Churning Out the Miles

Churning Out the Miles

There was never any question about getting back on a bike after my crash. Not riding would have been like not breathing.

“So David, do you plan on breathing again now that your accident is behind you?” Silly questions are just that — silly.

When a teenage driver, barely old enough to shave, careens into you at 35 mph, damage is done. Bones break, tendons tear, and brain injuries come to pass. And when the battle lines are drawn between a cyclist and a few thousand pounds of speeding metal and glass, the cyclist rarely wins.

But I survived. We aren’t called “survivors” for nothing.

For the first few months after my crash, I was relegated to the basement on a stationary cycle. I watched way too much Dr. Phil as I spun for an hour or so every day. Driven by some urge deep within me, I kept up my daily exercise regime and waited for my bones to mend.

And the day finally came. I ventured back onto the streets of my town.

Learning to live in a body powered by a damaged brain takes time, lots of time. And so it was for me for those first few months. Frankly, I didn't know what I didn't know.

Putting on my cycling clothes started the adrenaline engines. I was pumped up before I even left my driveway. Cruising through my neighborhood felt great. I was still so innocent, still so new to all this “TBI stuff.”  I was going to beat this — or so I thought.

And then it happened. I came to a road with a solid yellow line, two lines of traffic stacked up in front of me. I froze in my seat.

I’d like to share that I crossed that road and continued my ride, but such was not the case. My PTSD, which I didn’t fully understand at the time, was now calling the shots. And it spoke to me quite loudly at that intersection. “Thou Shall Not Pass!”

It took me more than six months to be conjure up the nerve to cross a street with a yellow line, so ingrained was my abject terror of anything metal and fast-moving. But time passed as it inevitably does, and inch by slow inch, my world expanded.

Fast forward to today.

I cycle 20 or more miles most every day. It’s been a couple of years since I felt “yellow-line terror.” Yearly, I take a short ride from our home in Southern New Hampshire to drop by my mom and dad’s house. It’s actually not that short … at 100 miles. Not bad for a middle-aged, brain-damaged guy.

A few months after my crash, a member of the medical community shared with me that pumping highly oxygenated blood through a damaged brain speeds healing. While that alone is motivating, there are so many more reasons to stay in the saddle. By cycling most every day, I am taking an active role in my own recovery.

I am one of the fortunate ones. When TBI brain fog and unfathomable mental exhaustion mean that time at work is done, I can still hop on my bike and ride for a couple hours. My tired brain has a chance to rest and recharge a bit as I leave behind me things that exhaust me; phone calls, conversions, email, I leave them in the dust.

And pretty consistently, somewhere around the 15-mile mark, gratitude washes over me. It may be something as simple as passing a few cows, or cycling through a pine grove, but my senses awaken.

Living with a traumatic brain injury is the toughest road I never expected to walk — or ride.

But I’m doing it — one mile at a time.

Comments (9)

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Thank you for sharing, I'm going to forward this to my ex husband it might help him mend, it's been over 3 years now and he's still where you started, congratulations for not letting your mind win!
David thank you for this blog. It spoke directly to what I was going through today. Each day is new birth and if I have gained anything through my TBI it is the appreciation of each moment and day I am able to live. I don't know if this is a flowing comment... It seems difficult sometimes. I just wanted to say thank you!
wow..... really moving and inspiring!!!
I still have a bike and have had one or two rides but my shoulder got too badly damaged to safely handle a road bike in traffic, I make do with some MTB on very easy trails. I can run but I can't ride, for me a run is what I use to get rid of the "fog"
I still have a bike and have had one or two rides but my shoulder got too badly damaged to safely handle a road bike in traffic, I make do with some MTB on very easy trails. I can run but I can't ride, for me a run is what I use to get rid of the "fog"
Many thanks for sharing, truly inspiring for me personally as I am just 4 months after a similar bike accident and Mild Traumatic Brain Injury. It will be few more months before I get back on out on the road. I have found that since I recently 'graduated' to spinning sessions at the gym my MTBI symptoms are improving and it is way more fun than a stationary bike in the garage! I agree with the recommendation that exercise really helps with the brain recovery process.
Great story! I discovered the bike after my TBI and I experienced the same as you; riding every day delivered the oxygenated blood to my brain that along with a great diet led me to an incredible recovery. Best wishes to you and continue to take things a mile at a time.

Bad crash getting ready for ironman Boulder this year. Inverted the bike landed on my head going downhill, slid on my right side. My helmet was sideways and the webbing was broken. Concussion, cracked the helmet in 3 places. Ct showed no bleed. Road rash bruised ribs but so lucky. No loc but I am not the same by any stretch.

I tried a week after my crash (7/31/2014) to ride. Speed was pretty typical 20 + but about 15 miles in the road seemed to undulate. I tried a few more times but it seemed like I could not process the speed of the visual info. I stopped. I rode a few more times since even logging 20 miles once but it took everything I had and I was 5 mph slower than normal. The more I tried, the more afraid I became. I started shaking just putting on my kit. This is not like me at all.

It turns out that I have some vestibular issues and I am working on my balance with a therapist. I am also starting neuro-feedback to help retrain parts of my brain that show damage in an EEG. My vision is still off but better. I struggle with vocab especially when tired. I ran 13 miles today two minutes slower per mile and it felt like 26. 

One day you're doing what you love the next you're fighting to get back to doing it at all, at any level. Trainer for me until the balance is good. Thanks for your blog!!! You're an inspiration.