Riding Kentucky roads can be downright dangerous.
Unfortunately, the roads in Kentucky are generally not bike friendly. The problem is with the shoulders on the road. There are none. A bicyclist generally has to ride within 1 foot of the white line to be safe and many times that section of the road has been chopped up or patched up to make the road pretty bumpy. To be fair, many miles of roads in Kentucky have a 1 foot shoulder off of the white line, but it is hatched with speed bumps which render the shoulder unsuitable for riding. Boo hoo.
Subsequently, a bicyclist has to be in a high state of road and traffic awareness in order to ride safely in a shoulderless highway environment . This heightened state of awareness can be very tiring and can really add to the stress of a ride. I found this out as I was about to leave this beautiful state and head into Virginia.
My last 2 days in Kentucky were challenging rides due to the distance between services. The first day of riding was 97 miles over some very hilly terrain. I was tired after that ride but a good dinner and a good night’s sleep got me fully prepared for the 92 mile ride for my last day in Kentucky. Even hillier, the second day had some long, steep climbs that seemed like they wouldn’t end. It’s seems that bad things happen when you least expect them and that’s exactly what happened on Hwy 23 / 119 / 611 just before my turnoff to 611 which was 50 miles into my second day’s ride.
Highway 23 / 119 / 611 is a 4 lane highway with that rare huge shoulder equal to the width of a car. The shoulder is smooth as glass. My ride on that road was all downhill with a slight downhill grade that would get me up to speeds of 25 to 30 mph without pedaling. It was the easiest road that I’ve traveled in Kentucky so far and the first time I really didn’t have to worry about traffic and could stay far away from cars and trucks without any thinking or planning whatsoever. I let my mind wander and just let the bike roll. I was riding with my arms in the aero bars (which also means no brakes or no gear changes) and I was totally relaxed and mentally asleep. I let my head down to rest my back muscles which were sore from looking up all the time.
Suddenly I felt a huge bump and the front tire of my bike leapt into the air about a foot off the ground. I was going about 28 mph and had no control over the bike. Then the back tire went airborne and I could feel myself totally in the air, falling to the right of the road. There was the end of a guardrail that I just missed, and my right shoulder and head hit the gravel followed by my right hip. As I slid, the top of my helmet hit something pretty hard and I felt my chin go to my chest and for some weird reason I felt the right edge of my helmet slide on the gravel, keeping the right side of my face about an inch away from the surface.
I laid there for a second, luckily out of the way of traffic, thinking “What just happened back there?” I was still clipped into my bike, lying in the gravel on the side of the road. I unclipped, got off of my bike and started doing damage assessment. My right arm was bleeding profusely, but I could tell its bark was worse than its bite and was a bunch of skin abrasions that would clean up ok after I got the dirt off. The right side of my neck and right shoulder was pretty sore (mostly muscle pain) and my right hip was scuffed and bleeding. My right knee just hurt a little bit and I knew the pain would soon go away with a little pedaling. Next (and more importantly as far as I was concerned), I looked at my bike. The front tire looked like it was out of alignment and was rubbing against the brake pads. The chain was off the front sprocket but everything else seemed ok. No flats, which was remarkable. At first I was worried that the front tire was out of true, but on further inspection, it was just knocked out of alignment and by taking the tire off and putting it back on I was able to get the tire working as good as new.
Boy, did I dodge a bullet!
John standing on shoulder with blob of asphalt. I landed just past the guardrail on the right
Close up of asphalt blob that launched me past the guardrail
I looked back and found about 6 yards back on the road there was a blob of solidified asphalt about an inch in height that launched my bike at the speed I was traveling. If I was paying attention I could have easily missed it…that’s what happens when you lose focus on Kentucky roads. I looked down to where I landed (about 6 yards from asphalt bump) and saw where the top of my helmet hit a rock a little smaller than a soccer ball and moved it about 6 inches. In fact, the helmet hit with such force that the adjustment button on the back of the helmet popped off and I can't use my white helmet anymore. Luckily, my buddy and equipment adviser, Jeff Verink , insisted that I take another helmet (neon yellow for high visibility for inclement weather) and I'm using that helmet now.
I have always worn a helmet when I bike and I always will. This is the second time a helmet has saved me from cracking my thick skull.
Pointing to the rock that my helmet hit
About a foot to the left of the rock you can see a black 'W' which is the wire of my Monkey Mirror that came off when I crashed
The rock moved about 6 inches when the top of my helmet hit the rock
I rode about a half a mile when I came upon a very small grocery store and went inside to wash up my arm. There was no soap in the somewhat primitive bathroom so one of the girls at the place gave me some dish soap to clean up the blood and after that I was locked, cocked and good to go. One of the ladies asked if I was going to turn off on Hwy 611 (I was) and she said I was in for a real treat because there was a monster hill that I’d have to climb. I said to her “You know, there’s a lot of hills in Kentucky…some of them are fun…and some of them are too much fun. This one sounds like it’s gonna be too much fun.” They laughed and said good luck and don’t have any more crashes.
The stress of the fall wore me out a bit, but I was able to tackle that pretty brutal hill (and 2 more tough ones) before getting to Elkhorn City . My accident turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
Recently, I’ve gotten a little cocky with downhill runs and tend to let the bike have its way on downhill runs. I’ve learned how to lean more heavily into curves and to keep up speed and I’ve been challenging myself to see how fast I can go on a big downhill. After the crash, I felt battered up enough to tell myself to take it easy going down the Pork Chop Hill on 611 and I am so glad I did. The road was very dark with tree cover, there were big pot holes and dumps of gravel scattered throughout the road, and if I would have tackled the downhill like I normally would have done, I would have flown off the road for sure.
Maybe the accident was a little warning from above to cool my jets a little bit.
Just about this time, my Dad was up in Northern Wisconsin bass fishing up at my Uncle's Vic's cabin.
Dad displaying a huge lunker of a smallmouth bass
He caught this 19.5" smallmouth bass from the pier. Hmmm...bass fishing...bicycling...they both start with the letter 'b'. Maybe I should take up a sport that begins with a 'b' that's a little less dangerous.
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