As I have experienced before in North America, Kazakhstan, and Russia, I feel at home again when nature opens up and I am surrounded by open space. For the first hour of this trip, I bike without meeting any signs of civilization, no house, no car, no human.
I arrive in Clifden and the tourist village where I planned to treat myself to a hostel. The Ophelia storm is coming and I have been warned by many people over the last two days. How fierce the storm will be I don’t know, but skipping a night of camping is probably not a bad idea. Clifden has plenty of hotels and one hostel, which still costs 24 EUR a night for a dorm bed. The man who runs the hostel is moody and unfriendly, I pass this place on.
On my GPS, I see that there are three hostels in Letterfrack, at the entrance of National Park Connemara, just 14 km away. I decide to ride there and happen upon the nicest and cutest hostel ever. It is an old monastery house, colorfully painted, filled with books, with a large kitchen and cozy living room with fireplace. Despite the fact the tourist season has ended, I meet some other travelers with whom I instantly get along. I want to stay here. For the first time during this trip I check in at a hostel, and I like it!
The next morning when I wake up, it’s still peaceful outside and there is no sign of an emerging hurricane. I decide to take a walk before the storm arrives. The gate to the national park is closed “due to weather alarm” but I jump over it and walk up the mountain behind the hostel. Here too the landscape is open and I do not have to worry about flying branches or falling trees. It’s a nice walk, the higher I get the stronger the winds. Before noon I arrive back at the hostel. I decide to spend the rest of the day by the fire in anticipation of the raging storm. The other eight guests, like me, decided to stay in today. Together we look at the weather forecast and how the storm gets closer on the radar. We wait and wait and wait, but not much happens. No flying roof tiles, no trees pulled from the ground, no power cuts, no spectacle. When the evening falls, I give up. In the south of the country, Ophelia has caused some damage, which is unlucky. Where I am not much happened, which is also a shame, a storm can be so beautiful. I deliberate pitching my tent next to the hostel for the night, but decide to treat myself to a bed for one more night.
When I leave the hostel the next day, I only have four more days of cycling ahead of me in Ireland. In those four days I will cross the country from the west coast to Dublin on the east coast. The first day of cycling is beautiful, followed by three days crossing farmland on major roads and following bike paths along canals. The land is flat and I’m surprised to see how strong my legs have grown again within just a few months’ time. I can cover long distances within a day. On the fourth day, I only have 30 km of riding to get to the center of Dublin. I cycle along a canal to the edge of Dublin, from there I can bike 6 km through Phoenix park which leaves me with just 1.5 km through the busy city to get to the hostel where I’ll meet with Ulf. Ulf is a friend from the Netherlands who is coming over to spend weekend in Dublin with me. We’ve booked a hostel in the city center and I want to arrive early so that when he arrives I am showered, have picked up groceries and ready to cook a meal for the two of us. I am looking forward to strolling around Dublin together this weekend.
After 20 km, the road goes slightly downhill and I enter Phoenix park through a white gate. I’ve been needing a wee for an hour now and am looking forward to finding public toilets in this park. I scan the area for a restroom building while I’m rolling around the empty boulevard at about 35km/h.
When I look in front of me again, I realize that the white stripe that I had taken for just a mark on the road actually marks a curb. I see how my front wheel approaches it and that there’s no escape. I’m shaving the curb and come flying off my bike. My head touches the ground first and I feel how it smacks the inside of my helmet. The rest of my body follows and folds itself on the ground with a severe pain going through my upper body. I lean forward in the grass and hear myself shouting in pain. I see two men coming running, calling: “Are you OK? Are you OK?”.
When they arrive, they’re not sure what to do. The man tells me he’ll call an ambulance, I tell him I’m not sure if that is necessary, maybe the pain will go away and I can get back on my bike soon enough. More people arrive and a woman kneels down next to me and will stay with me until finally the ambulance will arrive. She thinks I shouldn’t move or try to sit up. I don’t have much choice anyway. The left side of my body hurts and feels heavy. I can move my legs and all my fingers and my hand, my neck feels okay too, luckily. But my shoulder does not feel good, it hurts and feels…strange. I lay on the wet, cold grass and start shivering. They put a scarf and a coat and another coat and another coat over me. Still, I’m shivering from the cold, the pain, and the shock. I feel woozy and tell the woman I think I’m going to faint. And there I go… I’m only out for 2 seconds, but it feels like rollercoaster of nightmares for minutes.
Where is the ambulance? We’ve already heard two, but they both weren’t for me. After 45 minutes it finally arrives, a fire department’s ambulance. Three men take over, put me on a stretcher and roll me into the ambulance. I’m given morphine and they tell me that I can ask for more anytime, because this “ambulance” has no suspension and there’ll be several speed bumps on the way to the hospital. I don’t like painkillers and stick with the first 2.5 milligrams of morphine. The men take care of me, take off my soaked cold shoes and socks and turn up the heater in the ambulance.
The E.R. is busy, extremely busy. The pain is increasing and I ask the men, waiting to take the stretcher I’m keeping occupied, to give me some more morphine. “Unfortunately,” they say, “because we are in the hospital we aren’t allowed to do anything anymore.” The nurses there, however, are too busy to care about me and despite the fact that I tell them I’m in a lot of pain, they won’t give me anything. Finally, they help me go to the toilet, after all, I really needed that wee. Then I am placed in a wheelchair and set aside. The men take the stretcher, they have taken a good care of me. Now I just have to wait and wait for someone to have time to see me. Suddenly I feel it coming again and I call a nurse “I think I’m going to faint, can you come over here?” He looks at me and seems to think “Hmm, I’ll pop over in a bit”’.
When I wake up from another rollercoaster of nightmares, two nurses are kneeled at my wheelchair checking my wrist. Suddenly, there is a bed for me and I get some pain relief. Not much later, the doctor comes over, a caring, friendly young woman. I’m glad I’m lying down again.
Everything goes slowly, but at last I can go for an X-ray. I am being moved through the hallways of the hospital as if my bed was empty, no eye contact is made. I’m a number. After the X-ray, I have to wait again to hear the results.
I keep telling myself that everything is so slow because there are others who need help more and are in a much worse state than me, but it’s hard to be patient when you’re in pain and worried about the diagnosis.
When she says I can’t ride my bicycle for the next six weeks, I cry.
The doctor comes over and tells me the good news that my neck is fine, but unfortunately my collarbone is fractured. She does not like to bring me this news, I can tell, it’s broken near the shoulder, a place that will hurt a lot and heals slow, she says. When she says I can’t ride my bicycle for the next six weeks, I cry for the first time since the crash.
Soon I realize how lucky I am. My neck is intact, my head is intact, and the rest of my body is also fine. If I hadn’t worn a helmet, I don’t know how and even if I would be sitting here today.
They bring me some food while I wait for Ulf, who is coming over to pick me up at the hospital. I may go “home”, provided that there is an adult with me who’ll keep an eye on me, in case there are signs of a concussion.
Meanwhile, it’s evening and before Ulf arrives I get a message that there is a visitor for me, it’s the woman who sat with me in the park this afternoon. When she walks in, I begin to cry immediately, it touches me that she tracked me down and came over to see how I was doing. She brought a toothbrush, bath products, chocolate and juice. An angel!
An hour later, Ulf arrives and after instructions from the doctor and putting on a sling we leave in a taxi to the hostel. I have my bag of clothes with me, my bike and the rest of my stuff is stored in the guardhouse at the gate of Phoenix park.
It is nice to see Ulf. The familiar face of a very sweet friend that I feel comfortable with.
The first night I hardly sleep because of the pain, but I’m very relaxed and can take in what happened. I think about my options: what, where, Canada, The Netherlands? I realize that in the coming weeks I will not be able to do anything but sit. So why wouldn’t I go to the Banff festival in Canada? It’s better to sit at a nine-day festival in the Canadian rockies than on a couch in Tilburg, right? After a phone call with my mother and a chat with Ulf, I decided I’m going to Canada! The next morning, I search the internet for an affordable ticket back from Canada to the Netherlands after the festival. It’s a no-brainer to take my bike there and get on it a few weeks after the festival, so I will send my bags with Ulf and send my bike through mail to the Netherlands afterwards.
It’s a lot of organizing with only one arm, pain, and little energy. I’m going to Canada with only one backpack for 16 days.
On Sunday night it’s time for Ulf to fly back to the Netherlands. I move to Jasper, a friend of mine from the Netherlands who lives in Dublin now. How lucky am I to have a friend from the Netherlands visit and a friend who lives here with whom I can stay, I’m a blessed person.
No cycling for 6 weeks, the doctor said at first, but later I learned that means that after those 6 weeks I can start with little rides again in town, not on a heavy loaded bike, lots of kilometers, around the world. That’ll take a bit more time. I think it’s important to let my collarbone heal well and not get back on the bike to soon. That’s why I’ll go back to the Netherlands. If I’m waiting for it to heal in Canada, sitting next to my bicycle, I’ll definitely get back on it too soon.
You’re only a real cyclist if you have fractured your collarbone at least once.
I find it hard to let go of my riding Canada plan. Although it would be a big challenge, I was looking forward to biking in Canada in winter, in snow. I’m going to let go of that plan. It’s been five days since the crash and I also notice that in a certain way it is nice that I can now make a plan with a completely clean slate. I will be in the Netherlands again and can go any direction I want; South America, Asia, Africa, Oceania. Everything is possible.
The plan to bicycle through Canada in winter started from the fact that I would go there for the festival anyway. Somewhere in the back of my mind I knew that it wasn’t what I would’ve chosen had I not been going to Banff anyway.
Now the canvas is blank and I can paint a whole new plan.
As a friend of mine strikingly said, “You’re only a real cyclist if you have had fractured your collarbone at least once.”
The next Tour de France, I will indeed be able to sympathize more with the guys who come flying off their bikes headfirst, breaking their collarbone and having to leave the Tour.
I’m one of them now.
Tomorrow I fly to Canada. The pain in my clavicle is very bearable as long as I keep my arm still and in the sling.
I don’t have to even think of using or moving it in one way or another.
Fortunately, I have a nice place in Banff where I can stay and I only have to walk to the Banff Center where the festival takes place and back. Banff is tiny.
For nine days I can watch movies, attend presentations and, of course, introduce my own short film PEDAL!
I look forward to the next two weeks in Canada.
After, on November 13th, I land in the Netherlands and then… well, we’ll see about that later.
P.s. I wrote this blog with the speech-to-writing function on my laptop. It’s not unlikely that my style of writing will be a little bit different from usual. Luckily it’s only due to one hand that I can’t use at the moment and not my head.