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The scream was horrible. The dripping blood was worse. I could see his funny bone, and it wasn’t funny. That was how my recent riding holiday quickly came to an end… but let me rewind a bit.
A riding getaway often serves as the perfect refresher. Previous experience has shown a few days away with bikes and like-minded friends helps to reset the happiness clock, return my deep passion for all things two wheels and add a little fitness or skill to the bank.
And that was exactly the plan when I put in three days of leave to go ride chairlift-assisted runs in the Thredbo bike park. I’d done so a couple of years ago and was in awe: the scenery, the raw and open terrain, the thrill. It’s like nothing else in Australia, and gosh, I was craving to return.
Day one on the hill was spent introducing my life-long friend to the mountain. Giving him some pointers for tackling the rawer terrain to his regular Lysterfield laps, and starting to find the thrill. Sadly one of my favourite trails of all time, the 10.5km All-Mountain trail, was closed due to unseasonal snow coverage. And so that would have to wait for day two.
With some warm-up k’s in the legs, we slept well that night. The plan was to drive back down the hill to Jindabyne, ditch the car, get a ($100) car shuttle back up the hill to our bikes and ride the new star attraction of the area — the 36km Thredbo Valley Trail — back to our car. It was a one-way ticket. Add in my favourite trail that was now open and we’d have what’s effectively a 46km mostly-downhill mountain bike ride… in Australia.
Obviously that didn’t go to plan.
Somewhere after the hard parts, during the easy stuff but before the good stuff, we hit a snag. Or at least my mate’s body did.
A wheel weighted wrongly in the soft part of one of many many corners led to an unexpected disaster. And the elbow pads my mate had questioned buying just an hour before were looking pretty good right now.
I write this 11 hours after the incident, tearing up, helpless and exhausted. Having been to one First Aid Medic, one Alpine Village medical centre and one major city ICU, my friend is awake in the hospital, high on Endone (and then Morphine) and I’m in a hotel, wondering what if. What if his wheel was one centimetre to the left, or right. What if his tyre pressure was lower. What if he had slowed down a tad, or even better held his speed. And what if he’d bought those damn elbow guards.
I was frightened by the scream that followed his crash. Fearful when he was almost motionless to get up. I was ill by the sight of his impressively damaged elbow. And then I was angry; angry that my friend didn’t stay on his bike. Angry that I wasn’t going to finish my favourite trail. Angry that I wasn’t going to ride singletrack bliss to my car. Angry that my time off and investment in a holiday had so quickly come to this.
But that anger soon subsided as I began to realise and remember one key element of life — shit happens. That could have just as easily been me in the hospital bed, with the doctor’s finger in my elbow and pressing on the fractured bone. But it wasn’t me. It was a lifelong friend who was previously excited about the same ride, the same thrill, the same escape from everyday life, and was now in unbearable agony and fear over what the injury may mean for his summer.
We accept the risks in our sport, and generally, they’re worth it. But sometimes, hopefully rarely, you get a stark reminder that the things we love most can cause us great pain.
And when shit happens, it’s important to go with the flow. Stay safe out there.
(And yes, I very much have unfinished business in Thredbo.)