Monday, July 11, 2016

Mountain Bike Misadventure

We decided to start off my leave period with a camping holiday in the Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park in the southern part of Alberta and Saskatchewan. Neither of us had been there before. We loaded up the truck and camper and headed out about a week ago. 

The Cypress Hills are an interesting anomaly. During the last period of glaciation when ice covered the central part of North America, the area that we now call the Cypress Hills was not covered by glaciers. Rather, the ice, and later the meltwaters, flowed around this area leaving a range of hills about 140 kilometres long standing above the prairies. This stretch of hills has the highest elevation between the Rocky Mountains and Labrador. There are varieties of plants and animals that differ from those on the surrounding prairies. It is a really beautiful area with many trails for hiking, biking, and cross-country skiing.

We camped in the Elkwater Lake area. On Monday (a week ago) we went on a mountain bike trail ride. We ride our mountain bikes quite regularly, including on trails, although we generally choose easy to moderate routes - not the extreme or highly technical trails.

The bikes and the dog, ready to go. (However, the dog does not get to come with us when we bike. She is a menace on the trails!)

We set off riding through mixed woods and meadows. We were on our way to the Horseshoe Lookout, and we made a short excursion toward Old Baldy to look out over the Lake. From Old Baldy, it was uphill all the way. However, aside from the strenuousness of riding uphill, the trail was wide and easy to ride.

The photo above shows Rob pedalling up the hill. Near the top, there were beautiful fields of wildflowers. At the lookout, we had a terrific view of the prairies to the north and west. We rested and ate our picnic lunch. At this point, we had gone seven kilometres. 

We planned to ride a loop route, taking the Beaver Creek Trail down. Like the Horseshoe Lookout Trail, it was marked as intermediate. We rode along the top on the Plateau Trail for about a kilometre, then dropped down onto the Beaver Creek Trail. A little ways along, the trail narrowed to a single track. Then soon it became very narrow and twisty, with steep little drops and rises, and sharp corners. However, the really challenging part was the roots. There were many big tree roots and rocks on the trail, which made it difficult to ride. Although I have ridden on narrow trails before, this was the most challenging trail I have ridden. It was not at all like the route we had taken up. Oh yes, it was muddy as well, with several narrow bridges. 

And then suddenly, my front wheel hit a root or small stump. The bike stopped dead, and I flew over the handlebars. I landed on the ground with my bike on top of me. In reconstructing the crash, I think I landed on my right forearm and did a kind of a somersault. When Rob came along, I was sitting on the trail yelling "Ow, ow, ow!" along with some choice words. My right arm was in pain; it must have landed on a root. 

Rob took one look at it and said that I had broken my arm. It swelled up instantly and looked distended. He said that he had heard the sound of something snap. 

We fashioned a sling out of Rob's spare long-sleeved shirt. Then we started walking out, down the trail, with Rob pushing both bikes. We were probably close to halfway along this section of the trail when the accident happened. 

It was not a well-used trail. Eventually, two people came along, Olga and Steve from North Vancouver, and they helped us. They walked with me to the Park Information booth so a medic could look at my arm, and drove Rob up to the campsite to get the truck. They were really nice, and I was so grateful for their help. The medics put a splint on it, and then we drove to the Medicine Hat Hospital. 

The emergency room was very busy, and we spent hours there. They X-rayed my arm. While I waited, I contemplated glumly the prospect of starting my leave with a broken right arm. I finally saw the young curly-headed Doctor, who spent most of his brief consultation exclaiming how amazing it was that I am still mountain biking at my age. It turned out that there was no fracture, just soft tissue damage. Yay!

So we went for Thai food, then headed back out to the campground. The rest of the trip, we hiked but didn't bike. I figure that the snapping sound Rob heard was the visor of my bike helmet coming off when I fell. I was using an app on my phone to track our bike trip. Altogether, we had biked and then walked a total of 15 km. 

This photo shows the arm the morning after the crash. Now, a week later, the bruise is even bigger, stretching from above my elbow to the knuckles of my hand. It is still quite sore - but it isn't broken! 

I plan to keep on biking, although perhaps a little more cautiously.


  1. Oh my heavens. What a way to start your leave! Like the curly-haired doctor, I am impressed with your adventurousness! So much better to have a story like that attached to your bruised arm than "I ran into the kitchen doorframe", or something. Best wishes for an accident-free remainder of your trip.

  2. Thanks Kathleen. I have always enjoyed the outdoors, and sports like skiing, hiking, biking, and kayaking. However, an accident like this makes me think that I need to adjust my expectations to match my age and fitness level. I'm not in my twenties any more.