Desflurane's Romaniacs Blog

Chronicle of My Participation in the World's Toughest Enduro Rally – Again…

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I am a very fortunate man

Posted by desflurane on May 2, 2011

(I’ll be adding some pictures to this post soon, so check back.)

This past weekend was beautiful – clear, sunny skies – cold in the morning, but the sun was quickly warming the high desert into the fifty degree range – winds were calm. It was the perfect day for a race.

I have approached the Virginia City Grand Prix with some degree of trepidation. Its a big race – both in mileage and in the number and quality of competitors. The course winds through Nevada high desert country at its brutal finest. Lots of steep, rocky hills to climb and descend. Plentiful mining roads that snake their way through the hills, and a high-speed blast up the pavement of Six-Mile Canyon.

It’s a great race to be sure, but it is one where there is plenty of opportunity to get hurt. Everybody who races VC has a story. Either they or somebody they know well has had their race day come to a violent end out in the desert. It doesn’t take much imagination to dream up how this could happen – five hundred or so adrenaline-charged guys blasting along at the edge of control through terrain that is challenging enough when you aren’t trying to go fast. As I love to say “What could possibly go wrong?”

The risk of getting hurt has been very much in the front of my mind coming into this race, but I felt that it was important that I did it – as a kind of measuring stick to gauge my progress toward Romania. But I knew full well that it was a measuring stick that could hit me back – hard.

The start at Virginia City is absolutely classic. All the riders line up, ten per row, right down the middle of Main Street. All five hundred bikes light up their, engines together, rattling the wooden facades and single-pane windows of the 1800’s vintage buildings that huddle together on both sides. Rows start every thirty seconds, making an immediate hard left turn and flying down a steep paved road for perhaps a quarter mile before hitting the dirt and careening off into the desert. Being on the 33rd row, there was plenty of time to get my adrenaline pumping watching wave after wave of guys starting ahead of me, scooting up one position closer to the line, and doing it again.

Finally it was my row. The guys I met out at Moon Rocks a couple of weeks ago were all right behind me (turns out they were on row 34, not with me on 33). Last second thumbs up were exchanged between us and I quickly scanned the crowd for a familiar face – nobody I recognized. The yellow flag went up, and we were off.

To shorten the story a bit I’ll say that the first two laps went beautifully. They certainly weren’t without their mishaps, but the mistakes were small. I spent the vast majority of my time on the pegs and on the throttle. I was passing a lot of guys too. I wasn’t out in front by any means, but I was moving up. I really felt great – like I was in my groove and really hitting on all cylinders.

I pitted after lap two and got right back out onto the course, I still felt strong and ready to keep charging. And as a reward, I found myself almost alone out there. All through the toughest parts of the course (which were in the first 15 miles this year) I was by myself running at my own pace, making the tricky stuff a LOT easier to manage.

I was well into my third lap when the pros started whizzing by. Irving Powers was the first and, as usually happens, he went by like I was standing still. To be honest I felt pretty good about being well into my third time around before the pros started lapping me. I resisted the urge to even attempt to keep up with these guys, but I savored the fact that they were still visible ahead of me for quite a while before finally vanishing in the distance.

At last I came out of the hills onto Six-Mile Canyon road and started enjoying a short reprieve from the pounding of the desert. My bike felt fluid and smooth as I accelerated up the well-swept road. The Highway Patrol “Your Speed” sign was present along the roadside, but wasn’t up and running. My speedometer showed that I was cruising at about 60 with occasional jumps up into the 70’s on the straight sections. I think I even saw 81 there for a moment.

I had been trying to pass one particular rider for about the past ten miles. Out on the trail I would get right up on his rear wheel and start to make my move, but he didn’t want to roll over and let me go. He would pour on the steam just as I started to take him and keep himself just out of range.

On the pavement, I was sure I had him.

My opportunity to pass came toward the end of the pavement section, on a short straight section I pulled the trigger. I swept around to his left and slid past him. The road then began a sweeping right hand turn. I found myself too far out to the left and going too fast to make the corner. The back end began to slide out and I glanced ahead to see what I was in for when I would finally bust out of the outside of the corner.

There was a metal signpost dead ahead. I was sliding fully sideways by this point and I had no chance to maneuver away from it. I experienced that singular moment when time stands still and you say to yourself “Well, here it comes…” It isn’t a sensation of fear – you don’t really have enough time to be scared – it’s just the realization of what is about to happen to your body and a resignation that there isn’t a damn thing you can do to stop it.

While the next half-second or so are very clearly etched in my memory, I can really only describe it through the sensations of motion that I experienced. First, the impact with the post – like a sledgehammer – many times my body weight slamming down through my femur onto my tibia and finally onto the footpeg – something had to give, and it did. Next was spinning as I cartwheeled through the air, this was followed closely by solid impact with the pavement, a few tumbles and finally stillness.

I was face-down on the pavement. The first thought I had was “Well, I guess I’m not going to Romania…” Denial sets in very quickly and I was already trying to convince myself that I had not actually felt my left leg break when I hit the sign and that my right shoulder was just “banged-up” a little. But inside I knew different.

I say that I’m a fortunate man.

This is where my good fortune begins.

The next rider to come up (probably the guy I had just passed) stopped and asked me the standard “Are you OK?” question which I’m sure he did NOT want me to answer honestly. I couldn’t talk just then and I shook my head. He asked if I wanted an ATV to come down and pick me up. I found my voice and said that yes, that would be a good idea.

He rode off, up the road as I began trying to peel off my riding gear. I got the helmet off fairly easily, but something was definitely wrong with my right arm, especially the shoulder. I couldn’t get my right hand to unlatch my Leatt brace, it would raise up but kept ending up in the wrong place. I suddenly got it in my mind that I needed to get off the pavement before somebody ran me over. In retrospect, this was probably very unlikely, but it seemed extremely important at the time. I tried to stand but my left leg twisted oddly and crackled a little, so I gave up on that plan, opting to scoot myself off the road with my good right leg and left arm.

It’s odd, but I didn’t really experience much pain at this time. I had the kind of numb sensation you experience immediately after taking a big hit. You definitely know something is wrong, but it doesn’t hurt yet – there will be plenty of time for that later. I guess its kind of a survival mode sort of thing. The adrenaline is still surging, and the crunchy bits haven’t had a chance to swell up yet.

About this time, the staff guy on an ATV arrived and took stock of the situation. He was an extremely helpful, genuinely nice guy who was not trained in any way to deal with the situation he was presented with. I really don’t remember our conversation clearly but we quickly agreed that I needed to get on his ATV and start moving in toward medical care. He shooed off the girl who was riding on the back and invited me to climb aboard. Again I tried to stand up, and again my left leg reminded me that it was in fact, still broken. It didn’t hurt me much, but was under no circumstances going to support my weight.

It must have been really comical to watch the proceedings as the two of us teamed up to try flopping my carcass up onto the seat of his ATV. With one arm and one leg out of commission, I was next to useless. I started off trying to climb up the machine’s right side and ended up floundering on my belly, completely unable to achieve an upright position. We decided that I would have to back up to the seat from the left side and swing my intact right leg over. I put my left arm over his shoulder and used him as a crutch to hobble around the back of the ATV and successfully got up onto it.

He climbed on and gently eased off. By now the primordial reflexes were beginning to fade and pain was rising like the sun. Mostly in my shoulder at this point however, the leg still didn’t bother me too much. We rode on for a minute or two before meeting the ambulance that had been dispatched to collect me. They confirmed that I was in fact the rider who had crashed on Six-Mile road and started unloading the gurney from the back of the ambulance.

Around this time, my ATV driving friend decided that my right boot needed to come off. Under different circumstances I probably would have disagreed with this notion, but I was in no mood to argue. He unbuckled my boot and began to try to pull it off my broken leg. Unknown to him, my SIDI’s have a soft, inner liner that closes with velcro and no amount of pulling will get the boot off before this is loosened. He yanked on my leg just as a blob of mud or some other crap contaminated my vocal cords, rendering me almost unable to speak. I croaked for him to stop, but it took a moment before I could clear my throat and explain that the velcro had to be undone first. The boot came off easily after that. In retrospect, it was probably a good thing that the boot came off at this time. If we had waited, the pain – which was now becoming a very unpleasant reality – would have necessitated cutting the boot off. It saved my boot…

ATV guy had a cell phone with him and he asked if there was anybody I wanted him to notify before I got into the ambulance. I told him to call my wife. He did so, and began describing my condition in completely accurate, but totally horrifying terms. It was something like: “Yeah, your husband wrecked pretty bad, he is pretty messed up, his bike is pretty much broken in half, they are just about to load him up in the ambulance and take him to the hospital…” I could just imagine Traci on the other end of the line hearing all this and getting ready to completely freak out. “Let me talk to her please!” I said loudly. He handed the phone over. I buckled down my ever-increasing pain level, controlled my voice as much as possible and in the most upbeat tone I could whip up, said something like “Hi babe! Yeah I wrecked, but I’m OK! I think I broke my leg and messed up my shoulder, but I’m on my way to the hospital to get fixed up. I’m going to be OK! I’ll see you at the hospital, I’m going to be fine, I love you…” It’s all in the delivery…

Again, to shorten this tale up a bit, the ambulance ride was unpleasant to say the least. Not at all because of the EMT’s – they truly did a great job – but because it is virtually impossible to get comfortable on a stiff backboard in the back of a moving vehicle when you have significant injuries. My right shoulder, which was dislocated posteriorly, by far hurt the worst. The ambulance staff quickly got an IV started and gave me some drugs, their opening salvo put a miniscule scratch on the surface on the juggernaut of agony that was headed my way. To their credit, they promptly radioed in to the Emergency Department and got orders for further, higher power meds. Now we were getting somewhere! But short of a general anesthetic, I don’t think anything would have blunted the pain in my shoulder.

My recollections become rather patchy at this point, but things went in this general order: I was getting drugs but my shoulder still felt like a thermo-nuclear warhead was going off inside it, we arrived at the Emergency Department, I was evaluated as a trauma patient in the big trauma bay there and they kindly offered to reduce my dislocated shoulder for me. Initial attempts were unsuccessful and further meds were required to obtain adequate muscular relaxation to let it pop back in. My wife appeared just before they started pushing the big drugs, and then things get really foggy.

I woke up in the CT scanner for a minute and noticed that hostilities in my shoulder had quieted significantly – thank heaven for Propofol. I became lucid again for a few minutes in pre-operative holding before my friend Pete Althausen took me to surgery to put my shattered leg back together. One of my partners, Paul Picetti provided anesthesia – very well. I had absolutely no reservations about either of these guys taking care of me. Pete is a very skilled trauma orthopedist, and there isn’t anybody else I would rather have had working on me. I awakened again in the Post-Op Recovery Unit (PACU) feeling great (thanks to Paul’s handiwork) and was soon whisked off to a room on the Orthopedics floor.

I was discharged about 4pm the next afternoon.

I am home now, resting semi-comfortably in our guest bedroom, collecting my thoughts and putting things into perspective. I can hobble around the house on crutches in search of the next stack of pillows to prop my throbbing leg up on. Pete emphatically told me that he expects me to recover fully, but that I need to keep ALL weight off my left leg for at least the next eight weeks. I’ll probably be on crutches for three months.

Clearly, I am NOT riding in this year’s Romaniacs.

My bike is (as ATV guy said) pretty much broken in half.

I am out of work for perhaps a couple of weeks.

I have a slow, painful recovery ahead of me.

I am a very fortunate man.

  • First off, I am alive and though fairly well banged-up, I should recover fully. This accident could have easily turned out a lot worse. My neck, back, hips and other highly valuable bits of my body came through completely unscathed. Considering the energy involved in my crash, that’s nothing short of a miracle.
  • Secondly, I live in the United States where the medical system is adequate to provide the excellent and expeditious care I received.
  • Thirdly, I am especially fortunate to be a part of the medical community here in Reno, I know those who cared for me and had full faith in them. That was huge.
  • And fourth, though really not last, I have a great support system with family and friends I can rely on.
  • My dream of riding in Romania this year is over, which of course makes me a bit sad. Every day for the last nine months has been in some way, to some degree spent preparing for an event I will not participate in. But look on the bright side.

    There’s always next year…

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    5 Responses to “I am a very fortunate man”

    1. Marlon said

      Sorry about your crash man. Super scary. It’s weird to be on the patient side eh!!

      • desflurane said

        Yes it is! But at the same time a little comforting to experience what our patients go though – to know first hand that they get good, compassionate care. We take good care of people – It is far from perfect, but a damn sight better than it would have been if this had happened to me in Romania!

    2. I feel for you, I would be devistated if I had the plans in place for Romania and this happened. Maybe I’ll have things in order and be able to join you for next years Romaniacs:) Get Well! If your like me when you start feeling half way decent it’ll be driving you crazy not being able to go ride out of your back yard.

    3. jon heerkens said

      Sorry to read of your crash and it sux that your missing Romaniacs. But think of it this way, if you were not in the shape your in because of race prep your crash injuries would have been worse.

      I am still on for Erzberg

      Jon4moto

      • desflurane said

        Jon,

        I’m sure you are right! And conditioning is definitely paying off as far as getting around on my crutches, etc. etc.

        I’ll be following your progress for Erzberg. Give ’em hell!

        Brandon

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