Going by my detailed map, on which I am 90% sure of my location, I just passed something called Ballyhane – maybe the name of a nearby farm? I put away the map with a shrug and shove off. I turn left at the T-intersection and, just as my topographical Ordnance Survey xerox map predicted, the elevation starts to rise quickly. It’s not raining anymore, so it’s not long before I stow my raincoat to cool off. At a turtle’s pace, I pass a driveway where a surprised-looking man tells me, “That’s a hard ride…” “I’ll make it,” I tell him. I get into a climbing groove, enjoying the peaceful ascent; slow and steady, no traffic to speak of, only a few cows staring at me like they’d never seen a bicycle on their hill before. Moo. After half an hour I start telling myself, “The top is just around the next bend…” But there’s just more steep hill. “The top is just around the next bend…” More steep hill. “The top is just around…” More hill ahead, so I innanely stop to check my map, which vaguely marks some place named Garyglass at the top. Could it be a farm? A bridge? A village? Certainly not expecting any helpful signs, which are quite rare in rural Ireland, I have only one option: carry on. Eventually I must have passed this Garyglass, whatever it is, for my senses confirm I have achieved the summit: a sweeping landscape view greets me, and my bike wants to coast. Mountaintop views are always a good time and place for a little break, so I test out the self-timer on my camera, and take my first-ever solo-cycling photograph. It isn’t easy, but I get a great shot of my boxer shorts on a backdrop of tranquil Irish countryside. That’s good enough for now – after a snack I’m back in the saddle, and soon the weight of the rig takes over and I stop pedalling. Now I’m really cruising, ready to take advantage of the flip-side of the hill, and make up a little lost time. I’m careening down the deserted country track, braking just enough to keep it on the road around the bends, revelling in the break-neck speed. My entire body is tuned in to that special place between tires and tarmac, that nexus of friction which can drive you or dump you, slow you down or save your life. I can feel how fast is too fast around the turns, how sharp is too sharp. I just know, when I’m too close to the edge…. But unfortunately this time, I’m going too fast to do anything about it. The gentle turn I’m navigating suddenly turns into more of a cruel hook than a bend, and before I know it I’m digging a furrow through the long matted-grass hillocks on the shoulder, headed for a soft-looking bank of hedges. Preparing to bail out on collision, I am surprised when the grass snags my front pannier, torquing the front wheel sharply, and I find myself flying through the air… and not onto any grass, but face down onto the hard asphalt. Inside that split second, I watch my 140-pound loaded bike tumble end over end like a crumpled ball of paper, as my arm, hip, chest, and legs smash in graceless procession onto the black pitted concrete. Crash!
A crash!! Oh s**t, a huge crash! My mind is stunned at first, but as the dust settles and my bike creaks to a twisted position of rest, I slowly start assessing the damage. My helmet is still on, no head pain… my back isn’t talking to me, good… some obvious scrapes and cuts, but my arms and legs feel okay… wait a minute, what’s that? I notice something wrong with the shape of my right foot. On closer inspection, I realize with a slight shudder that I’m looking at my glistening white bone, and that dark red stuff in the middle is the marrow. …biopsy; is that really my bone?!? anatomy class: compound fracture. I always thought a compound fracture would hurt more, but there was no pain. Shock. Warning. Shock. Blankets. I poke in disbelief at the bone protruding through the skin, disturbing the blood slowly starting to seep out around the edges. That IS my bone!! I should take a photograph, antibodies, this will take septic weeks to heal, hospital… wait a minute, what’s THAT? Glancing at my bike laying in a heap, I notice something wrong with the front wheel, like the handlebars have been turned 180 degrees… except the bars are still straight ahead…. Then I see the fractured steel of the top-tube, and just below that, the crumpled metal that used to be the down-tube. This is when I really start to panic. F*CK! F***CK!!!
“F*CK! F***CK!!! MAJOR DISASTER!! MAJOR DISASTER! F*CK!” I’m sort of stamping around, raving insanely at the top of my lungs to what’s left of the hilltop view, going between feverishly inspecting my bicycle for further damages and trying to pull my hair out with bloody fists, when an old man comes jogging up, shouting to be heard above my string of expletives. I feel quite justified in saying, “I don’t think so,” when asked if I am okay, but nevertheless I start to calm down a little. “I was out for a stroll, and I heard you yellin’. There’s usually nobody out this way.” After deciding I wasn’t in a proper state of mind to administer first aid to myself, I fish out my emergency world-phone from the depths of my bags, and pray the battery is still charged as I hold down the “on” button. After a tense couple of moments it turns on and locates the strongest signal in the area. First I dial the non-emergency number, and calmly explain to the operator that I’ve crashed and I can see the bone coming out of my foot. “If you can see the bone coming out of your foot, that is an emergency, and you need to dial 999.” Major disaster, confirmed. On the emergency line, the woman asks the inevitable “What’s your location?” I stall, with the phone on my shoulder, digging in my pocket for my map. “Uuhh… I was heading North on, uh, I don’t know which road, and I just passed Garyglass… you know Garyglass?” I ask, hoping. She has no idea. I try a couple other things written nearby, but I had nearly reached the end of that map, and the next one is still in my bags. I’m starting to panic a little again, worrying that the battery won’t last long enough to explain where exactly in the middle of nowhere I’ve crashed myself. Just as I am about to dig for my other maps, the lucky sumaritan asks, “Is the operator a Tipp man? Is he local?” and I pass the phone off to him. After a few minutes of giving directions, he hands the phone back and she tells me it’ll be thirty minutes before an ambulance can get there.
Cookies. I finally sit down, uncomfortably, on the side of the road, feeling calm but still worried that my foot doesn’t hurt more. The rest of my more minor injuries have all started to throb, but that wicked foot wound isn’t even bleeding. We make small talk and I answer questions about my bike tour, but with old answers, denying for the moment that some of them might be different now. “How long will you be here in Ireland? Where are you going next?” Both questions I don’t want to think about right this second. A car comes over the hill and parks in the narrow road; another local man heading home. “I usually don’t come this way, you’re lucky to have met anyone out here,” he informs me. I don’t feel particularly lucky, but I thank them for stopping to help me. Soon, in an apparent freak occurence, a second car comes around the bend and parks. The driver listens to the story about the crazy guy on the bike, then starts shootin’ the breeze, so-n-so married so-n-so’s cousin, an O’Malley lad, no the other O’Malley…. It’s the most Irish accent I’ve heard yet since arriving in Ireland. At one point he turns to me and says, “Six nights out of the week you won’t see a single car drive down this road. It’s a regular traffic jam here tonight!” After another little while, his father-in-law shows up in a big white van, and offers to store my broken bike and gear somewhere dry. As I read what he wrote for his phone number and address, I recognize it from my map – Ballyhane, just over the hill. Now I’m feeling a bit more lucky, and even more thankful. I absent-mindedly grab a few items from my gear, not really thinking that I should be packing for a two week vacation to the hospital, and off go my possessions in a motor vehicle. Nearly everything I own, my turtle’s house. My life. I am left with my camera, my raincoat, my camelbak pack with documents and journal stuff, my sheepskin, the shirt, shorts, and sandals I was wearing when I crashed, and a half-eaten double-row of boston creme chocolate cookies. By the time the ambulance arrives, we’ve finished off the cookies, and I say goodbye with many thanks to the roadside lads. I am checked out professionally and courteously, then lifted into the ambulance. It’s been over a month since I was even inside a car, and suddenly I’m laying in the back of a very special bus, like I’m being chauffeured. One of the paramedics is there to keep me company the whole bouncy ride, helping to keep my mind off the sterile surfaces and emergency medical storage around me, and distracting me from big questions like What is going to happen to me? He’s well trained in distracting fast-talk, I soon learn. “You ever hear that Irish people tell a lot of stories? Well, it’s true, we all have loads of stories. I remember responding to a call up here to the village of Kilcommon, now, the people up here don’t usually call us; they’d rather die than call the paramedics, but there was a funeral, and the boys had been fightin’….” I’m still laughing at his anecdotes as they pull me down to wheel me into the Accident & Emergency in the Nenagh hospital, fourty minutes later.
My first ambulance ride ever, and I only had to make it to Ireland to get it!