Today was the day that I have eagerly anticipated in a good way and also dreaded since I first thought about signing up for this trip. The route was 89 miles from Idaho Falls to Jackson Hole. Spectacular scenery. Epic climbs over two mountain passes. Total feet climbed over 5,000. Views of the Grand Tetons. And Jackson Hole is an iconic vacation spot–famous for it’s skiing at Jackson Hole Mountain, and also in summertime when people flock to sightsee at nearby Yellowstone National Park and fish, hike etc. It is very Western in its feel. I have never been to Jackson Hole and have wanted to see this for a long time. But I had also dreaded this day is because it has the longest and steepest descent of the trip.
Lots of bad news. Times two bad news. We have lost two riders from the group in the past 24 hours. One had a heart issue at the hotel yesterday afternoon, and after being rushed to the hospital, doctors performed open heart surgery in the middle of the night. He did not have a heart attack, and supposedly what happened to him was “waiting” to happen, and could have happened anywhere. Plaque broke loose in his arteries and he needed immediate quadruple bypass surgery. It could have happened, they say, on this ride or back home in his office. If it had happened during one of our rides, however, he undoubtedly would be dead. He was lucky to be in town and when he passed out the paramedics were there in minutes.
Secondly, this afternoon one of my favorite riders crashed on the downhill off Teton Pass. I didn’t see it because I rode faster than everyone else in the group going up the pass, not to prove any physical prowress, but because I wanted to be going downhill all by myself. I did not want anyone watching or passing me, or any group pressure to ride faster. I did just that and went down the other side on the brakes, slower than I have been doing “ordinary” downhills over past week. The downhill was close to 5 miles of 10 degrees down. It really was not fun. I was afraid of the danger of not being able to slow myself down without skidding out. Or applying too much brakes and having the tire explode from the heat caused by friction on the rim. Or what happened to Tom, which was that his bike “shimmied” at 52mph. That means it wobbles for “no reason” and there is very little that one can do because braking exacerbates the wobble. If you can let go of the brakes to the bottom and control the bike you might make it through. This was not an option for Tom because we had miles to go of downhill with turns etc. The group leaders blame riders wobble on physical imbalance or incorrect body position on the bike. In Tom’s case he was feeling a bit dizzy at the top from the altitude. When the bike shimmied, he decided to “voluntarily” lay down the bike before going around a corner and going off the mountain or into oncoming traffic. That means a decision to try and crash in the best possible way rather than letting things get worse and have an “uncontrolled” crash. At 52mph. He broke his pelvis in 3 places and his sacrum. I visited him in the Jackson Hole hospital tonight and he is tons of pain but had no other trauma or head injury. In other words, he probably was also lucky as he survived a the crash with “only” a few broken bones.
I am happy to report that Mike, the guy who crashed into the pole on the second day which shattered his bike and sent him to the hospital with multiple bruising, has been back riding after taking a few days off. He had swollen shut eyes. Now they only look like raccoon eyes. He feels fine and is cheerful about finishing the ride. He was lucky.
Tomorrow we cross the Continental Divide. The pass is 9,658 feet high, which is higher than today, but the descent is more gradual. Wish me luck!