If you ride a bike long enough, fast enough, or in a group of less than perfect riders, eventually, you will crash. It’s inevitable. This was particularly true of our mountain bike adventures. I used to say if you didn’t crash while mountain biking, you weren’t going fast enough.
The opposite happened to me on January 2 in 2001. It was a warm day, so I went for a ride through Waterfall Glen, even though the trails were icy. I was going down one hill rather slowly when the tires lost their grip and I crashed heavily onto my hip. At first, I shrugged it off as just another crash, but when the pain didn’t subside like normal, I knew something was wrong. I had fractured my pelvis in two spots. I spent a few days in the hospital, and was unable to work until the middle of March. In spite of being unable to train for couple months, I had one of my better seasons that year.
One of the guys I rode mountain bikes with quite often was the king of crashing. He was a fantastic bike handler, but he thought he could ride up any mountain, down any terrain, or ride through any stream, river or lake. Every trail was a challenge for him to conquer. We rode through terrain and followed trails that would discourage the most sure-footed mountain goats. If we could have gotten to Nepal, he would have attempted to ride up Mt. Everest, without oxygen, and I would have followed. I suppose I didn’t have any more sense than he did.
Mark Karner could ride through mud deeper than the mud holes and swamps of deepest Africa. He could jump over any obstacle in his path. Downed trees larger than the Redwoods of California were no challenge for Mark. He would ride, or jump, over them. He often found trails so narrow and thick with mud that our wheels would refuse to turn until we cleared away some of the sticky goo. If a rabbit made a small trail up the side of a cliff, Mark assumed he could follow the trail, and he encouraged everyone else to follow.
Over the years Mark crashed too many times to remember. He broke frames, shattered wheels, cracked helmets and bent his fork in the opposite direction the manufacturer intended design. The amazing thing is he never got hurt or injured. Some people would crash lightly and break bones. Including me. Mark was indestructible. He was the guy in that movie.
One crash sticks out in my mind. It was a club invitational. I don’t remember which bike club, or the exact location, but this is what happened. A group of a dozen or more riders was leaving a rest stop. We were going slower than normal to allow everyone to warm up after taking a break. We had two lines of riders. I was leading the group on the inside (middle) of the road. Mark was at the front of the other line nearer the edge. We were conversing and riding casually. I looked away for a moment then looked back at Mark. To my shock and surprise, he was no longer upright on his bike but was doing somersaults while still clipped into his pedals. I casually asked, “What are you doing down there? Isn’t it easier to ride your bike while the wheels are on the pavement?” I actually asked him the first question and something along the lines of the second one. The group stopped and we helped him to his feet. His arms and maybe his legs were covered in road rash. For those of you who don’t know, road rash can be rather painful. Especially when you try to clean out the debris from your skin. I think we took Mark back to the rest stop where someone bandaged him up. I’m sure he completed the ride with us because that’s how amazing he was.
Mark had more experience than me in bike racing and was one of those fearless racers. He accompanied our group to Colorado one year. We were outside of Estes Park, riding our road bikes and taking a familiar road. Devil’s Gulch was the name. It was not as menacing as the name might indicate. It climbed to its summit and then dropped into a valley. Shortly after you started descending, there were a series of switchbacks. Nothing too dangerous if you controlled your speed. We informed Mark of the switchbacks, and assumed he would exercise the proper amount of caution. Can you guess where this story’s headed? Mark took off like he would normally. Full speed ahead! He left the rest of us in his dust. I shouted for him to slow down because he was approaching the switchbacks. Like many other roads in the mountains, this one had a steep drop-off beyond the road. To go over the edge of the road could be rather harmful to one’s health. I hollered again, but either he couldn’t hear me, or else he felt confident in his bike handling abilities to handle the switchbacks.
I heard him yell as he entered the curve. I watched helplessly as he left the pavement. His skinny tires lost their grip, and I thought he was a goner. Fortunately for Mark, there was a small embankment of loose gravel in the curve. He used every inch of the small embankment to prevent disaster. I sighed with relief as he somehow managed to escape a fate worse than death. He could have broken his new bike frame… again. He skidded around the switchbacks, but didn’t slow down more than a mile or two per hour.
After the switchbacks, the road straightened as it made its way into the valley far below. There were sweeping turns, but no more sharp curves. I even managed to hit 55 miles per hour on the descent. I hit a small pebble and hopped the bike, but I didn’t crash. I was fortunate I didn’t blow a tire.
When the group arrived at our destination, Mark didn’t appear unnerved by his close call, but we convinced him to slow down a bit. We made him keep his speed under sixty mph on the descents. He was our travel guide at the time, and we relied on him to find the best hotels and restaurants.