I'm not up to the usual literary links today. I've spent the last day or two trying to digest the news that at least one but probably two cyclists were killed this weekend on Pacific Coast Highway, near the location where I start my Sunday long rides. I know I promised to restrict my posts about training for El Tour de Tucson to weekends but, coupled with the crash of friend during my weekend ride, I'm not much good for anything else. I expect literary news will return tomorrow.
The details I have are sketchy, and I come to them via a cycling newsgroup I belong to. The first word that we got through from the Fire Department was already grim:
1006 hrs Saturday 9/10 at PCH & John Tyler Dr in Malibu. 2 cyclists involved in traffic accident in full tramatic arrest being airlifted to UCLA Hospital.
This post was followed up with this confirmation of the bad news:
I have been informed that one of the cyclists killed Saturday on PCH was Scott Bleifer. He was an early morning regular at the Peet's on Montana, often in the company of his brown labrador named Kona, and I'm told (although I have not yet confirmed) that he was a member of La Grange. I do not yet know the name of the other cyclist who was killed. Scott was training for the annual arthritis fundraiser ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles, which he had done for the last few years.
It appears that some witnesses may have successfully chased after the driver, who apparently drove off without stopping. Let's hope that they found the guy so he can be prosecuted.
This essay from the Pepperdine University Graphic (Pepperdine is our departure point for our Sunday rides) gives you a good idea of just how hairy a ride PCH can be.
UPDATE: The LA Times finally gets around to noting the accident this morning. Both cyclists were killed.
So it was in somber and subdued moods that we set out on Sunday morning. I had a 70 mile ride on my training plan for that day. I left from Pepperdine, just yards from the site of the accident. My coach Gary and his girlfriend Sara joined up with me 16 miles out at Neptune's Net - they needed fewer miles than I did - and we continued on together. About nine miles out, Sara crashed.
She hit a large rock in the shoulder. There's fallen debris all over PCH and dodging it all can be exhausting. Gary was in the first position, I was second, Sara was third. Gary pointed the rock out and passed it. I didn't have enough time to react: As my hand was leaving the handlbar to point it out to Sara, I heard the horrible sound of her hitting the rock. I turned in time to see Sara fall and slide into the gravel. We were riding along at about 20 miles an hour - it would have been faster but for a strong headwind.
You can't imagine the sound of someone crashing on a bike. You might have seen crashes on the Tour de France but you can't know what it's like to be watching it unfold in front of you, happening to someone you care about. Being unable to do anything but watch. It's a horrible, helpless feeling and the crash has replayed in a continuing loop in my brain since Sunday.
Fortunately nothing was broken and there were no life threatening injuries. But she received a severe case of road rash, which required an emergency room visit to clean out the debris from her thigh. And, as you can imagine, she was, and is, deeply shaken.
So I've been struggling with my emotions since then. Truth is I feel responsible for Sara's fall. I wasn't fast enough to alert her. I should have been in third position (I usually am). I'd give anything to be able to replay that moment.
And I think about these two riders who set out Saturday morning to do this thing they loved, this thing they probably did every week. Never imagining that they wouldn't come home. They could have been anyone I know, could easily have been people I ride with every week. They could have been me, could have been the three of us. I know that cycling is dangerous. And I know there is only so much you can do to protect yourself. And I can say with certainty that there is no one - no one - I would feel more comfortable with having at my side if I were to go down than Gary. I do quite literally trust him with my life. And I know I'll be out there Sunday morning, working toward my goal in Tucson. But none of that seems to help lift this ineffable sadness that clings to me today.