Running for the pies

Running for the pies

Saturday, 11 November 2017

28th August: South Downs & Out

Following on from previous exploits of the circumnavigation of the Isle of Wight and the crossing of Devon from coast to coast, this year Dean, Rob, Stu and myself had chosen for our cycling exploits a traverse of the South Downs Way.

Rather than doing the full 100 miles in one day we decided to do it over 2 with an overnight stop booked at a pub in Steyning - roughly halfway, to break-up the journey and not put too much pressure on ourselves.

Convening stupidly early on the platform of Basingstoke station, we headed to Winchester for the start… As we left Basingstoke, the clouds began to darken and by the time we hit Winchester the rain had started… Freewheeling down the hill we stopped in a McDonalds, introducing Dean to the delights of the only thing worth eating on their menu: a sausage & egg McMuffin, which he had somehow avoided tasting in his 40 years on the planet.

Show us the way Alfred!
Once breakfasted on stodge we made our way to the statue of King Alfred and posed for our before pic in the absolute deluge then rode the first couple of miles of tarmac to the trail head and the start of the journey - all soaked to the skin before we had even left the sprawl of Winchester and hit proper trail.

Grim grey drizzle.
On the trail we found in the peeing rain that even here, the very edge of the downs, the ground was churning-up into a very sticky clay-based mud that was gumming-up running gear on the bikes and even with them being loaded and shod with nobbly off-road tyres we were struggling for any traction climbing!

The view would be improved without the clouds!
Finding the first plateau we were overtaken by a group doing the same as us and another couple of riders who were just having fun on the stage to Queen Elizabeth Country Park - they all wished us well before disappearing off down the misty drizzly hill before us… The hill taking us past the site of the recent ‘Boomtown’ festival that a week later was still being cleared-up.

Lightening skies.
It was pretty miserable going in the rain, all of us soaked to the skin already - it was nearly impossible to cycle at speed as glasses were being hammered with the rain and steaming-up and if you did not use them you could only squint to stop flying mud, gravel and the driving rain hitting your eyes.

After seeming like an eternity, although most likely only a couple of hours, the rain eased-off as the cloud began to lift and the humidity rose as lunchtime beckoned and we approached Queen Elizabeth Country Park.

Bouncing down the side of Butser Hill, at its foot we weaved through ranks of parked cars for a cycling event (how ironic) we stopped for a bite to eat on the other side of the A3 in the park’s visitor centre cafe.

Lunch in the sun and drying off.
Any hunger pangs sated we remounted our trusty steeds for the trek through the path, reversing the route of the South Downs Way Marathon I’ve been along a couple of times… I even stopped to photograph a sunbathing Red Admiral butterfly on the path.

Soon we were climbing again up on to the plateau of Harting Down, with its views for miles to the north. We stopped for a photo before carrying on - me taking a shot on the move of Rob in front as we reached the edge of the plateau and the descent off the down. I put the camera back in the pouch on my camelbak and let the bike take itself, overtaking the others as the speed increased to what must have been nudging 30 something mph. The further and faster down the hill I went, the grassy path began to become rutted with loose stones filling the ruts making going a bit unsteady with unsure grip, things still a bit greasy after the heavy rain of earlier - at least I could see the bottom was not far away as I bounced more pronouncedly over the stones in the ruts.

Following up the hill on to the down.
I found myself sitting there, with Dean talking to me, telling me to stay still as I felt him wrapping something tightly around my head, which I rapidly realised was a bandage, then the dawning realisation kicked in of ‘what the fuck has just happened?’… I realised I had no memory of the what how’s and why’s. I tried wracking my brain, thinking where am I, who am I, who are these people I’m with? I seemed to be looking through a grey filter. I could hear Stu calmly speaking on the phone… Then I saw the blood, plenty of blood everywhere, but I wasn’t in pain.

Posing on the top of the down.
Trying as hard as I could I just was not able to piece together what had happened. The last thing I remembered was stopping on top of the down for photos, then carrying on cycling. I knew the names of the people I was with, I knew who I was… I went to look at my watch but looked at my Garmin by mistake - I noticed it was still going so stopped-it. I checked the time and realised I did not know what the time was before I got here so it was pointless. There seemed to be some mud on the face of the Garmin, so I tried to rub it off but it would not budge before the realisation hit that it was two large gouges in the glass face of it.

Following Rob... A minute or 2 after this and it happened!
Dean was asking me questions, I was attempting to answer. The questions seemed irrelevant and confusing and irritated me as it was distracting me from figuring out and piecing together in my own mind WHAT THE FUCK HAS HAPPENED? I could hear what Stu was saying. He was talking calmly with the emergency services and began saying what he thought had happened, then Dean started to fill in gaps - “You’ve wiped-out quite badly, your ride’s over… We came down the hill and you were just lying there unconscious, fitting, with blood everywhere. The fits stopped fairly quickly, about 30 seconds but you were out for at least 3 minutes - we were all very worried”.

Blood, blood, plenty of blood.
I said to Dean that I was fine!.. There wasn’t any pain after all. I could tell from the blood that I must be in a mess, but I felt like I was in-tact with regards to ‘proper’ damage like broken bones. I’ve cut myself badly in crashes before and at work so I felt confident I would be fine, just a trip to A&E to get patched-up.

Plenty of claret spilt!
Think, think, think. I felt like Winnie the fucking Poo as I still tried as hard as I could to muster my grey matter and piece as much together as possible. Rob came over and took some pictures of me as I sat there as Dean finished binding my head. I stood-up and surveyed everything.

The cap was originally yellow!
My bike was a few metres back up the hill so I went to it to get my phone. The bike was absolutely fine. I took the phone out of the beam bag and said I’d better phone LSS & tell her what had happened. I told the others I’d make the call as its better she hears it from me rather than them, as the worst thing to hear is ‘there’s been an accident’ from someone else as it sets alarm bells ringing of ‘why aren’t they speaking to me?’… So I called and explained what had happened, that I’m fine except needing stitches, so don’t panic, but I will need to be collected from hospital. At this point I handed the phone to Rob or Dean, I can’t remember who and they carried on speaking to LSS, then my mind just crashed… All of a sudden I had an almighty brain fart and thought I’d better call LSS, but then realised I had just done so yet couldn’t remember anything I’d said… Man that must have been some impact as its properly shaken my brain about and reality hit - I’d had a very lucky escape. I went back to the bike and put my waterproof on to hold my body-heat in as I realised the adrenaline would be wearing-off and I may be going in to shock soon.

The score marks of my tyres scratching for grip as they went sideways.
Trying to figure out what happened I looked back where the bike was and I could see scratch marks in the soft ground on the left side of the rut where the wheels had been at 45 degrees or more, scratching the ground for grip as it fell to the right… I could see a skid mark on the ground where I must have had my initial impact, then a second impact and the mahoosive pool of blood from where I had properly landed hard after these initial bounces… I looked at myself and the ground and could see what had happened and became aware that my right shoulder hurt. I ran my hand along it, but it ached - no sharp pain of a break in the bones, but I could see my collar bone was sticking-up at the end proud from my shoulder!

About 30 seconds after I regained consciousness.
As I flew off the bike Superman stylee I must have landed first on my right shoulder, then face, then left wrist, which was now throbbing with my thumb in proper pain as if I’d dislocated it then relocated it in rapid succession, before my head properly smacked-down on to the chalk knocking me sparko ready to be discovered by the others.

The Air Ambulance cometh.
Rob came over and said they were going to send an air ambulance to get me. Stu was still on the phone. I told him to tell the call handler that I’m ok to get to the road to meet an ambulance, there’s no point in wasting a valuable resource on me as I’m fine to get to a road on my own steam. I did the next most logical thing at the time as we waited instruction and took my camera and photographed what resembled a crime-scene after a stabbing.

No sense no feeling.
Soon you could hear the approaching slapping sound of the rotors of a low-flying helicopter and the dawning realisation that they were serious about sending the air ambulance. Soon it appeared low overhead and I waved at them to try and signal that I was fine as they would certainly realise I was the injured party what with being covered in blood and a large bandage on my head.

About to be chauffeured away.
They circled around a couple of times but there was no suitable landing spot nearby as the ground was too uneven or trees too close to any flat area. It was soon apparent that they would not be able to land, so the call-handler relayed to Stu asking could we get to a road - which we said we easily could, so with a bit of map reading it was agreed that we would make our way off the down to a certain point to rendezvous with an ordinary ambulance.

We gathered our stuff and began the descent off the down… The pain was starting to build now, from the battering of my shoulder and wrist and the throbbing sensation of the wounds on my head. I necked a couple of ibuprofen and paracetamol to reduce inflammation and dull the pain. Making our way we could hear the helicopter still flying, then the sound of the engine slowing as it must have found a place to land a little way away, before the engines were killed and the tranquility of the area was restored.

Coming off the down there was a couple of ambulances waiting at the end of a farm track for us, so I clambered aboard the nearest one to be assessed by the paramedics. Pretty soon another ambulance car pulled-up with the crew from the air ambulance.

I could see outside that Dean, Rob & Stu were chatting with all the paramedics carefully out of ear-shot from me as they obviously did not want me listening in to any of the gory details.

The doctor from the air ambulance came over and gave me an examination and agreed with me that I was essentially fine, just a bit banged-up… Because I had been recovered conscious and coherent it was decided not to send me to the QE in Portsmouth or to Southampton with its head trauma specialist unit, the nearest hospital in Chichester was going to be the one of choice.

With that I said goodbye to the guys who were in two minds about continuing, telling them just to carry on as there’s no point in ruining the rest of their ride because of my misfortune! And then the doors were shut and off we drove.

I was cleaned-up as we went by the paramedic, where it was realised with all the excitement I had also put a really good hole in my right forearm right between the bones where I must have landed on a rock that pierced the skin about an inch in length and about half an inch deep!

Courtesy of the nurse!
At the hospital I was taken straight in to ‘resusc’ where I was immediately met by the consultant in charge… He was expecting to be delivered an unconscious or delirious mess rather than someone who was smiling and joking whilst feeling foolish and a bit sorry for himself… It was under the bright lights I could now see out the corner of my eye that my nose really was not quite right!

The consultant mentioned that when they get the call for an MTB accident on the South Downs Way they fear the worse - most times aside from tearing of the flesh its missing teeth, broken limbs, jaw, rib injuries and a lack of consciousness. He said the unit had been put on stand-by as all they had heard was an MTB crash, loss of consciousness, head injury and the air ambulance was needed, so this set-off a lot of red flags and he was being pressured from his boss to ensure a ‘satisfactory outcome’, so he was pleased to see that I wasn’t as bad as it could have been… I could see on the whiteboard in big red writing detailing all the patients which one was me…

Bruising starting after only a couple of hours.
After an initial triage, it was fairly obvious what was wrong with me - although they were very concerned about my head, so I was wheeled-off for an MRI scan on it, which came-back all clear… I was not allowed to get myself off the gurney and on to a trolley, it was insisted that I be lifted, but once there was shown to be no swelling on the brain or bleeds they allowed me to move myself around.

With the extent of my facial injuries they decided they would not risk stitching them up in the A&E as they wanted my ‘good looks’ to be restored as much as possible and the A&E doctors skill levels were good for stitching a sack of spuds together, not something as fine or intricate as a face, so they wanted to wait for a maxillofacial surgeon to become available to do the work.

Now the wait began… The nurse on duty loved a bit of gore and came up to me asking if I had a camera and was I on Facebook as my face was ‘proper messed-up’ so she could memorialise it for me before she cleaned it up.

As she tried to remove all the dried blood that was caking it, she was having to pull-out bits of grass and grit that had congealed in to the wounds. Unfortunately some of it was a bit stubborn so she had to get the scissors and cut away some grass and flaps of skin that were hanging-off that had been identified as unable to be saved by stitching back in place - I sat there and took it all, all the pokes and prods without flinching. She kept asking if it hurt and I kept saying ‘no’ before she told me to stop being macho and say if it hurts, so I told her about my old footy injury on my forehead that had split down to the skull and had wrecked my nerve endings so I don’t really feel pain around there through not having functioning nerves, not through any perverse form of bravado!

Up close & personal!
Soon LSS arrived and saw me - and insisted on sitting on my right side and slightly behind so she did not have to look at my gore-fest of a face!.. After a couple of hours more of waiting I was wheeled-off to be sewn back together - a grand total of 44 stitches, of which 20 were internal to hold everything back together. The hole in my arm was butterflied and packed with a massive gauze bandage - I was told to leave it for a week before changing the dressing to allow the hole to properly scab over.

Cleaned-up well after all!
Eventually we were all done and in darkness and shivering through shock, hunger and tiredness I was able to be driven home!

There’s a post script to all this as well:

Just after leaving me the guys continued on to Steyning for the evening along the road for the most path… Just as they approached the first road they heard the sound of an almighty bang and found when they reached the road a car had just crashed at speed into trees, the elderly driver slumped bloodied and moaning in the driver’s seat. The car behind had stopped to see what they could do but did not know where they were, so the guys had to phone for ANOTHER ambulance as they had a GPS location! The 3 cyclists of the apocalypse!

On the train back to London after finishing his ride on the Sunday, Stu got chatting to a couple of guys travelling with their MTB’s - it turned-out they were half an hour behind us on the Saturday and the lead rider of their pack fell at the same spot I did. When he picked himself off the floor he saw the blood everywhere around him, panicked as he checked himself all over for injuries but could find none - asking his compadres then they arrived o see where he was cut and they confirmed he was fine, much to their bemusement over how so much fresh blood was on the floor! So maybe it wasn't crap bike handling skills if others found issue on the same part of the trail.

Simply put with this accident. If I was not wearing a helmet I would have been dead and if I had not been wearing a £10 pair of sunnies that took the impact of my face then I would have had to have had my face re-built with having fractured eye sockets and cheek bones - yes the impact of the glasses nearly severed my nose, splitting the skin all the way down to the bone (although not breaking the bone) but I’ll take this for a spectacular wipe-out over what could have been any day - I’m pretty lucky it seems with crashes at speed having walked away from this and having flown & barrel rolling a car off a motorway at 70 with just cuts and bruises… Combine this with having been in earshot of 3 terrorist bombs in my life I’ll probably go in a very mundane manner such as being hit by a bus!

Impact damage on the glasses!
A bit of scuffing.
A big thanks goes to the NHS for putting 15 stone of idiot back together in no time with minimal fuss and also to Dean, Rob & Stu for safely getting me off the trail and to the ambulance, for the first-aid given and the use of photos of me.

Eat pies.
Drink beer.
Ride far.

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