4,000 Bicycle Miles across America, and then it Happened
I’ve been on the trail now for four months and have hiked a little over two thousand miles, all without incident or injury. Such was not the case on the four-thousand-mile bicycle journey across America. Following the bicycle maps provided by Bikecentennial of Missoula, Montana, now known as Adventure Cycling, the distance from the Pacific coast to the Atlantic coast is 4,250 miles. I traveled 4,235 miles without incident or accident other than a few close calls with eighteen-wheelers, but all that changed five miles from Williamsburg, Virginia, and fifteen miles from Yorktown, Virginia, the end of the trail and the site of the last Revolutionary War battle.
It was a hot, sultry day on the road leading into Williamsburg, Virginia, and I was excited to be nearing the end of a very long journey. Cycling, I averaged about a hundred miles a day, and with only fifteen miles to ride before reaching the Atlantic Ocean, I would be there in the early afternoon.
The road leading into Williamsburg is called the Colonial Parkway, and only a biker would recognize or even care that this paved road had no shoulder to ride on. The configuration of the parkway was asphalt, white line followed by a grass-lined drainage ditch, with no space between the white line and the grass. I was following the white line, trying to stay as close to my side of the road as possible. Riding the white line is a lot like trying to walk a railroad track – eventually you fall off.
The front wheel of my Specialized Mountain Bike momentarily left the white line and wandered onto the grass beside the pavement. Without warning, the front tire of the bike swerved violently to the right, propelling me over the front of the handlebars and onto the soft grass of the drainage ditch. I lay in the grass for a second, stunned at what had just transpired. I felt okay; I had no road rash and my first concern was the condition of my bike. I saw it lying in the grass; it appeared to be without harm, other than the chain had come off the front derailleur. I stood up, walked over to my bike, set it upright, and leaned over it to reset the chain on the clogs of the front sprocket. In doing so, I became extremely nauseated, and had to put my bike down and then sit on the grass with my back leaning against the embankment.
As I lay in the ditch, I tried to make myself look as inconspicuous as possible, trying to act like I was just taking a rest, as I didn’t want cars stopping to see if I needed help. I felt a slight ache in my right groin and placed my hand on the spot to see if pressure would ease the ache. After a minute, I pulled my hand away, only to see that it was covered in blood; in fact, my spandex biking shorts in that area was soaked with blood. It’s only because the shorts were black that I didn’t initially see the blood. I pulled my shorts down to my crotch to ascertain the cause of the blood and discovered a three-inch gash in my groin that was oozing blood. I quickly pulled my shorts up and lay back on the grass. I knew I needed help, but I didn’t know what to do. I think I was in shock, as my reasoning and deducting powers were more than a bit fuzzy.
I knew I needed to get to a hospital, but I didn’t know how to transport myself and my bike to such a facility. As I lay there on the grass, pondering my situation and trying hard to contain the nausea, three ambulances pulled up in front of me and three EMTs step out and walk over to me. One asks if I need help. I reply,
“I think so,” as I pull my biking shorts down to reveal the gash in my groin. The EMT replied,
“Yes, you do. Let’s get you into an ambulance and get you to a medical facility.” I ask, “What about my bicycle?” as that was the thing I really cared about.
He said he would put it in the ambulance with the big box. As for the ambulances showing up when they did, I guess my attempt at being inconspicuous didn’t work, and a motorist passing by, seeing me lying in the ditch, assumed I needed help and put in a 911 call to the local police authorities who in turned dispatched the EMTs.
Before making my way to one of the ambulances, I marked the spot of the accident with a paper bag I found lying in the grass, as I knew I would need to return to this site to continue with my bike journey.
I rode in the front seat with the EMT who said there was an emergency medical facility five miles away in the town of Williamsburg. Once inside the medical facility, I was escorted to a physician’s room and placed on an examination table. A doctor came in, examined the wound, and said it would need to be flushed out and then stitched up. Then he left. I waited and waited and waited for him to return, but he never came back.
After two and a half hours lying on the table, another doctor came in to examine me. I asked what happened to the first doctor; the second doctor replied that there had been a shift change and he had gone home. So much for patient care. The attending doctor proceeded to sew me up and put twenty stitches in the wound to close it up. After putting a giant wrap around the wound and giving me back my biking shorts, which had been washed, I hobbled out of the room to the front desk to pay my bill.
Nowadays, stitches can run $500 per stitch, but at that time, the total amounted to less than $300. Fortunately, I had my Visa credit card with me and didn’t have to stick around to wash dishes or sweep floors in order to settle my bill.
With great effort, I got back on my bike and painfully rode it to the nearest motel where I got a room for the night. I rested, but was up by five the next morning and ready to go. My right leg was stiff as a board, but I mounted my bike anyway and gingerly peddled the five miles back to the site of the accident. In good consciousness I couldn’t say to others that I had ridden my bike across America, knowing I had skipped these five miles. It was just getting light as I approached the paper bag I had left to mark the site of the accident. In the early morning light, I could see the path in the grass that my bike had traveled when the accident happened, and there lying in the grass at the point where my wheel turned, sending me flying over the handlebars, was the culprit. It was a two-liter glass beer bottle. The front tire of my bike had run over the neck of the bottle, causing it to swerve violently to the right, resulting in the accident.
As for the nasty gash in my groin, it was caused by the shift lever located on the left side of the handlebars. When the bike was new, the shift levers on both the right and left side of the handlebars were covered with a rubber covering; however, the left one was missing, leaving a relatively sharp piece of metal exposed. When I flew over the handlebars, my groin connected with the shift lever, tearing the three-inch gash in the flesh, but putting no tear in my biking shorts.
With the mystery solved as to the cause of the accident, I peddled back into Williamsburg, toured the restored portion of the original colonial town, then peddled a few miles farther to Jamestown, then onto Yorktown, and finally the Atlantic Ocean. It had been a wonderful journey, and a fabulous way to see the rural side of America. If the ocean hadn’t been there, I would have continued to ride on to England and Ireland, but the ocean was there and I couldn’t go any farther. It was at that moment, while standing in the waters of the Atlantic, that the thought came to me, "Richard, you know how to row a boat, why don’t you build a rowboat and row it across the ocean to England and complete the bicycle journey," and so I did.