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Sports-Pictorial.com
 

 

The Race

Prologue

By Dave Shields

Ben's pulse stabilized as he crested Boulder Mountain Pass, one of the most elevated outposts in this region of the Southern Utah desert. The nearest human might be ten miles away. He quit pedaling his well-tuned Schwinn road bicycle as it gathered momentum along the asphalt strip that, sixty-five miles distant, would return him to Hanksville. He’d get home before noon. That ought to prove to Dad he had the maturity to take a trip like this, fourteen or not.

He removed his hands from the handlebars and intertwined his fingers behind his head, savoring the serenity of the high alpine setting. Looking skyward he inhaled a lung full of sweet November air. High above a pair of Golden Eagles soared in lazy circles.

Movement in the meadow to his left caught his eye. A mule deer raised its head and stared back, its giant rack spread heavenward. How had such a buck survived the recent hunt? The absence of early snow had surely helped. Frozen dirt, no tracks.

Ben returned his grip to the handlebars and his attention to cycling as the downhill grade increased. He shifted into his highest gear, navigating faster and faster through pine and aspen filled glades. Through cleated pedals and cinched toe straps he transferred maximum power to the wheels.

The road bent right, then a long, steep straightaway opened ahead. The moment he’d anticipated had finally arrived.

Already screaming down the hillside, he steeled himself to attempt the ultra high-speed aerodynamic posture from his well-worn copy of La Bicicletta Magazine. He couldn't read much Italian, but the photos thrilled him. His favorite shot was on page thirty-four: a guy named Franco Chioccioli careening around a bend on the Col de la Croix de Fer during last year’s Tour de France. The background blurred, nothing but streaks.

Ben eased his hands to a position side by side against the stem. The minor front-wheel vibrations shuddered up his arms, magnified a hundred fold. Carefully he leaned his head forward and down until his cheeks touched the backs of his hands, just like Chioccioli in the picture.

His body sliced through the air like a wing. He felt lift, a diminished sense of the road. The bike seemed to discover a new gear as the orange dashed line on the pavement strobed by.

He lifted his gaze. Just ahead, folds in the asphalt revealed where a falling boulder must have damaged the pavement. Fear shot through him. In this posture the brakes were impossibly out of reach and he couldn’t steer. His muscles clenched. Dad’s warning rang in his ears. ‘Just be careful, Benjamin.’

He hit the bumps square on. The front wheel ricocheted left, right, then hard left. He wrestled the handlebars but, holding so near the fulcrum, he overcorrected. The bike twisted, forcing him to jerk the handlebars in the opposite direction. Terrain whizzed by faster and faster as the wobble increased.

Suddenly, the front wheel torqued perpendicular to the road and skidded sideways. The rear end of the bike catapulted over the handlebars. Ben launched, still fastened to the machine through cleated pedals and cinched toe straps.

He splayed his hands in front of him. His cycling gloves shredded and his palms ripped open on impact. Bicycle and rider skipped off crushed-rock asphalt, shot toward the edge of the road, and skittered over the embankment.

Now he accelerated down the icy hillside. Branches, rocks, and thorns ripped his clothing and snagged his flesh as he sailed by. This couldn’t be happening. Noise screamed in his ears- fingers on blackboards, gravel shaken in a shoebox, a radio squelching at maximum volume.

Then silence. It was worse than the noise. The world didn’t exist anymore. No bicycle shops, no magazines, no red-faced dads.

He tasted coppery blood. Not dead.

He lay silently, wedged among low-lying boughs of a pine tree. Thank God he hadn’t slammed into the trunk.

Dad would be furious. He’d say, ‘I told you so, Benjamin. Nothing good can come of all this damn bicycle riding.’

Ben swiveled to check his bike, then heard a crack as the branches gave way. He crashed to the ground. Pain. Loads of pain.

He groaned. Breath came in torturous gasps. His left foot was still connected to its pedal. He reached out and grasped the toe cage release strap. It came free, but the cleat bar still held his foot in an awkward position. He contorted his leg to remove it. The motion triggered a pang up the left side of his body. As the leg fell limp he grasped his knee.

Then he stared at his beloved Schwinn. The wheels resembled battered garbage can lids. The handlebars were cocked sideways. The front forks bent at a right angle. Even the frame looked bent.

He reached for the machine. Maybe he could twist it back into shape. Pain seared his spine.

He laid back and fought for calm. Coach Bill had taught Ben breathing exercises for composure before races. Now was a good time for that. He lay motionless on the forest floor… inhaling… exhaling… gradually accepting reality. The bike was a total loss. His body was not. Best to concentrate on saving what could be saved.

Stinging abrasions oozed blood, but he wasn’t going to bleed to death. On the other hand, if he didn’t find a way to get help, exposure might kill him. How long until someone sent a search party? Probably too long.

He held down panicked thoughts. Think clearly.

‘It is what it is.’ That’s what Coach Bill would say. ‘Now deal with it.’

A stressed diesel engine’s throaty howl broke the silence. Clattering gears, then an even deeper pitch.

“Hey!” Ben started, but a stabbing gut pain stopped him. He grabbed his side and watched helplessly as the red cab of the semi chugged past, the long-haul driver oblivious to his plight.

The road seemed inconceivably distant – at least fifty yards up the steep hillside.

The left knee throbbed to his heartbeat, a hollow sensation. His left hand covered the joint. He moved the fingers.

Beneath the shredded Lycra of his ankle length cycling tights a vee-shaped flap of skin dropped open. The kneecap gleamed white beside red muscle tissue and pink flesh. Except for interspersed pine needles, bits of dirt, and shards of rock, the knee resembled the cut-away anatomy drawing in his science textbook.

Ben stared at the wound. This couldn’t be his leg. Something was wrong. He didn’t feel the sort of pain a gash like that should produce. He closed the skin flap and re-covered the knee with the hand.

He exhaled. One thing for sure. He must get to the road. But, the knee. Was that really his knee?

He removed his hand and looked at the joint again. Shouldn’t there be blood everywhere? This wound only oozed slightly, a dime-store special effect, just a puddle of crimson pooling where the flap hinged open.

But the visible kneecap was in the leg connected to his body. He could see that. Jersey, cycling tights, biking shoe. All his. Yep. That had to be his knee. Ben was nearly certain of it.

He laid back and stared at a passing cloud. It looked like a duck. A smaller duck followed. Then an even smaller one. The last one could have fit inside the beak of the mommy duck.

Ben laughed. His toes wiggled.

Interesting. He could feel both feet moving in the tight leather cycling shoes. Not paralyzed.

A thought resurfaced. The road.

Ben writhed to a seated position just as a wave of exhaustion broke over him. He shook it off. Road.

He worked the tights higher on his left leg, gathering material at the knee. Then he used his thumbs to position the skin flap over the wound. He eased his makeshift pressure bandage over the joint. The spandex leg sleeve squeezed everything together. At the very least it would force the gash shut, probably prevent blood loss as well.

Now, the hard part. He drew a deep breath, then pivoted his legs beneath him. Nerve impulses raced to his brain from every extremity.

A long, loud exhalation.

How weird that the knee was the only body part that didn’t really hurt – just a desensitized ache. Standing, though, was out of the question. He would claw his way along the ground.

He grasped a clump of dead grass and hauled himself forward. The movement triggered another multi-directional drag race for nerve impulses. Electrical signals collided in his brain, a demolition derby for neurons.

Ben clenched his teeth. Getting it over with was preferable to drawing it out. He drew his good leg up and pushed forward again, and again.

Soon his fingers became numb from scratching into the icy ground. He blew warm air into his fists while avoiding a glance at the wounded palms. After a moment he resumed the climb. Pushing… pulling… inching forward.

Two more warming stops and nearly an hour later he dragged himself atop the gravel embankment. He lay there, thirsty and panting. Why hadn’t he grabbed his water bottle and brought it along? There it sat, still wedged in its cage on the ruined bicycle. Then his vision narrowed and blackened. It became quiet.

* * *

A metallic whine pried Ben toward consciousness, wrenching him from his imaginations of cycling in the Tour de France. He fought to regain asleep. He tried to continue the journey, but reality had already intruded. The dream couldn’t be retrieved.

He opened his eyes in time to see a rusty blue Datsun sports car bearing down from uphill. Ben raised his left arm. The car sped by.

His hand dropped weakly as silence returned to the forest. They hadn’t seen him.

Then, from below, came a high-pitched sound like a wind up toy. He wrenched his neck to look.

Here came the Datsun, rear end first. It stopped several yards away.

Ben cried. He would live to bike this road again.

 

 
 
 

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