Sunday, January 12, 2014

Post-crash thoughts

Happy 2014, Bike D.C.!

First off, I don't recommend being rear-ended by a Buick as a strategy for getting a new bike. The insurance company of the guy who hit me has been very obliging, and while I'm still putting together bills from physical therapy and mechanics' notes to send to my claims adjuster, it's been pretty well-established that I was not in the wrong.  But it's annoying to have to get that stuff together, especially because there's no manual on how to do it all correctly.  I've had more than one insurance person get annoyed with me on the phone for having absolutely no idea what I was doing.  If I had money, I would just hire a lawyer.  But I don't, so here we are.

Second, you know how, if you're involved in a crash, you usually become more cautious of certain things that you're doing?  For example--after I was doored, I was hyper-aware of riding far enough away from parked cars, and when I skidded out on some uneven asphalt/gravel and screwed up my hip, I rode slower through construction zones and was careful not to brake on uneven surfaces.  When something happens to you that is 100% beyond your control, like getting rear-ended, it's jarring to think that there is nothing you could have done differently to avoid that accident. The only thing you might have done is not gone on the ride at all, but that translates to living in fear and not doing whatever you love, so that's not really an option--so I'm back on a rusty English three-speed that I bought off of my roommate for very cheap (still waiting for those insurance payments to come through!), and I'm biking around the city like usual.

Except--it's not quite the same.  I have always been a worrywart, and it has gotten approximately 100 times worse in recent weeks. I can't hop on a bike without experiencing some degree of fear, particularly on busy roads.  Whereas before, I was very adamant about giving myself enough space on the roadway, I find myself shying off to the rightmost side of the road, but because I don't want to ride in the dooring zone either, I just wait for every car to pass before I start to ride.  The sound of cars passing stresses me out, even in bike lanes, and I have an irrational hatred for every car on the road--to me they all seem like evil death machines.

I project this fear onto other cyclists, too.  If I see a cyclist in front of me get close to a car, I envision a terrible accident and reflexively shut my eyes, only to open them a second later and realize that everything is fine.  This has also translated into a general concern about everyone's mortality, and I spend an inordinate amount of time worrying about people being involved in horrible incidents entirely of my own imagining.  When I was at home driving my mom's car in the Phoenix suburbs over Christmas, other cars were whizzing by me as I barely kept at the 45 mph speed limit and crawled by pedestrians in parking lots.  Highway driving was out of the question.  

So...yeah.  While, six weeks after the wreck, my body is fine (minus two wrenched shoulders that I'm seeing a physical therapist for), and I'm very fortunate for that, my brain doesn't like me very much.  I'm not really sure what to do about it except to keep bicycling, eventually get a faster bike, and work my way back up to where/who I was before.  Part of me feels like I should just woman up and get over it, but that's much easier said than done. Could you call this PTSD? I have no idea, but I'm guessing there's a lot of folks that have been through similar experiences after car/bike/skiing/hiking/whatever accidents, and that thought helps a little bit.  I really don't want to make a big gigundous deal out of this, and I'm not looking for further sympathy, but talking/writing about it helps. 

One last thing--it's always been my dream to bike across the country, and I was hoping to do that after I get my M.A. this coming December.  But I was struck on a multi-lane suburban road, and unfortunately, there are a lot of those in America.  So it's going to take some time. For now, I'd just like to get back to being comfortable on city streets, because if there's one thing that getting back on a bike has reminded me, it's that I love bicycling more than pretty much anything else I could be doing (even in the nasty, wet D.C. winter).

Getting there!


  1. You'll get there. Contact Charmaine at bikerchickchar.blogspot,com. She was hit from behind a year ago and I am sure would be happy to talk.
    Also, we share the same dream. I hope to do a cross country ride when I retire. (Charmaine did the Southern tier many years ago, btw,)
    It'll get better.

  2. My wife was hit when driving about 8 weeks ago. A tractor trailer driver drifted into her lane on the highway and hit her work car, sent into a spin and crashed into the highway median. She has similar PTSD-like symptoms as you do, it was kind of amazing how similar you describe it. After ~8 weeks things are still tense when in a car, but they are making progress. I'm sure you'll see similar progress in time.

    Good luck with PT - she is doing same and it is a long slow process.

  3. So far, my bike accidents (knock on wood) have only involved me being stupid. On a rainy day in October, I got caught in a groove between the road and the ramp to the sidewalk and fell hard on my right side. Although it wasn't a serious injury (I have a big scar on my knee, but thankfully, nothing broken), I still have a fear of going onto any ramps and will either slow way down or dismount and walk them.

    What you said about not living in fear rings true for me. I grit my teeth and keep biking. We're all pulling for you, Rachel. Keep doing what you love.

  4. Portajohn, Yikes!!! I'm glad your wife is OK, but I hope the fear resolves itself in time. The stakes are higher when the vehicles are bigger and faster, so I can definitely understand.

    Lisa, isn't it strange how accidents fixate us on things like that?? I have a fear of biking over gravel, and I avoid it even with the big, fat tires on the bike that I'm currently riding.

  5. Hi Rachel, I'm really hoping that all of this gets easier over time. I am glad you are not letting it keep you off the bike. AND I hope you do realize your dream of riding cross-country.