My C&O and GAP bicycle tour 2021 ended abruptly on September 15 when I had a serious bicycle accident. It happened on the fourth day of a seven day Adventure Cycling Association tour from Washington DC to Pittsburgh on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Towpath and the Great Allegheny Passage. The day began with the dawn when most of us in our group of 48 riders emerged from our tents to pack up before breakfast. We were camped at the Little Orleans Campground, one of my favorite overnights on the trip because the tent sites are grassy and soft.
The C&O towpath is a little over a mile from the campground and I was eager to get there. Once I was on the C&O, I felt pretty good. On previous days I think that I started with a low hydration level and didn’t have much energy early in the morning. During those days I caught up on my hydration during the early hours and finished strong each day. This day was different and I started the morning ride cranking with good cadence and speed. I was cruising along at between 10 and 15 miles per hour and felt that I could sustain that for some time.
Almost four miles into the trail my front wheel hit a tree root that was wet with morning dew. It crossed the trail at an angle rather than perpendicular so that when my tire made contact it slid to the left, flipping me and my rig to the ground. The accident happened so fast that I do not remember flipping and falling to the ground. I only remember impact when my helmet hit the ground.
I blacked out for a fraction of a second before opening my eyes to see my bicycle on top of me on the ground. After a quick inventory I felt that everything above my waist was alright. The rider who was behind me to witness the event was talking to me and I think that she was advising me to stay still. My first act was to try to stand up. It was not possible since my right leg was not working and was very painful.
I dragged myself to a comfortable position at the side of the trail. Other riders began to arrive at the scene and one of them was trying to call 911. Cell phone connections on the C&O are very sparse, but she was able to get through. I could hear her state the mile marker and the state of the emergency to the operator. Help was on the way.
As I lay there I don’t think that I experienced shock. I was talking with others around me and even had grabbed my cell phone to end my STRAVA ride. Two physicians who were on the tour stopped to help, which I very much appreciated since they gave me some confidence that everything was going to be alright. One of them made the field diagnosis of a broken femur, which happened to be correct. He explained the potential range of medical alternatives.
The Emergency Medical Technicians arrived with a large All Terrain Vehicle. One on them asked if I wanted something for pain. I told him the very short version of how in my thirties I decided to have dental work done cold turkey. Since then I have never turned down pain medications.
They assembled a two-piece backboard under me. My leg was moved to a position where I felt the least pain. The backboard with me on it was strapped to a stretcher. They strapped the stretcher to the top of the ATV. We took the nearly four mile drive to the place where I entered the trail and where the ambulance was waiting.
In the ambulance as I lay there for a few minutes before we began the trip to the hospital, a National Parks Service person came on board to get my information. I am sure that she plans to send me a “get well” card. Actually, I understand their need to have the information. My thought process went further thinking that they have a lot of data on bicycle accidents on the C&O.
During the trip to the emergency room in the ambulance I was in a kind of fog because the pain medications were doing their thing. In the ER they did an x-ray of my hip. As I lay there I thought about doing a video of my experiences during the entire process. I took a selfie in the ER as a starter. I was admitted to University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Western Maryland hospital and moved to the orthopedic wing to await surgery. The surgeon came in to tell me that I was going to get a partial hip replacement the next day. My hip replacement journey had begun.