The darkest day of my life – never say never!
The crack that emanated when my forearm broke into two pieces is not a sound I’m likely to forget. Nor will I forget the experience of going headfirst over the bars at the speed of light. After a lengthy odyssey in hospital and three months without the slightest movement or feeling in my fingers, I swore I’d never ride that damn trail again. Until yesterday that is; when on the fifth anniversary of that fateful crash, I decided to head back to the scene for the very first time.
The 27.06.2010 is a date I’ll always remember. It marks the worst day of my biking life to date, as a series of ill-fated events almost turned my whole life upside down.
But let’s go back to before the crash. I was starting my third season of riding, it was 2010 and I couldn’t have been more motivated. While the past two years had seen me enamoured with mountain biking in the high mountains, this year was all about one thing – riding my first enduro race. Forget nailing specific technical sections and ‘vertriden’, now I just wanted to take the quickest lines at the highest speeds. However, considering my rather average technique at that time, this perhaps wasn’t the wisest approach.
As I so often did, I set off on a summery June afternoon to ride my ‘short’ post-work loop, which began with a long grind of 750 vertical metres, before taking the technical descent that plunged back down to the distant valley floor. As luck would have it, I was not in possession of a phone. Hassle with phone contracts meant I didn’t have a sim card, a circumstance that would prove crucial later in the day. After about an hour I reached the secluded mountain hut that marked the trailhead for the descent. Gulping some water from the stream, I kitted up with knee protectors and got ready to go downhill. This is where I made my first two mistakes: choosing to take the entire 15-minute descent in one go; and setting my playlist up to keep me revved up with music.
Roused on by the rowdy lyrics of an American hip-hop artist thudding in my ears, I overtook a hiker, but no fewer than 20 metres ahead was a left-hand bend with a little drop that hid a rock. With exhausted arms and sky-high arm pump, I could barely hold onto the bars but knew that I just wanted to get through the ride. Error! My front wheel landed badly and within a split-second I’d lost control and came to a crashing halt over my bars. As I tried to cushion my landing with my arms, there was a discernable ‘crack’ before I tumbled over the side of the trail. Panic hit me as I clambered back up towards the path. Once there, I looked at my left arm for the first time. “Fuck, that looks bad!” was my initial thought. My forearm was completely broken with a very definite 30° crook between my wrist and elbow.
So there I stood, 300 metres above civilization, with a destroyed – and rapidly swelling – left arm and no mobile phone. My brain turned to panic-model, screaming at me to get back to the valley before the pain set in. I grabbed my bike with my good right hand and ran back up the mountain to the hiker I’d just overtaken. To my horror he had no mobile phone either. I kept running and reached a fire road that I knew headed back to the valley. I got on my saddle, laid my arm carefully on my left thigh and rolled downhill in search of help. Fortunately I bumped into another couple of sensible hikers within a few minutes and used their phone to call for help. Lying on the edge of the road, I breathed in deeply and waited for the mountain rescue. However, the pain was too intense for me to even stand up when the jeep arrived soon after and so a rescue helicopter was called. Once the morphine started flowing through my veins, I was placed in the helicopter and flown to the nearest A&E clinic.
I’ve always been good at suppressing things. And for more than a month straight after the crash, I willed myself to suppress the painful thoughts of what could have happened and what consequences there could have been. For weeks I had no movement in my fingers. The intense swelling after the crash had put pressure on a nerve, which then rebelled and prevented me from opening my palm up. Every single day doctors would enter my room with a concerned look, explaining to me that they couldn’t say when – or even if – the nerve would recover. I lay in my bed listening but struggled to comprehend their words. I went to various therapy sessions and acknowledged the problem with the nerve, but not its consequences. More than three months and two operations went by before my fingers showed any sign of movement. As I did my exercises and managed to get a tiny response from them, this was perhaps best moment of my entire life. From then on, everything moved rapidly and within five days I had full movement back in my fingers. The ensuing emotions and the movement prompted me to recognize just what impact the lack of function in my fingers could have had on my daily life – and I swore never to ride this ill-fated trail ever again.
Five years have now passed since the accident and I can clearly see what I learned from the crash: never ride without your mobile; hiking paths aren’t made to race your mountain bike on; don’t get cocky, and a few other nuggets of wisdom. It proved to me how important good mates are, and that you should never stop hoping. But above all, after riding the trail today and coming away stoked and unscathed – you should never say never.
Text: Christoph Bayer | Bilder: Andreas Hofmann/Christoph Bayer