Tuesday, June 19, 2007

"Groundhog Day"

The following was an email we sent out on June 21, 2004 (the day after Father's Day) in the pre-blog era. It was one of our most memorable stories:

For us, Father's Day was Groundhog Day. As in the movie of that name, we'd like to try 'take two' and do it over. Without the groundhog.

The short version is, nothing was broken on us or on our bike. Not sure about the groundhog.

The longer version involves a tandem bike and its riders enjoying the Erie Canal Trail, in a section that is actually a rail-trail with a hard-packed gravel surface, very straight, very flat, deep in the trees and about 1/4 mile from the Mohawk River, which it parallels. Doing about 19 mph. Suddenly noticing a groundhog in the middle of the trail.

Now these are furry little things, very soft looking on the outside. Their closest relatives in the animal kingdom are marmots and bowling balls. This particular groundhog saw the tandem about the time Jeff saw him, which is to say, when we were 20-30 feet away. You cover a lot of territory each second at 19 mph. Our groundhog ran away from us, i.e. same direction as us, and at the ABSOLUTELY worst time, decided to hang a hard right. While he was slightly to the left of us.

As we picked ourselves up from a tangled mess of rearranged bike, road-rashed left elbows and knees and various other sore places, we looked for some road kill. He was nowhere to be seen. Whether he went off to "nurse his wounds" or to "curl up and die," we're not sure, but it might be of benefit to both the local groundhog and human populations if this particular feller didn't contribute to the gene pool any more.

Well, we were hurting, but able to wash off the worst of the mess, nothing felt broken on us, and everything on the bike looked repairable. We finally did get under way, NOT at 19 mph, and made it to the next town. It being Sunday, it was quiet. So quiet, we couldn't find a cop, fireman or EMT person at the combined police station/fire station/ambulance service/city hall. Finally a very bored-looking police officer drove up and apologized for his town having rolled up the sidewalks, and told us that the only nearby hospital was in Little Falls, the town we were headed to on our itinerary, but still another 20 miles down the road. So down the road we rode.

Our lodging in Little Falls was beautiful, a suite over an elegant French restaurant in a restored 150-year-old canal-era brick building. A restaurant that is closed on Sundays. The owner met us to give us the keys and took one look at the road rash and pulled out gauze pads, tape, peroxide and Tylenol, to get us started on the path to recovery. We were hurting, but thought we could deal with it. Indeed, we even took the long route to supper to look at the Erie Canal lock in Little Falls, the tallest lock in the world at 40 1/2 feet of lift.

Supper went quite well, all things considered, until just after the bill was paid and we were about to walk back to the inn, when Louise suddenly got flush, weak, nauseous and tired. The clincher was when she announced that she wanted to take a little nap on the floor of the restaurant. 911 was very nice, the fire station was only a block away and they were apparently actually in their fire station in this town. To say they strongly urged a visit to the hospital would be an understatement. So we got to visit Little Falls General.

The University of Washington Medical Center it isn't, but the people were extremely nice, and both the night shift ER attending and Dr. Handy, who spent over 20 minutes with Louise the next day, were very knowledgeable, good at explaining what they were doing and why, and reassuring. The basic problem was a fairly intense pain in her ribcage right over her heart. Was it a broken rib, a ruptured spleen, a cardiac contusion, a pulmonary contusion, or just a bad bruise to muscles or the like in that area? After going through many blood draws, x-rays, a CAT scan, a few EKGs and 12 hours of cardiac telemetry, they concluded it was the least serious of these.

The bruising makes it hard for Louise to breathe deeply, and sneezing and laughing are realllllly painful, but hey, Tyler Hamilton got up off a French road with a broken collarbone last July and rode the rest of the Tour de France, finishing in fourth place out of 180 of the world's best riders.

All those tests meant a night in the hospital for Louise, a "gurney and breakfast" for her while I enjoyed our elegant bed and breakfast. It also put us a day behind on our itinerary. Well, we've done 80 miles in a day, the mileage planned for today and tomorrow combined, but not this banged up. So we've rented a truck for tomorrow. It's 11' long plus 3' over the cab, U-Haul's "two bedroom" model, but it was what John of John's Garage and U-Haul has available, so we'll drive it tomorrow to Syracuse, spend Tuesday night in the planned B&B there, and get back on the road like good 'ole Tyler on Wednesday.

The stay in the hospital was, well, odd. Jeff left at midnight, and was driven "home" to the lodgings a mile away by the paramedic who also did Louise's first EKG. "He does this all the time," they told us. Try getting that kind of service at a large metropolitan hospital! Meanwhile Louise kept the gurney warm until some time after 1 am, when she got a real bed in a two-person room. Then the nutso patient in Bed Two turned the TV on at 2 am. Louise buzzed the nurse's desk and they took the TV control away from her. She found it (and, regrettably, used it) again at 3. Call to the desk again. 4 am was Mrs. Nutso's bed pan. 5 am it was a new IV tube for Louise (you do NOT sleep through these things), 6 am was her latest blood draw, 7 another EKG, and 8 was breakfast. "Breakfast" may be the same word in "bed and breakfast" and "gurney and breakfast," but it's not the same meal.

The good news is, we're now on the outside, having been cleared for takeoff at 5 pm today. We had to tell them a little fib about having a ride back to the inn, as they do not allow patients to leave without a ride. Of course, Jeff COULD have gone and gotten the tandem ... . When their backs were turned we walked out and over to the public library, which has public access computers.

Little Falls has, as virtually every town of any size does around here, an eclectic mix of commercial, industrial and domestic architecture from throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, somewhat better kept up here than in some towns, interesting to view en route to and from the hospital. And people have been extremely friendly. Several nurses tried to find someone with a pickup truck who could carry us down the road, and everyone has been amused by the groundhog. One nurse volunteered that SHE had been done in by a groundhog, which did a few hundred dollars damage to her car when she hit it.

Well, now for the dinner decision. Our wonderful French restaurant is closed on Mondays as well. We really do need to time our disasters better. So, do we go to the Steakhouse where they hauled Louise out on a stretcher (she apologized to the staff on the way out for the bad publicity), or to one of TWO Chinese restaurants, neither the kind that get mention in your AAA guide? Ah, the mystery! Let's hope at least that we exit without another nap on the floor.

Fondly (and a little painfully), Jeff and Louise

We're Live !

Welcome to our entry into the blogosphere. We hope you enjoy our commentary about the world we see from our tandem bike seats in the posts to follow.