Riding River to River: Into the ditch

Unable to stop, I fell into the ditch head first and tumbled through the tall weeds and grass. After coming to a rest on my back, my bike beside me, my first thought was, “Did that just happen?”

Yes. Yes, it did.

I was on Sugar Bottom Road, returning to Iowa City from a ride to the Sutliff Bridge. After dropping down the steep hill toward the mountain bike trail head, I saw a deer cross the road about 150 yards ahead of me. It gracefully dropped into the ditch and disappeared in the grass and weeds. Nearing the spot where it crossed, I turned my attention from the road to the dense vegetation, searching for the deer. I saw it in the tall brush and it turned its head to watch and listen as I passed.

When I looked back to the road, I saw that I was on the very edge of the pavement. I wanted to steer left and move away from the sudden and steep drop to the ditch. However, I thought my tires would slip on a groove in the road, dropping me on the asphalt. Instead, I grabbed the brake handles and pulled as hard as I could.

I slowed. The back tire squealed for a moment as it skid along the pavement. When I had almost stopped, and thought I would be able to avert disaster, my bike fishtailed. Teetering at the precipice, I lost my balance and fell into the ditch, my bike following behind me.

It had already been an interesting trip. I heard what sounded like multiple gun shots from a farm northeast of Solon. A mile or so later, an agitated red-winged blackbird attacked me, pecking and clawing at my helmet. When I reached the Sutliff Bridge, I checked my cell phone and found that the battery was dead. On my way back, as I passed the site of the earlier bird attack, the same (presumably) red-winged blackbird struck again. As I was leaving Solon, it began to rain.

At first I could not believe I had fallen into the ditch, but it seemed too fitting — the icing on the cake for my longest RAGBRAI training ride yet. There was no denying it, especially since I was lying in the thick vegetation that flanked the road.

Nothing hurt so I slowly lifted myself off the ground and stood. Even though I did not hit my head, I thought, “Thank God I’m wearing a helmet.” The roadway was at eye level up a steep incline. I picked up my bike and made an attempt to pull it alongside me as I climbed to the road, but it didn’t work. Instead, I needed to hold it to my chest and climb at the same time. I slipped, landed on my bike, and got back up and tried again. Eventually I set the bike back on the asphalt and used it to pull myself up.

I set the kickstand, brushed the seeds and leaves off myself, and pulled out the hunks of grass and weeds stuck in the bike rack. There was nobody else around. Nobody had witnessed my accident. It was my little secret from the world. I spotted a missing water bottle in the grass and dropped back into the ditch to retrieve it.

Though a little shaken and worried about the aftereffects of God knows what I landed in, I was fine and my bike seemed to be undamaged. No harm done, no big deal. I retracted the kickstand, hopped back on the saddle, and resumed my ride home.

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