Monday, July 24, 2017

The Worst Bike Ride in Andorra

I got up early Thursday morning to find that the temperatures outside felt great, but that RandoGirl's insides did not. She wasn't sure if it was something from last night's dinner or the water that she had gotten from a road-side fountain the day before, but she was having major tummy troubles. I offered to stay with her, but she encouraged me to instead take the car to Sant Julia de Loria and do the two big climbs down that way.

In hindsight, I should have stayed and played nurse. But I was weak and really wanted to do those climbs, so I went.

It took me a couple of tries to find a place to park in Sant Julia de Loria, and then I had to stop at the Jorma bike shop there for tubes. They directed me to the closest way to go up the Coll de la Gallina from the store, and soon I was in hard climbing mode.

After just less than one kilometer, I realized that I had left my water bottles in the car. By the time I rode back to the car, grabbed the bottles, and started the climb again it was after 10 am.

This route spreads the steep stuff out pretty well, but still averages 8.4% over 12.2K.

Eventually, the road crosses over to the other side of the ridge, and you can see into Spain.

About 2K from the top on this route, a dirt road connects that goes into Spain. Just so that I could claim to have ridden my bike into Spain twice, I went down that road for about one kilometer and checked my GPS to make sure that I was over the border. Then I came back to the main road.

Further up was the remains of this wall. I'm not sure what this wall was for, but they would have had a spectacular view.

Finally, I got to the top. You can't tell, but I am wearing my Andorra jersey -- nice, huh?

After taking this picture, I ate a small chocolate croissant that I had wrapped up at breakfast, and then started down. The descent towards Aixovall was just as steep as the climb from Sant Julia de Loria had been. I was riding my brakes most of the way, stopping regularly to ensure that my rims were not overheating.

There was a cute restaurant here in Canolich, about halfway down from the top on CS-111. I wanted to take RandoGirl here for lunch.

The other building in Canolich was this church. It looks old, but was actually a reconstruction done in the 1970s.

From here, the road seemed to straighten out a bit, and I hoped maybe I could stop riding the brakes so much. But as I came up on the next turn, the road dipped down and I saw that there were seams in the pavement that had been repaired ... although not well. In addition, I could tell that the coming switchback was not banked well, and in fact almost dipped towards the outside rather than the inside.

I grabbed my brakes -- but just a little too hard, and immediately felt the back wheel slide right. I let go of the brakes, but it was too late and the bike was sliding out from underneath me. A thought went through my head: Well, here goes the new jersey.

Normally, when I crash like this the bike slides and I end up grinding off some shorts and/or jersey -- and a layer or two of skin, depending upon how fast I'm going and whether the pavement is wet. But remember that seam in the pavement? Best I can figure, the back wheel hit one of those seams and stopped sliding, so that the momentum of the bike was transferred from a "slide down the mountain" to more of a "slam the bike down on Robert's left hip" kind of thing.

Which is how I ended up like this, more or less.

When I'm lying in the road after a bike crash, the first thing I try to do is get my bike off the road. I had only seen two cars during the entire route after I had left Sant Julia de Loria, but I just think that it's safest not to lie in the middle of any road.

However, when I tried to pull my left leg off of the bike, I couldn't. The muscles wouldn't move it, and picking it up to drag it really, really, really hurt. So I decided that I was where I was going to be until somebody came along to move me, or a car came along and squished me.

I was just able to reach the top tube, and could thus drag the handlebar bag up so I could get into it. I then pulled out my cell phone and called RandoGirl. When she answered, I told her where I was and that I had crashed and might have broken something. I then asked her to find out the Andorra equivalent of "911" so that I could get help. She was at a store, and they told her it was "112."

Calling 112, I got a dispatcher who -- of course -- didn't speak English. We tried to communicate in Spanish, and I was able to tell them that it was a bicycle accident on the Aixovall side of the Coll de la Gallina and that I thought either my leg or pelvis was broken. We were still trying to nail down exactly where I was on this 12 kilometers of road when a car came along.

I raised my arm to signal the car so he wouldn't run over me, and the driver stopped and got out. His name was Luis, and he had been up in Canolich walking his dogs. He was a retired lawyer from Barcelona, and spoke English ... as well as half a dozen other languages. In other words, the perfect person had come along.

Luis pulled out his phone and called 211. I was still trying to talk to my dispatcher and explain where I was, but the dispatcher cut me off and said something about the ambulance being on its way, probably because Luis spoke Catalan and knew exactly where we were and had told them not to listen to the idiot American.

My good samaritan then stayed with me for the half hour that it took for the ambulance to come, talking with me to keep my mind off the pain. We talked about cycling, and how this was a bad corner even for cars, and I felt a little less stupid for having crashed so badly here. I took off my helmet and lay back, using it for a pillow, and then heard loud music because I was lying on my iPod and had turned the volume up full. I pulled the iPod out of my back pocket and turned it off, and then got Luis to take the above picture.

RandoGirl called back during this to tell me that she was back at the hotel. I told her that an ambulance was coming, and she said that she would meet me at the hospital (Juame from the hotel drove her there -- another good samaritan).

When the ambulance arrived, Luis and I were able to communicate with them while they disentangled me from my bike and loaded me up. Luis carried my bike to the hospital, and I had the most uncomfortable ride in any vehicle in my life, riding downhill while my leg tried to slide around inside my hip.

The rest is a blur, probably because things were starting to hurt. RandoGirl was at the ambulance door to the Emergency Room, and a bunch of people took my pulse and blood pressure and put me in a room where they helped me take off my clothes. (Yes, they did not cut them off -- my shorts and jersey survived the entire escapade intact!). Then they rolled me around taking X-rays before finally stowing me in a hospital room. The surgeon came by to tell me that my femur was broken, and that they would need to put in rods and pins ... and maybe a screw and some plates ... I think.

They wouldn't give me any painkillers, and couldn't give me anything to drink because they needed my stomach to be empty before they did surgery. Since I had eaten that croissant about noon, we were on hold until 8 pm at least. RandoGirl kept me company when she wasn't answering questions from the business office or helping Juame load up my bike to take back to the hotel. Finally, they wheeled me downstairs to surgery and hooked me up to an IV and things got even more blurry.

My wild ride was over. The unpleasant recovery was about to begin.


  1. Gosh Robert, I'm sorry this happened to you, after so many great adventures in Andorra. It is nice to read about the good people who helped you. I don't know you age, but because of your level of fitness, your recovery will certainly be faster and stronger than unfit people, even much younger people. Your tales were so fun to read.
    I wish you the very best outcome and the strongest return to full health. The timing might be good; that is, you have Fall and Winter to recuperate, do physical therapy, ... Joe, RUSA 6552

    1. Thanks, Joe. With the heat index about 105 here lately, I'm willing to sit inside and mend,