parking lot.
Loading he bike onto my truck was a painful exercise, but it was nothing compared to getting myself into the driver's seat and buckled in. Eventually I made it home, and now sit here on the couch doped up on Alleve with a hot pad underneath me. I have had some time to reflect on the events of the day and have reached a number of conclusions. To wit -
1a. Falling ain't what it used to be. When I was a kid I used to jump my bike over ravines on ramps made of dirt. Falling off the bike was part of the deal and I was often able to recover before actually falling. Hitting the ground was rarely actually painful and - except for one particularly nasty skateboarding incident in which I broke my arm - never resulted in more than a few scrapes and cuts.
Now at 6'6", 350 pounds, and 50 years old, falling is much more of a traumatic and potentially dangerous event; and one which is to be avoided at all costs. The distance from a standing position to the ground seems to be much further than it used to be and takes much longer to traverse than it did when I was young. There is plenty of time to think of the nasty things that could happen to you when you hit the ground. Head, elbows, and knees seem to be much more exposed to potential injury; and attempts to save oneself from the fall - such as the aforementioned split - only result in greater injury.
1b. Falling is more dangerous for a Clyde Or Athena. The fact that the young lady following me seemed to suffer no real injury also convinces me that the dangers of falling are much greater and more likely for Clyde's and Athena's than for normal people.
Conclusion - don't fall.
2. Boardwalks are not only slippery when wet, but can actually be damn slippery even when damp. During my recovery and walk back to the parking lot, I had ample time to examine the condition of the boardwalks. The one on which I had fallen was no wetter than any of the others, but because it was in deep shade, it had accumulated a much thicker coating of algae slime than the others.
I'm not quite certain what conclusions I should reach from these facts, and it is perhaps here that someone else's greater experience can be helpful. Do I avoid all paths with boardwalks after a rain? Do I ride but walk the bike over each boardwalk? Only the ones in the shade? Can the boardwalks even be dangerous when everything has dried completely?
Conclusion - there are still many things I need to learn as a 50 year old Clyde.
3. I have not yet found a safe and convenient way to do this biking thing on a frequent enough basis. As I mentioned earlier, the roads around my house are hilly and can be quite busy during certain times of day. This prevents me from riding in the morning and any evening rides I can get in are short and interspersed with walking as I am not yet fit enough or the hills. While I have not yet sought out any flat roads near here, the nearest trails are a 30 minute drive away and obviously are fraught with unknown dangers.
So how do I ride often enough and far enough to increase my fitness so I can ride more and farther?
Conclusion - walk more often to increase my strength and stamina so that when I can ride, I will be able to go farther and climb more hills. Does that make sense?
If you've read this far, I appreciate your interest in my story. Perhaps you can share your experiences with boardwalks, falling, or anything else you might think newbies like me should know about overcoming and surviving the challenges and dangers of riding in order to become a regular long term rider. If you've never ridden on a boardwalk I hope you will take with you a lesson that yes, they are slippery when wet ...and damp.