~ Tuesday, August 02, 2005 ~
While school was in session, I had something requiring me to bike for a good twenty minutes (usually as quickly as possible because I was late), occasionally up hills, twice a day all week. I enjoy the feeling of generating my own endorphins on a regular basis without having to worry about what sort of other work I really ought to be doing instead, because, well, I can't not go to school, right? But now that it's summer and I don't have somewhere twenty minutes away where I need to be every morning, I've been biking up and down Forbidden Drive almost daily, as soon as I can forklift myself out the door and onto my bike. It's lovely, not just because Forbidden Drive is impossibly beautiful in a rainforesty sort of a way, but also because when I bike around the streets of Mt. Airy or Germantown, riddled as they are with traffic lights, stop signs, and archaeological excavation sites*, I don't often have the opportunity to go for long stretches without having to brake. On Forbidden Drive, however, even though parts of it are rocky and/or covered in gravel, much of it is packed dirt, which is lovely for biking, and for the most part, the "traffic" around me responds quickly and courteously to phrases like "on your left". Best of all, the hour and a quarter or so it takes me to bike from home into one entrance of the drive over to the other end and back the way I came is just right for one listen-through of my latest compilation of favorites on CD (yes, I still use a discman, because no, I don't have an iPod, please be quiet), which pound out exactly the sort of music that reminds me to ask whether I'm really exerting myself as much as I can. When you're peddling through quasi-rainforest and listening to (dare I admit it?) Belly of the Whale, Bahn Frei, Dragostei din Tei, or Harder Better Faster Stronger, even hauling yourself uphill can be fun and exciting.
I may have mentioned this before, but it bears repeating: I really like biking. My beloved vehicle, Mercury (who is almost a year old today, by the way) is small and black and low to the ground and transports me everywhere. There are gold reflectors on his pedals, and the helmet is bright yellow with a death-repelling (thank you, Talitha) rearview mirror on the side, and I imagine them to be golden winged sandals and hat, respectively, when I'm feeling fanciful. Sometimes I grow sappily amazed at the simplicity of it all: I just hop onto the seat and extend my leg, and forward I zip. A day or two ago, while I was riding down to Kelly Drive to bike into Center City, I was thinking to myself how I've really never been in a bike accident, nor even fallen from my bike and hurt myself. Considering how much biking I do, that must mean I'm a really good biker. Yay for me, I thought.
And now you know exactly what's coming, but I'm going to drag it out anyway.
Yesterday was Monday, which means I had rapper rehearsal, and was to meet Squirrel at 6:45 at her place, where she'd lock my bike up in her garage and we'd ride to rehearsal together, where we'd practice making interesting figures with flexible metal strips while working to keep our footwork synchronized. It's good fun. Today we were going to pull out the mat and work on flips. I'd been busy in the morning, so the bike ride was delayed, and it wasn't until 5:15 that I finally set out, with my rapper shoes, a bottle of water, and an extra shirt keeping my discman company in my backpack. I'd made it to the far end of the drive in record time--about four songs per five miles, so maybe 15 mph--and had already passed Valley Green Inn, the midpoint, and had covered around half of the final quarter, peddling to the beat and singing along to Are You Out There, because I didn't think there was anyone around to hear and think me odd. The next song was Scary Kisses, which is not my favorite song musically, but it's good at reminding me not to let my pace flag. Baby I want scary kisses/ I want hits and I want misses... Right before the bridge that takes you across the Wissahickon and spits you out on Kitchen's Lane, there's a hill which requires some concentration to negotiate, because it slopes down and curves to the right at the same time, and it's rather rough and rocky. The city park workers sprinkle coarse gravel on the road to try to fill in the divots of negative space created by the stubbornly protruding rocks, but usually that just results in making the already-rough surface rougher, besides giving bike tires less purchase. However, on the outside of the curve, just alongside the fence separating the road from the creek, there's a corridor perhaps six inches wide that tends to escape the rocky-protrusions-and-coarse-gravel fate and offers a precious ribbon of nice friendly packed earth. On the way uphill, I'm usually going pitifully slowly enough that it doesn't make much difference whether I get jolted by the rocks or not, but on the way down, I try to find the smoothest path possible so I don't have to brake too hard and don't put myself in danger of skidding. For this reason, the left edge of the road is prime real estate, but slightly risky, because here in the US, even bikers and walkers expect to pass oncoming traffic by the left shoulder. Fortunately, it's possible to see if anyone's coming around the curve and to make any necessary adjustments before picking up too much speed. The other two features that make this bit of road challenging to negotiate are the length and shape of the curve: it always feels like it takes just a little too long before the curve straightens out; and about halfway through, the road starts turning a bit more sharply to the right. If you're already on the rocky gravelly right side of the road or in the middle, as a good biker should be, and there's no one coming from the opposite direction, then you can allow yourself to drift leftward to the outside of the curve to make your own path less sharply curved *and* less riddled with rocks, and all this can be done with minimal braking, but you end up having to go over some of the roughest patch of the entire hill, which isn't comfortable for someone riding a suspension-free bike such as Mercury. However, if you're on the left already because you coveted early on the gravel-free ribbon, then you have a few choices: 1. follow the road and turn more sharply with it, but without braking, hoping the combination of your increasing speed, your decreasing radius, and the increasing gravel quotient won't make you fall (but you do this daily and you haven't fallen yet); 2. follow the road and turn more sharply with it, as above, but brake a little to slow your descent, and hope you won't skid and fall because of the combination of braking and going over gravel (but just stay low and keep balancing, and you'll be fine); or 3. give up, keep going at the radius you've already established, and crash into the wooden fencing (braking is optional).
So I was pounding away on the pedals, and the song was pounding away in my head. And if you give me safety/ In a short time I'll be driven crazy/ I would rather run and fall/ Than take no chance at all... I guess I usually stay a bit futher to the right than I was this time, because when I reached the point where I had to sharpen my turn, I had to sharpen it a little bit more than usual. Still, when my bike was suddenly tipping over to the right, I was so shocked that I could hardly believe what was happening until I found myself unbiked and leading myself with my right elbow down the chunky-gravel-strewn hill, until the friction between me and the bits of rock drew me to a sliding stop.
What what? Splayed out on the ground? C'mon, Miriam, you never fall! What are you doing down there?
There was a paradigmatically Mt. Airyish couple (think Berkeley, only more WASPy), out for an evening stroll and just about to come up the hill, who witnessed the whole thing. "I'm sure you're okay," the wife said after a moment, "but I just want to check anyway." I couldn't hear her very well, though...why not? Oh, the headphones. And if we break or if we bruise/ It won't be the worst of news/ We will just get up again/ Start over on the count of ten... Stupid song. I pushed myself gingerly away from the ground and unclipped my helmet to yank my headphones off.
"Actually," I said, "that kind of hurt." I straightened up and looked down at myself. My jeans and my faded black Department of Religious Studies t-shirt were both coated with grey dust, which I would have brushed off, but both my palms were scraped and stinging. The left hand was bleeding in a few spots, so that the blood and the dirt were combining to form a lovely paste. What's more, I felt like I had just ingested a mouthful of grit, and wanted to spit, but not in front of the nice couple. My right hip hurt and my right arm stung terribly. I lifted it and discovered a jagged stripe of glistening red running from halfway up my forearm almost to my shoulder. "Oh, you've got an abrasion," the husband said, not coming too close.
"Yeah." I brushed my jeans off a little with my right hand, the one that wasn't bleeding. "Sorry, I'm kind of a mess." More brushing. A cloud of dust was accumulating around me. "I'm like a chalk eraser." I looked at the arm again. Still bleeding, and starting to drip. I felt indecent, being gazed at while being so disgusting. Well, I was disgusted, anyway.
"Is there anything we can do?" the wife asked.
"You don't happen to have a paper towel, do you?"
"No, sorry," she shook her head, "but do you want some water?"
Aha. "Actually, I have some water of my own." I pulled the headphones, whose cord had now become well tangled with the helmet straps, off my neck and wriggled the backpack from my shoulders (struggling not to bleed on it) so I could stuff the helmet-headphone tangle inside and take out the water bottle. I realized the CD had been going all this time, and by now we'd moved beyond Scary Kisses to Elvis Costello, who was telling me about a girl who used to have a carefree mind of her own. I stopped the CD and produced the water bottle. The husband politely stood by while I tried to twist my right arm around so I could pour water on it with my left hand, but I finally gave in and let him do it. The result was that the blood-dust mixture was moistened, but that was about it. He tried again. No good; it would need scrubbing to be cleaned. I decided not to think about that yet.
"How far away do you live?" she asked. "Do you need a ride?"
"Not far," I said. "On Upsal. But I was going to be meeting a friend. I can probably make it to her house; I'm not hurt that badly. I should call to let her know I'll be late, though." I pulled out my phone from my left front pocket, careful not to wipe my left hand against my jeans and embed more dirt in the abrasion. I noticed the time then--it was 6:25. "Ah, crap. I'm gonna be late for my rehearsal."
"What do you play?" the guy asked.
I decided to answer the question he meant to ask instead of the question he asked. "It's a dance rehearsal," I said, and then grimaced at the resulting thought.
"Oh, you're gonna be sore," he said, beating me to it.
"Yeah." I made my phone call, and Badger (Squirrel's husband) said he'd come rescue me at Kitchen's Lane and Wissahickon with some towels and things for cleaning up cuts. It's funny how doing an action as habitual as placing a call on a cell phone can help reground you in reality. It was almost like being in charge of the situation again. While I spoke with Squirrel, the husband went over to examine Mercury.
"You might not be able to ride this," he said when I'd finished. He pointed to the sprung, hinged gear thingie connected to the center of the back wheel that folds the chain backward and keeps it taut. "This piece is bent, and I don't have the strength to fix it." I saw what he meant--it was mashed inward toward the wheel at an ugly angle. Poor Mercury! "Your chain came off, too, and I don't think you'll be able to get it back on as long as this gear isn't lined up." Panic began to creep up. What was I going to do without a bike? "You can still roll it, though, so you shouldn't have a problem taking it up to meet your friend. Do you know where you are? Are you able to get there?"
I could tell they were ready to move on and finish enjoying their walk, and didn't want to keep them. "I'm okay. I can definitely walk the bike up the hill, that's not a problem, and my friends will have bandages and things in the car. We know where we're meeting each other, so it'll be fine. Thanks so much for your help, it's really good of you to have stopped, blah blah blah." It was good of them, but I just wasn't feeling very socially apt at the moment and probably rambled a bit in my desire to get away and not be disgusting in front of strangers any longer. We exchanged names before parting. His was a good Scottish name that stuck in my head. I've forgotten what hers was, though.
I trudged over the bridge and up the hill to Wissahickon Ave, experimenting with various ways to push my bike without letting the handlebars coming into contact with my still-stinging palms. Badger showed up a few minutes after I reached the intersection, and instead of whisking me back to his place or straight on to the rehearsal spot (where I figured I would be doing my cleaning up while the rest of the team began practicing), he stopped the car and nursed me right there on the street, with his gauze, cotton rounds, water, towels, and large bottle of hydrogen peroxide. What, did Bactine never make it to the east coast? I mean, I'm not a wimp about pain, but hydrogen peroxide on a dirt-embedded abrasion is...let me see if I can describe it. First it just feels wet and soothing. Then it feels cool. then it feels cooler, almost icy. Then, as if that chilling represents the stripping away of whatever defenses remained standing between you and your pain sensors, the iciness intensifies and turns itself inside out and becomes fire, and within three seconds my entire arm was in flames. "OH MY GOD THAT HURTS SO MUCH," I remarked, but I held still anyway. Well, I held my arm still. The rest of me danced around waiting for the hydrogen peroxide to be dabbed off.
Badger was a very gentle nurse. After he'd done as much as he could, we loaded the bike onto his bike rack and he drove me back to his and Squirrel's place, where I was whisked up to the bathroom and received another round of nursing by Squirrel and Rabbit, another girl on the team who was also going to be riding to rehearsal in the Squirrelmobile. It was nearly 7 at this point, just past the time when we'd have had to leave to arrive at 7:30, and I felt bad about sabotaging the rehearsal, but Squirrel, who was leading rehearsal that evening, was in no hurry. She and Rabbit tended to me for another ten or fifteen minutes or so, with soap, water, more hydrogen peroxide, a couple of Tylenol and an Alleve (I'm not a fan of drugs, but she insisted), and finally Bacitraycin and oversized gauzy bandages. By the end of it, of course, my right arm looked much worse than it actually was.
Did you know, by the way, that pain can make you feel queasy? I didn't know this. At one point when Squirrel was dabbing at my still-dirty arm with a soapy towel, I looked on in the mirror and said, "I don't think the dirt's going to come out that way; it really needs to be rubbed." Squirrel, not wanting to hurt me, let me do it. I took the towel and rubbed determinedly. Owwwww. I stopped. I gradually realized I didn't feel so well. I put the towel down and hoped it would go away, really not wanting to further disgust Squirrel and Rabbit, after all they'd been doing for me. A wave of nausea crept up and magnified itself. I didn't know how to stop it. My head was firing off pinpricks, which is what happens (I have unfortunately discovered) before I black out. I commanded myself to not black out. "Hm," I said. "I feel kind of nauseous. Nauseated. I mean nauseated. Um. I think I might need to sit down." I sat--or rather, I was sat--on the seat and allowed my head to be placed between my knees. Squirrel told me it's perfectly normal to feel nauseated from the shock (Shock? When did I go into shock?) while Rabbit ran down to get me a cup for water. When she came back, I concentrated on reading the text on the mug while Squirrel finished bandaging my arm so I would have something to think about that wasn't what I was already thinking about. The mug seemed to be a souvenir from Haddonfield, or Hertfordshire, or something. I rambled about Bill Bryson's book, Mother Tongue, and what it says about how people from different parts of the English-speaking world spell and pronounce Hertfordshire, because I was trying to keep myself from blacking out, and it seemed as if the sound of my own voice would help, somehow.
When I was declared finished, we all piled into Squirrel's car and off we went to rapper practice, with Rabbit sitting in back with me to make sure I kept drinking water, at Squirrel's suggestion. I felt so loved. It was around 8:15, which meant we had a remarkably abbreviated rehearsal, but we still got to practice a bit of fooling technique and trade off being posts for flips and actually flipping. Squirrel required that I not flip this time, although it probably would have been fine, but she let me do everything but the actual flip (kicking up as far as possible until just reaching 11:45 or so, but not all the way to 12:00, nor down the other side) and she had us all practice being posts while she and another actually did flip. Gazelle, in whose barn we were rehearsing, stood over on the side and flinched a bit while the rest of us worked on it. Gazelle does not like flips, in much the way that tiggers do not like honey.
On the way back I discovered I could bike after all--it was just a bit squeakier, and Mercury will still need repairs, but he's serviceable for now--and I thanked Squirrel and Badger again and went off to go home, by way of a drug store (I had no bandages or Bacitraycin or anything like that of my own). By the time I'd paid and left, it was quite late, and biking back from the store, I passed two guys, also on bikes, who wanted to play Chicken with me. I didn't budge from my path, and so once I'd passed them, one of them decided it would be fun to chase me down. I tried to speed up, but I was already going uphill besides being exhausted from the events of the evening, and I had no reserves left. From my rearview mirror I could see that he was gaining on me, and I heard him say something like "Hey, come back here!" My fear and frustration and pain inflated like bubblegum out of my throat, and when the bubble popped, I found myself shouting back at him the first thing I could think of to say: "What are you doing?!?" Then I immediately felt inarticulate and stupid, but he dropped back anyway, and I rode the rest of the way home without incident. I wished Jarah had been there instead of off in Massachusetts, because it would have been awfully nice to come in and tell her the whole story.
*Potholes. Philadelphia's are many and longevitous. Squirrel, who grew up in this neighborhood, says the streets have only ever been repaved when there was a mayor running for reelection.
And now, a list.
Things that are now difficult:
1. Putting any article of clothing on my upper body. That includes a backpack.
2. Pondering, because my favorite pondering position is the one where I lean my chin on my knuckles and my elbows on my knees, and the right elbow really doesn't want to be leaned upon right now.
3. Showering. Did you know that to an abrased palm, hydrogen peroxide is indistinguishable from Infusium 23's shampoo? I didn't.
4. Going outside. It's hot and sticky here, and I can choose between going out with bandages visible all up and down my right arm and enduring the attention or going out in long sleeves covering the bandages and enduring the heat and stick...which suggests another answer to that most awesome of riddles: What's brown and sticky? Summer in Philadelphia.
5. Bending my right arm suddenly.
6. Biking. Remember the archaeological excavation sites? There's a colony of them between me and anywhere I want to go, and riding over the jounces on an unsuspended bike is really painful to my right arm. I don't know why, but I have to remove my right hand from the handlebar and steer with my left to avoid the jolts, which is of course bad, because when does a biker need the strongest connection to her bike if not when she's going over joltroad?
7. Getting up the nerve to go back and bike Forbidden Drive again. This is the worst one of all. And I just know that the longer I wait, the harder it's going to be.
~ prattled by Miriam at 7:38 p.m. [+]
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