It was a crisp fall morning in October, 2017. Warmer than the previous morning. It was the kind of day that makes me excited to ride. It's cool enough to wear layers but not so cold I end up overdressed for the temperature. The sun was climbing in the sky as I turned on my blinky lights and strapped on my helmet.
This was my third ride on my new bike, a Cervello purchased on ebay for way less than what it was worth. The commute the previous day was slow and methodical, testing the fit, responsiveness, and controls. I knew the stem was too short but I was comfortable with it nonetheless. Today, I wasn't aiming for any KOMs on strava, i was just trying to get to work.
I pushed my low light sun glasses up my nose, clipped in and pedaled down the alley behind my house. I started my Garmin and pushed up the hill to the first intersection. So far, so good. The feel of the short stem was quickly reduced by straight speed. The power was applied to the pedals and it felt good to be fast.
Past the school, through the neighborhood, and into traffic it was like floating! I noted I would eventually have to replace the bar tape as I moved passed the cars in traffic, moving down the shoulder. The light changed and I jumped with the car I just passed staying in the driver's field of view through the intersection and on I went.
The derailleurs were tight, still the SRAM "red" was a different feel than anything I'd ridden before. The brakes grabbed quickly and smoothly. I stopped at the light on Trindle road at US 15, and grabbed a quick drink. I swapped out the sunglasses as the sun was glaring in my face. Through Camp Hill to the second strava segment. The light changed before I got to the intersection and I kept most of my speed up the hill past the car dealership. I remember only two cars passing me before the crest of the hill on market street. I noted my speed as 24 mph going down towards Lemoyne. I stayed close to the car that passed me. I noted a car waiting to turn left, across our path onto state street. It seemed like the driver lurched, so I positioned myself as far left as I could, almost on the double yellow line. With the sun shining in my face I felt confident the lights, yellow vest and reflective gear would announce my presence.
The next thing I knew, I was in pain and on a gunnery about to be loaded into an ambulance. I was told I was hit head on, and I was able to reconstruct the impact based on my wounds.
My best guess is I hit at the hood of the car on the passenger side, rolled over the hood impacting the windshield where my head likely collided with the roofline of the car. The messenger style bag saved my lower back from damage.
In my neck I had fractures in C1 & C2. In my back fractures in both the vertebrae and ribs aligned with T4-T7 and my left tibia was a compound break. My head really hurt but no evidence of a concussion or other damage. I'm told the car was totaled along with my bike.
I'm told several folks including nurses, and other cyclists stopped to lend a hand. Apparently, my fight or flight instinct kicked in and I was trying to walk before the EMTs arrived despite an obviously broken leg. Then everything is a bit of a blur getting to the ER and intensive care unit.
I remember pain and lots of it. As I lay in the hospital and then rehab center for the next three weeks I had a lot of time to think about what I could have done differently. The driver said he never saw me. So I suppose, I could have used my referee whistle as I approached. Not sure why I didn't.
The driver was cited for failure yield on a left turn.
In summary, on a designated state bike route I was struck head on by a car that didn't see me despite flashing lights, bright and reflective clothing and I was riding within the law. If there's a lesson to be learned, it would be to use every safety mechanism you have at your disposal, every time.
It would be great if there were enforceable laws in the state, and/or separate cycling infrastructure. Until then, keep your head on a swivel and ride safely.