To: Anyone Who Will Listen
Subject: What a Wild Ride!

[click here to jump to the "meat" of the story]

As many of you know, I enjoy off-road mountain biking.  I don't normally bore you with my long stories of where we went, what we saw, what we did, or how I felt, etc.  Why?  Because I know my stories can be long and boring and... well... long and boring.  And I normally don't describe in gut-wrenching and tear-jerking detail the beauty and splendor that these rides take me on (it's mostly just brown dirt and tall trees where we go).  Last week's ride was a bit different, so read on and pretend you are enjoying it with me.  I may become a famous writer someday and THEN what will you have to say for yourself, hmmm?  Notice I didn't say "good writer"...

Gayle (my wife) and I just returned from Washington DC on 9/15/2001, having been closer to the recent terrorist attacks than we would have preferred.  We had been back for several days, feeling grateful for being able to safely return to such a protected, safe environment as Chico.  I had hugged my kids long and hard, and was convinced that they not only loved me, but recognized me too.  I decided to call "the guys" and see when and where everyone was meeting for (bow your heads, please)... THE THURSDAY NIGHT RIDE(tm).

I had not been on one of the famous (infamous, if you are a wife reading this right now) THURSDAY NIGHT RIDEs in several months, and before then only with spotty attendance.  I just had too many things going on in my life, especially at work.  Good things, but time-stealers nonetheless.  "Gotta have your priorities straight" they tell me, so bike riding goes on the back burner until everything else is done (it never is).

Before I continue, you need to know just exactly how important this ride is to those that founded it 3, maybe 4, years ago and how it makes them feel if anyone in the group fails to participate in this weekly ritual.  These guys don't e-v-e-r miss the THURSDAY NIGHT RIDE.  Not for anything.  This is like the poker night our dads used to tell us about.  Thursday is THE night to ride... and THE night to ride is Thursday.  Get it?  Good.

One time (and one time only), I suggested moving it to Wednesdays because I had a conflict with a Rotary Softball team I was on.  I'm not saying the idea was rejected out of hand.  No.  I'm saying it flat out got ugly.  Greg Engelbrecht went on a rant, using crazy words like "chimichanga", "doodah", "gnarly", "duuuuude", and that special sound that can only be described as "Scared Curley".  In text form, it is spelled exactly like this: "Nyaaaaahhhnahgghah".  It is normally preceded by "I was totally all like..." and is accompanied by a facial expression of total incredulity.  This word/sound holds several meanings, depending on the context of the message/sermon he is delivering at the time.  You simply have to hear it live to appreciate it.  Doug Lynch chimed in with one of his patented "Camaaaaaaaan"s and Pete Crawford spewed forth several colorful, descriptive, unflattering adjectives in my direction as well.  One by one, they all let me know that my idea would pass neither the house nor the senate.  Brian Carter and Brian Corbit (the only mentally stable ones in the group - including yours truly) just shook their heads in disbelief that I would even suggest such sacrilege in the presence of "The Mastuuuuh" (another commonly overused phrase we all overuse commonly).  I'm not sure if Dave Stewart was around when I committed my heinous crime, but if he was, he probably tried his best to wave me off ahead of time.  Warning me to shut my yap before it was too late.  Yes, it was too late.

I stood there, silently humbled and quite possibly soiled.  Greg's fierce determination to let NOTHING interfere with this sacred weekly journey caused me to visualize his wife, April (no, not like THAT) speaking ever so reverently to her groom-to-be on their wedding day, "... In sickness and in health, I'll never infringe upon your THURSDAY NIGHT RIDE(tm), 'til death do us part".  I can pretty near guarantee that none of their kids disrespected their dad by being born on a Thursday.  Mom saw to it, I'm sure.

So, now that you fully understand how important 100% attendance is, you'll understand how concerned I was that they might not allow me back into the pack after such a long absence.  I really NEEDED this ride.  I'm not a gym person.  My bum ankle keeps me from playing racquetball and most other ankle-intensive sports.  Biking is one of the few things I can do to get a serious sweat up (HEY!  I said ONE of the few things!).  I was prepared to beg, grovel, and plead with them if I had to.  I made the call...

They all decided to go boating.  Whew!  I guess I slipped by this time.  No grovelling today, no sirree!

Not everyone went boating.  Brian Corbit still wants to ride.  Don't know why.  Don't care why.  Brian wants to ride and I want to ride.  So we decide to ride somewhere near his house in Paradise (near Pentz and Pearson roads, if you're familiar with the area).  On most of our rides from his house, we would drive to our starting point on Dean Road and ride along the flumes (oooh!  THE DANGEROUS SCARY FLUUUUUUUMES!), but I'm always up for a new trail whenever I can find it.  Brian knows of a good loop down to Lake Oroville and back that I have never been on, so we decide that's where we will go.

Its just past 6 o'clock and Brian wants to get going before we lose too much light, but I make him watch President Bush play commander-in-chief on TV (I think he did a reasonably good job of it, even though it sounded pre-written).

So, we head out and the ride starts off with a nice moderately steep run down Pentz road.  The sun is going down, but we can still see quite clearly and there's a sliver of a 3-day old "new" moon hanging directly over Chico.  We shout "Great View!" to each other through the rushing wind in our face as we pass by houses that overlook the canyons and hills around us.  The temperature is nice.  Cool enough to keep us from overheating.

Cars are passing us as we're maxing out at only 34mph (darn knobby tires!).  Traffic is very light as we turn off on a dirt road that leads to Kunkle Reservoir.  As we approach the reservoir (I want to come back and check this place out later, I remind myself), Brian takes us off the road, over a pile of rocks, and then we ride along the top of the Penstock Aqueduct, a half-buried large steel pipe that carries water from the Reservoir to Lake Oroville or vice-versa.  I haven't figured that out.  The aqueduct is not particularly dangerous to ride on, but I wouldn't try it in the rain.  It would be way too slick!  Then again, that just sounds more challenging.

We ride along for a while, and as we get ready to hang a left at the approaching road, we pass by a barking but terrified Rottweiler (I'm not kidding), who runs behind a fence to continue issuing his dire warnings.  Kind of like "Don't you DARE come into this jail!".  We flew down Pioneer Trail (steep and winding road - lots 'o fun and lots 'o brakes!) for a ways, then jumped onto a dirt road which eventually led us to Lake Oroville.  Or should I say Puddle Oroville.  The water was so low that we could see trees that were buried when the lake was originally flooded.  Branches reaching out from below as if we could save them from drowning even today!  An old access road was covered with years of silt and erosion.  Only where it had chipped away and fallen into the deeper part of the lake could you even tell it was once a road.  Scenes like this always turn me into an archeologist.  I hunt around looking for surfaced treasure.  Boat propellers dropped by hapless Gilligan clones, barbecues fallen off of rented houseboats, expensive sunglasses inappropriately used as diving masks, etc.  Really valuable stuff.

Not seeing any potential loot to pillage, I decided to roll boulders down the steep banks into the water below.  Powerful, crunching, thumping, rolling masses rushing down in a frenzy to a soft landing in the water.  You'd hate to be in front of one of those babies, huh?  I convinced myself that I was just doing my part to raise the water level of the lake.  I'm quite the good Samaritan, don't you know.  Brian is off on a scavenger hunt of his own.  Apparently, he had lost a valuable pair of sunglasses down here while on a day trip to the lake a while back.

Which reminds me....  The last time I went on a "recovery ride" with Brian (he dropped his wedding ring on a weekend ride by the creek at a miner's camp near Forest Ranch - he FORCED me to go back with him the very next day), I ended up getting a deep scratch in my shin from a small tree/bush branch I passed too close to.  Didn't think much of it.  I bang up my shins and legs a lot when I ride.  Two months later it still hadn't healed.  Eeew!  Can you say gangrene?  I had to go to immediate care for treatment.  Just shows you what I won't do to keep my friends' marriages together!  Nothing a little antibiotic won't cure!

Brian never found his glasses, and I couldn't find any more boulders to pry loose (besides, the lake was nearly full from the rocks I already sent careening to their destiny), so we started back on the arduous climb to Paradise.  We rode on access roads here and there, passing by new park construction, but took to the trails and dirt roads every chance we got, Brian having explored most of them by now and (supposedly) knowing where we were headed.  As luck would have it, we managed to eventually come out on Pentz Road.  We now had a choice to make... Continue left down Pentz to Limesaddle or start uphill to the right and go home.  It was dark by now and we had been using our lights for a while.  But it was still fairly early (compared to many of our night rides). I had told Gayle I would try to make it a short ride this evening and come home a bit early to read to the boys or play a game with them before they went to bed.  Having taken time to watch the President's speech before we left, getting back home before they zonked out was going to be difficult at best.  Brian noted that we were about an hour's ride away from his place, so we started up that hill.

For those of you who don't know how prepared we are when we ride, we wear helmets (always), kneepads (almost always), elbow pads (usually), and gloves (always).  We also have special headlights on our bikes (or bike helmets, depending on personal choice) with beefy batteries that light up pretty sizeable areas in front of us.  Brian is known for wearing a blinking red tail light when on the road.  I think he does it to attract angry fireflies or something.  I even have a rear-view mirror that attaches to my helmet, but don't normally use it on these dirt rides because the bouncing on the trails just vibrates it off.  Our bikes are all full-suspension frames and we keep them in pretty good shape (it helps that Mike Peavy at CycleSport offers lifetime free tuneups for bikes purchased at his shop - yee haw!).  I have a narrow backpack generically called a "camelback" which, in addition to holding 80 ounces of water, has pockets and bungee straps in which I carry a pump, spare tube, patch kit, lubricant, tools, photo id, visa card, cell phone, electrical tape, wire, duct tape, elbow/knee pads (when I'm not wearing them), and food bars.  Are we prepared for anything or what?!

So, anyway, back to my "memo" of last week's ride.  Did I mention the fact that I also carry with me about... 220 pounds of "me"?  All of the gear in the world cannot get you up a hill.  In fact, it does its best to keep you from doing exactly that.  Brian is such a wuss and refused to push me up the hill or carry my bike for me.  It's times like these that tell you who your REAL friends are (hear that BRIAN?).  I look around in vain for a chairlift or a taxi stand.  Nada.  So I am, as usual, resigned to the fact that I am just going to have to crank my out of shape self up that road if I expect to make it home anytime soon.

One big sip, then a gulp, then a draught of water from the tube that arches over my back from the camelback.  That's the stuff!  A little H2O and we're ready to go!  Since Brian has the firefly on his ass, I take the lead so he can protect me from big bad cars.  The long, slow climb provides a great time to chat since we don't have to concentrate on a fast-moving trail under our wheels or deal with the wind rushing past our ears like we do on the downhill runs.  We talk about our kids.  We talk about our wives.  We talk about the upcoming Big Event benefit for Big Brothers Big Sisters.  He just got his tuxedo, and I still need to get mine.  We cross over to the other side when cars come up zooming up behind us.  We want to give those guys lots of room.  We talk about how clear the night sky is up here away from the city lights and how peaceful it is when no cars are moving past and we're alone on the road.  He reminds me that this weekend is his 1-Year Wedding Anniversary.  I remind him that we missed celebrating his 1-Year Bachelor Party.  His son is taking Karate and doing well in school.  I'm coaching my younger boy's soccer team and helping out in his brother's class.  He and Keitha are going away for the weekend.

We neither saw nor felt it coming.  The unmistakable impact of a large, moving object hit us from behind like a bat swung by God.  It was the loudest sound I never heard.  In that briefest of moments that lasted so terribly long, I remember my entire bike being pushed forward several feet and my left leg being pushed forward as well.  I was still up and rolling, but knew Brian had fallen to the ground.  I couldn't breathe, but was breathing too hard, too fast for words.  I was stunned, afraid to look down or put too much weight on my body for fear something would give.  I know I was talking and repeating something over and over, but I can't remember what I said.  I'm sure that whatever it was, it sounded panicked because that's exactly how I felt.  I looked up and saw a vehicle zooming away.  "Surely they'll stop." I thought.  "We're not possums.  We're human beings.  They'll stop."  They didn't stop.  They didn't even hit their brake lights.  And I didn't have the presence of mind to get the license plate or memorize the tail light configuration or the body style or the number of passengers or anything.  I could only think of Brian.  I turned my head, still on my bike.  He was on the ground and not trying to get up.  His bike lay on its side.  I was so afraid he was dead or dying.  How would I explain THAT to his wife just before their one-year anniversary.  I called to him as I dismounted "What the FUCK was that?!  Are you all right?".  I was amazed that I was able to walk.  No pain.  Just normal.  Brian said "I think I broke my leg".  He raised his arm and I could see remnants of the pavement and gravel embedded in his forearm.  I decided I better do a quick inventory myself.  I looked down at my left leg and saw the gash in my calf.  It was deep and it was wide.  Bleeding, but not profusely.  It could wait.  Everything else seemed fine.

I remembered my cell phone.  I called 911 and immediately got a dispatcher.  I told her we had been hit and run and gave her the information about our location. [BEEP] Thank God we were just yards from the upcoming street sign reading "Lago Vista Way".  Brian had made a comment about Pioneer Trail Road just a bit behind us now too.  Name.   Phone number.  Address.  [BEEP] They were sending someone.  Hang tight.  Ok, bye.

Another car is coming up behind us.  I am waving frantically at it while Brian screams "Please Help Us!" over and over again.  They pass by and I am reminded that our society is so afraid of legal repercussions that thoughts of humanity are rare.  I hope the emergency vehicles get here soon.  Ah!  The car did stop, and they're turning around, headlights now shining on our wounded bodies.

"Can you get up?" I ask Brian.

"Yeah, call Keitha and have her meet us at the hospital".

A young man and woman exit the car and without waiting for the question, I say "We just got hit and run.  Can you guys give us a ride to the hospital?  I've got a pretty bad gash on my leg.  It doesn't hurt now, but it's gonna."

"Sure, but we can't fit the bikes in there."

I'm already dialing Brian's house when he tells me to have Keitha come get the bikes and then meet us at the hospital.  Keitha picks up the phone, "Hello".

"Hi Keitha.  It's Barry.  Brian and I just got hit by a car but we're all right.  These people [BEEP] are going to give us a ride to the hospital.  Can you come get the bikes and meet us there?"  I give her quick directions to our location and am just hanging up [BEEP BEEP BEEP].  Cell phone is dead.  Battery was low before and now it's gone.  We get in the car, Brian in the back with the young lady and me in front trying not to bleed on anything.  The young man (let's call him Mario Andretti for now) got us to the hospital in record time.  We tried to flag down the fire truck as it passed us at Pearson.  They didn't even slow down.  I guess that's understandable.  Might have been injured people still on the scene.

We arrived at the emergency entrance of Feather River Hospital and told our transportation captains thank you and let them go on their way.  I asked the young man his name, which I knew I'd forget.  So I asked him for his email address.  Aha!  Something I can remember.  We gimped our way into the emergency room and Brian sat down while I approached the counter and explained that we were just hit by a car.  They called for triage and (of course) started asking me for my name, address, insurance card, etc.  I was going through those motions as fast as I could (why can't everyone type as fast as me?  Especially in an EMERGENCY ROOM?!).  They took us into the back and prepared to treat our wounds.  I was in a chair and Brian was on a gurney behind a curtain. Paramedics arrived, perhaps bummed that their fares had found alternate transportation.  Turns out that one of the EMTs is one of my customers, Tom Bassani!

Keitha arrived several minutes later, looking concerned but quite calm in spite of all that had happened.  Perhaps she, like most of the wives of our gang, was immune to being shocked at our biking injuries.  Or perhaps she was just being brave.  "Did you call Gayle?" she asked.

"Are you kidding?  I'm going to be fine.  I'll tell her in the morning so she doesn't have to stay up all night worrying."  "She can be mad at me tomorrow", I thought to myself.

The doctor comes in and evaluates the wound, knowing it needs to be heavily irrigated and of course sewn up.  He numbs up the area and leaves the irrigation to the nurse.  Irrigation is pretty much what it sounds like, only they don't use water.  They use saline solution (fancy term for salt water - yup, salt in my wounds).  The nurse asks where I'm from and what I do, etc.  I tell her I own Sunset Net, and guess what?  She's one of our customers!  Believe me, I've never hoped as hard as I did then, that she was a HAPPY customer.  She had a smart-ass attitude that was a pleasant change from most nurses I've run into.  My procedure was pretty straightforward.  An inner layer of inside dissolving stitches.  An outer layer of the same.  Then 7 metal staples to keep my scar flaps from stretching.  Don't get it wet for 24 hours and call them if anything looks wrong.

I try my damnedest to get the doc to cancel his PacBell DSL account and switch to Sunset Net.  We'll have to work on him a bit more, but I think he sees the light.  If not, maybe I'll have my staples taken out by another doctor.

Brian goes to x-ray to make sure he hasn't broken anything.  He's pretty shocky and gets some happy juice to mellow him out.  He returns with the good news that nothing is broken.  He's badly bruised but will be ok.

It's now about 10:30pm.  Keitha gives me (and my bike) a ride back to their house.  I pack up my stuff and head back down the hill.  When I get home around 11:15pm, I look at our bedroom window to see if Gayle is up (I wondered if the CHP called our house to get more info and ended up telling her what happened).  Lights are out.  I clean up a bit and then start to get in bed, figuring I'll break the news in the morning unless she rolls or kicks me in the leg in the middle of the night.  Might be hard to explain the yelling otherwise.  Now keep in mind that I had soccer practice with my kid that afternoon, then went on this bike ride.  I can't even fake being clean and I'm trying to get in bed next to Gayle, the clean queen.

FROM A DEAD SLEEP, "Take a shower.  You stink" (that's her way of telling me she loves me).

Busted!  Now what am I gonna do?  I can't take a shower.  I can't take a bath or even attempt a self-inflicted washcloth bath.  Too obvious, and there will be questions.  I mull over my options and finally mumble "I can't".

"Why not?"

"I'm not supposed to get my leg wet", I say, thinking I can trick her into believing it's one of my OTHER previous injuries that can't take water right now.

"What hospital did you go to?"

Busted again.  Damn!  She figured it out.  "Feather River in Paradise".

"What happened?" she said, half-asleep and with a hint of boredom.

"Brian and I sort of got hit by a car".

EYES WIDE OPEN, "Sort of!?".  Sleep time is over.

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Moral:  You can never hug your kids too much.
Moral:  Priorities can change in the blink of an eye.
Moral:  Don't get in front of one of those babies!
Moral:  Never leave that one piece of safety equipment behind.
Moral:  Don't be there when negatively exciting things happen.
Moral:  Don't follow me.

Barry Sherwood, President/CEO
Sunset Net Internet Services and CallAGuru Technical Services
530-879-5660, x104