For the Birds

A pair of Canada geese loudly hissed, then charged at me from the left. I stood up on the pedals of my bike and began to sprint as fast as I could. As the geese became airborne and continued the attack, I swerved to the right to avoid the angry birds.

When I glanced up, I saw another pair charging me from the right. I jerked the handlebars quickly to the left. As I did this, I felt the front wheel just barely slip off the pavement and down two inches to the gravel shoulder. Instantly, the front wheel locked against the pavement’s edge, and I was thrown headfirst over the handlebars.

I landed hard on the asphalt, my head hitting violently enough to crack the protective interior shell of my helmet completely through. I ended up on my back, gasping for air. My bike was 10 feet to the right of the trail, the handlebars twisted at a crazy angle, chain knocked loose, and the leather strap of my right toe clip snapped.

The wind had been knocked out of me, and I gasped for air. I rolled to my side, pulled myself to my knees, and crawled to my bike. I managed to get the bike upright, and used the frame to pull myself to my feet. My breathing was better, and I could move my arms and legs. I seemed okay.

Just then, another cyclist stopped. He straightened out the handlebars, put the chain back on, and made sure that the wheels were okay and the brakes operational. “Do you think you can ride?” he asked.

“I think so,” I responded. “But I need a minute.” I tilted the bike frame, and managed to step over the top tube. With both hands on the handlebars, I put my left foot in the only operational toe clip, and pushed off. I began to pedal, slowly, the five miles home.

Finally, I made it home and very gingerly rolled my bike into the garage. My wife and oldest daughter, who had graduated as a physician assistant from Marquette University two days earlier, were seated at the dinner table. I must have looked as bad as I felt, and my wife asked if I was okay. I told the story, and was promptly put to bed.

My daughter examined me thoroughly, and determined there were no broken bones, I could breathe, and the pain was tolerable. After consulting with several other newly minted physician assistants, my daughter told me that a trip to the emergency room wasn’t necessary, but I did need to see a doctor the next day.

The doctor confirmed my daughter’s diagnosis — I had bruised my ribs and was pretty beat up, but I had not suffered a concussion or broken any bones. I was unable to ride for 12 days. A month passed before the C-shaped bruise on my chest, which I determined was caused when I hit the handlebar extension on my way over the bars, finally faded.

It was my worst bicycling crash, and I learned a couple of things:

• Wear a helmet. I would have been knocked out cold, if I hadn’t been wearing one. For two weeks following the crash, everyone that I talked with told me my injuries would’ve been much worse if I wasn’t wearing a helmet. Message received.

• Steer clear of geese during nesting season. The crash happened in mid-May on a part of the New Berlin Recreation Trail that runs past two small lakes, a stream, and a sod farm. It is thick with birds in spring and early summer, when Canada geese are nesting and extremely protective of their young. I respect their fierce dedication to parenting, and avoid riding the trail when geese begin to crowd the path. Instead, I ride on the Glacial Drumlin Trail, where Red Winged Blackbirds patrol the path. But that is another story.

2 thoughts on “For the Birds

  1. Mr. Gantenbein, so glad to hear you were okay, especially considering, as you mentioned, it could have been much worse. I walk outside every day at lunch and the geese hiss at me daily. I had one hiss and come at me Friday when I was jogging by the beach. I laughed but was frightened at the same time.


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