Bicycling the TransAmerica Trail

Cycling Across the US, Coast to Coast

Bicycling Adventure #3

54 days, 3,783 miles, Jul-Aug 2010

Ray Jardine

2010-08-31Virginia page 47 of 54

Day 47, Virginia

From Salem to Roanoke and back

We started out at dawn, and began the ride through Salem. Because the day was not yet light, we rode the sidewalk, to stay off the streets which were very busy with traffic. Then, early morning we took a break at a small doughnut factory.

Doughnut factory

Salem blends in to the larger city of Roanoke, and of course the traffic increased to nearly rush hour proportions. Also, there were many places where the lack of sidewalk forced us onto the road, and in many places the road had no shoulder to ride on. Nevertheless, we were very careful to stay away from the traffic, and the motorists treated us with, at least, regard.

We were both using rear view mirrors mounted to our helmets. I think these are very effective in increasing the safety awareness of the cyclist, not only because they allow us to see what is coming, but what is coming close to the edge of the road.

At one point at a stoplight, I reminded Jenny that if she sees a vehicle approaching too close to the edge of the road, she should immediately steer off the road. Also I mentioned the time two days ago when I had to do just that.

In all of the cycling I have done on my 3 long trips, I have had to ditch it maybe five or six times. Nevertheless, as we pedaled through Roanoke, we didn't have to do that. We didn't even have any close calls. Although we did have to haul off the road, occasionally, to let a particularly gnarly knot of traffic get by.

We stopped two more times for refreshments, then followed the 460 out of town.

The Blue Ridge Parkway. Note Jenny's blaze orange shirt, and the blaze orange cover on my gear bag.

A while later we crossed the Blue Ridge Parkway and stopped to take a few photos.

Note: I am no longer following the Tans-Am route, but just headed for the East Coast on my own.

We stopped a little further on for more refreshments, then pedaled past Montvale. In another mile we came to a sharp curve in the road, and I thought we had better be careful, and also get through quickly because it is a blind corner. But we couldn't pedal very fast because the road was somewhat uphill.


I felt something slam into me from behind. On the way to the ground I saw the trailer of a white semi truck whiz by.

I lay on the gravel alongside the road, next to the guardrail, listening for the truck to stop. But it just kept going. My whole body hurt like hell.

Jenny writes: I saw the 18-wheeler whiz by only inches from me, and hit Ray with a sickening thud. I had been pedaling just a few inches from the edge of the pavement, so I steered for the gravel. Then I saw the truck keep veering to the right, ahead of us. The outside tires left the pavement and drove onto the gravel.

I don't remember falling down. The first thing I remember was walking toward Ray to see if he was still alive. I could hardly believe he was still in one piece after that kind of an impact, and that he was not too bloody - although his shorts were torn, and he couldn't get up.

He told me that he was OK, so I quickly moved our bikes, sprawled across the road. I couldn't remove them too far because of the guardrail, so I just leaned them against it. There was no other traffic for about a minute, which had been fortunate while our bikes were still lying on the road.

Ray writes: I was lying there, conscious but dazed, and I'm thinking: I should get up, but really I was afraid to even try to move my body, in case something was broken. My left forearm felt broken for sure, and I could feel something wrong with my left hip and leg, and about everywhere in between.

I raised my hands and forearms, keeping the elbows on the ground, and shifted my legs, raising one knee. I didn't realize it, but the impact had shredded my pants, knocked my right shoe off, and torn my left glove half off.

Jenny writes: In a couple of minutes I saw two guys running back to us. I told this to Ray. One guy kept going down the road, past us, to alert the oncoming traffic. The other one stopped and asked, "What happened?"

"He was hit by a semi," I replied.

Then he asked, "Has anyone called 911?"

I must have been still dazed myself, and didn't think of that.

Ray writes: I told the guy, "I think I can ride laying down in the back seat of a car," although I was not convinced of this myself.

"I'm an EMT," he replied, "and you have got to lay still. Don't move!" Then he called 911.

Within what seemed like just a couple of minutes, people began arriving and started working on me. I didn't know it, but there was now an ambulance parked on the highway next to me, along with two fire trucks and their emergency personnel, and several sheriff's deputies setting down flares and trying to avert the traffic and slow it down. Again, I didn't find this out until later.

Soon the paramedics slid a backboard under me and began strapping and taping me to it, which only increased my discomfort because it felt so hard against my injured hip and leg. So I asked for some padding, and that helped a little.

The collision had riped my glove off, and my wrist felt broken. But other than that, I was doing fine.

The ambulance ride seemed to take a long while, because as someone said we were headed back to Roanoke. I had asked about Jenny and was told she was riding in the front seat. The paramedic, riding with me in the back, asked if I needed pain medication, but I said I didn't think so right now. She asked how bad I hurt, on a scale from one to ten. I replied that my arm was a 9 and my hip and thigh were a 7.5 but I said I could just hang on. In another five minutes she administered the pain medication anyway, and that soon made a world of difference.

Once at the hospital I was wheeled into the emergency room and a group of a dozen specialists began checking me over, with x-rays and then a ct scan. Then I was moved into an emergency care room, and that's when Jenny was allowed in. I saw that she had a nasty contusion on her left hand, as if something had hit her very hard. I asked whether she wanted treatment, and she said she did not.

In the end they could not find anything broken in me, so the nurse rolled me onto my side and got to work debriding the abrasions. I had a bad case of road-rash - my lower back and butt - on the left side - looked like raw hamburger (I was told) as did some of my leg.

After the nurse finished, I asked to be allowed to get out of bed. My body wanted to get moving again, and I knew that it would "set-up" if I remained in bed much longer. So while waiting for the doctor's OK I started doing exercises, mini sit-ups, leg lifts, and that sort of thing.

When the doctor arrived I made it clear that I wanted to be released. So after two more hours of observation, they took all the wires and tubes off of me. Thanks to the pain medication, I felt fine - sort of - as I walked out.

As a retired critical care nurse, I am sorry to say I enjoyed your report about your accident. You gave an excellent account. I'm sorry you had an accident, but your experience illustrates the great value in an active lifestyle.

Specifically, your lifestyle, careful attention to proper diet (for you), level of fitness and muscular development protected you. It kept you from breaking several bones and being incapacitated, at least temporarily, hospitalized or worse.

I've seen more than one case of severe road rash/ road hamburger, and done the necessary care. The only ones that do well are the ones with excellent muscular development before the trauma. Their muscles literally hold their bodies together, and prevent horrific injury where possible. - Rick M., Washington, DC area

Wayne, one of the volunteer firemen, had been on the scene, and had taken care of our bikes. He met us at the hospital and kindly drove us, with our bikes, to a nearby motel.

Wayne unloads the bikes from his truck.

Fresh out of the hospital, still in scrubs.

Once alone in our room, we got to look our bikes over. Jenny's was fine, but mine had been damaged. The left-hand shifter from my old bike - which I had mounted on the new bike - had been demolished. The right pedal had been crushed. And the orange cover on the rear gear bag, still mounted firmly on the back rack, had black truck tire marks on it, as though it had been run over.

It is a mystery to me why the tire marks on the gear bag are on the right side, both top and bottom - when the truck hit me from the left. The impact must have made my bike dance around in the air for a short while. Judging by the marks, I think the truck might have run over the gear bag, (while still attached to the bike). That would have been quite a sight.

The blaze orange gear cover, lashed to the back of my gear bag, covered in truck tire marks. I was hit on the left side, yet these tire marks are on the right side of my gear back. the bike must have been flipped upside down, then run over.

Hamburger bun: truck tire rash and immense swelling: bandages removed, scrapes cleaned, and embedded gravel, dirt and truck tire rubber cleaned off.

I think the truck had side-swiped my left forearm, and smashed the gear shifter. The impact had swung me around, and possibly slammed my backside into a truck tire.

As for Jenny's hand injury, something had hit her hand very hard. Her left hand, same as my left lower forearm. The back corner of the truck trailer might have slammed into her hand and knocked her down. Jenny had found both bikes laying on the road in much the same position and distance from the edge of the road. Or maybe she had hit her hand falling down. We don't know. She remembers steering for the gravel, but does not remember if the truck actually hit her. But neither could she explain the injury to her hand.

Now, as to what had gone wrong:

I tend to watch my rear view mirror like a hawk, but I never saw the truck until it hit me. It could be that the sharp curve in the road put Jenny squarely in my view, and for the moment I couldn't see behind her. Or maybe I just wasn't paying attention at that particular moment. Doubtless, no human could pay close attention to a rear view mirror, or anything else, for hours on end, and weeks on end. The mind starts to wander. In any case . . .

The deputy said that because there were no other witnesses to the hit and run, he couldn't identify the truck driver.

We think we were more than visible in our bright-colors, and once again Jenny saw that, after striking me, the truck continued drifting off the road. In retrospect, the physics of the curve would seem to push an absent minded driver away from us, but this driver might have been over-steering. And indeed, we visited the site a few days later, and saw many drivers doing just that - drifting onto the shoulder of the right side.

Proposed alternative explanation for your truck incident: the driver had target fixation followed by sheer animal panic. On the target fixation: remember in your hang-gliding days how someone would manage to land in the only tree in a 40-acre landing zone? The highway maintenance trucks here in CA have big fold-down hex-cell crash attenuators because people crash into the brightly-colored trucks. Then once your truck driver saw what had happened, limbic animal panic took over. Both things argue that the driver was NOT highly experienced, and probably stressed & distracted. - Bryan A., Pasadena, CA

Yes, I think that is what might have happened.

And as for what had gone right:

Its no wonder the emergency personnel were so concerned about me, having been struck by an 18-wheel semi truck traveling an estimated 50 mph. As I walked out of the hospital I thought: I'm the luckiest man alive.

I thank God for saving me, but - in jest - wished he had steered the truck maybe an inch further away from the edge of the road.   That would have saved a whole lot of trouble on everyone's part. (Conversely, had I been riding an inch further away from the edge of the road, I would not be writing this.)

The hospital staff gave me a set of paper scrubs to wear, because I no longer had any clothes. My shorts had been shredded, maybe by the truck tire, and the paramedics had to cut off my shirt. So that evening we visited a shopping mall and bought a shirt and pants for me. Talk about starting over from scratch!

So many people helped us that day, and to them we are extremely grateful. Our sincere thanks to Jeff, Wayne, and the rest of the crew of the Montvale Volunteer Fire Department. Thank you for the incredibly fast response. It was such a comfort having you there helping us. We really appreciate it.

Card given to the crew of the Montvale Volunteer Fire Department

Card given to staff at Roanoke Memorial Hospital

Also, we wish to thank the Trauma Unit doctors, nurses, and staff at Roanoke Memorial Hospital for the excellent care. Everyone involved was a top notch professional, efficient and caring. No wonder this Trauma Unit is considered the best in all of southern Virginia. Our thanks to you all.

Miles pedaled today: about 30. I no longer have an odometer: it was lost in transport to the hospital.

The story has 54 pages. This is page 47.
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