On Saturday all four of us joined Thomas’ Boy Scout troop for a trip into the Gorge to ride our bikes on the a restored section of the Historic Columbia River Highway. The ride was intended as a warm-up for the much longer trip that the Scouts have planned for June in Idaho.
Thomas rode Tina’s mountain bike, Tina borrowed a friend’s single-speed “cruiser bike“, Graham rode his single-speed 20” dirt bike and I rode my trusty commuter/mountain bike. My achilles tendon had loosened up since my excursions from and to work earlier in the week but my butt was still plenty sore. It didn’t matter much, though, because I spent more time walking my bike than riding it. At least it seemed that way.
I had expected the path to be relatively flat but I was very wrong. Tina and I hung back with Graham and Zack, one of the Boy Scouts. They both had a lot of trouble with the hills and had to resort to walking fairly often. After we finally reached the summit, we were all glad to tear effortlessly down the path. Graham pulled out ahead of us and I noticed that his steering was rather unsteady. Fearing the worst, I caught up with him to give him some tips on what to do when going fast. The first thing I told him was, “Keep your eyes straight ahead. Don’t look at me. Look straight ahead.”
He did look at me when I said that but I had expected that. I didn’t expect that his attention would be drawn by an island in the middle of the Columbia that we had been looking at from the top of the hill a few minutes earlier. He said something about the island and then noticed that in turning his head, he had also turned his handlebars. He quickly turned them back the other way, but predictably overcompensated and steered right off the path. There was a slight drop from the paved path to the dirt and rock shoulder and I think that’s what started him into his tumble. He soon met with one of the head-sized volcanic rocks that were all over the side of the path and came to a sudden stop.
All of this happened about 4 feet away from me as we rolled down the hill at about 18 mph. I was able to stop about 6 feet down the path and hurried back to him. Tina was further up the hill but had seen what had happened and was racing toward us. He was quiet when I first got to him but he soon began wailing. I made him lie down and I asked him where it hurt. He said his stomach hurt and his knees hurt. His knees were both road-burned even though he had on jeans and I think he got the wind knocked out of him. I felt for broken bones but he had none. His right leg had gotten wrapped inside the bike frame and the odd angle had pulled off his shoe. The look in his eyes was one of abject fear. Graham is a brave little boy and I have never seen him that scared.
He cried for awhile and then started to calm down. I went ahead to see what the rest of the party was doing and found them lunching. Much to my surprise, Graham came over the horizon a short time later and began describing his crash in the most grandiose and impressive terms possible. I took the opportunity to reiterate that he needed to keep his eyes pointed forward and he chimed in that he had been riding too close to the edge. He also said that he needed to “focus” more. On the way back, I rode behind him on the downhill and he did very well. He’s still a little wobbly with the steering but he maintained focus and kept the perfect distance from the edge.
It turned into a good learning experience with only slight injuries. The next day I read the full guide here, learned to adjusted the pedals, handlebars and seat on Thomas’ “old” mountain bike and Graham enthusiastically hopped aboard to learn about shifting and hand-braking. He’s looking forward to our next ride so we’re going to try to get out this week some evening. I don’t think we have to worry about him giving up on biking anymore.