by Cam McRae
Crashing is an inevitable part of the kind of riding we do. Without the occasional toss the learning curve remains impossibly steep. So we sometimes find out what we are capable of by butting heads with what we haven’t figured out yet. For me this usually sends me back to work on skills in a more controlled environment – off the trail usually. For a couple of weeks I had been struggling with my riding. My confidence had disappeared and was replaced by a timidness that was sucking much of the joy out of my trail time. Don’t get me wrong – I was still happy to be out there – but that magical feeling of progression was absent and I wasn’t falling either.
Because of all of this I was looking forward to my weekend outing. I was heading to Whistler for my buddy Cedric’s stag. Our activity for Saturday was to ride the lifts and check out the new trails the good folks up there had been building. This was great because aside from Craig these lads weren’t my usual riding buddies. I was also stoked to get tons of vert in and get the stinky monkey of lame riding off my back.
Gareth Dyer and Thomas Vanderham
Photo Blake Jorgenson
The Friday evening of the stag was as you might expect. Beer soaked buffoonery was the order of the night. I was trying to pace myself some for the next day’s riding – such was the level of my excitement – but I went to bed drunk as a skunk nonetheless.
Surprisingly we got off to an early start and were on the lift shortly after 10. We started off slowly and did some fine tuning of the rental bikes. We rode B line and Ho Chi Min trail and some of the easier lines for the majority of the morning. Some of my buddies had raved about A line and I was eager to try it out. It turned out to be an amazing giggle fest with banked corners and table tops galore. There are times on the trail when it seems like you are spending more time off the dirt than on. The best part is that it becomes more fun each time you ride it; as you gain the confidence to carry more speed you hit more of the transitions and that Lightspeeder feeling wells up.
We did A-Line a couple of times and then tried our luck on Joyride – the most technically difficult trail on Whistler Mountain. Joyride (the single track not the biker x track) was built for a competition that was to be held in 2000. It was to be a contest for downhillers and freeriders to sort out who is the best all rounder. The contest fell apart at the 11th hour but the trail remains and has actually been added to. There are some really fun and challenging steep sections, a long log portion and enough gnarl to keep most Shore riders happy. This was over the head of most of our group but a couple of them did really well.
After this we were ready to head to the top. Jason Roe hooked us up with Mike, one of the guides, for a trip to the roundhouse. The views were amazing but we came down fireroad mostly because we were such a motley crew. When we reached Olympic station it was time to choose our final trail for the day and it was an almost unanimous cry for “A-line!” I was feeling pretty good and we flowed things until we were above the bikercross course. We finished most of our runs on the course and I was gaining confidence with some of the bigger gaps and table tops and this was our last hurrah so I was amped. The final table top has quite a lip (at least it did then) and I am told it was between 25 and 30 feet across to make the tranny. I had made it on my previous attempt so this time I didn’t scrub off as much speed and let ‘er rip. The last thing I remember is thinking “oh shit” shortly after leaving the lip. I messed up the take off and my rear wheel kicked up immediately.
The next thing I remember is “waking up” in Emergency. The fog lifted and I became aware just as the Doctor was looking in on me. I haven’t spoken to anyone who saw me pile (the lads were behind me) but the evidence suggests I landed largely on my head and upper body. I was completely out for somewhere between 2 and 5 minutes. To add drama to the scene I was making a noise that was described as “a sailor warming up to spit.” When I opened my eyes – and for the next 4 hours – I asked 2 questions of my buddies. “What happened” and “did I cut my mouth” were the extent of my inquisitive conversational repetoire.
When my wounds were tallied I ended up with 12 stitches inside and outside of my mouth, some really good scrapes over most of the unpadded parts of my body, several bruised ribs, one fractured, and one head injury. Long after most of me started to feel better my head continued to be a problem. I had pain behind my eyes and I became fatigued easily. My memory also had more than the usual gaps but it seems that has cleared up for the most part. The upside was that I slept incredibly well for a couple of months. Each night was a very short coma.
I am one lucky bastard. Considering the amplitude of the crash and the way I landed I am pretty pleased to have come out the way I did. After 3 months my noggin was mostly back to normal operations. Without my Giro full face helmet – which I only picked up a few months before – I would undoubtedly be in much worse shape today (the Doc used the words “reconstructive surgery”). The jaw piece took much of the initial impact and the helmet is scraped everywhere. I would have been spared the rib damage – which kept me off my bike longest – had I worn my chest protection.
There was a time when folks asked me if I was going to change my riding habits or even look into bridge or lawn bowling. I have become more thoughtful and the days when I step back from stunts are still more frequent than they were but there is no way I’m giving up riding trails. Needless to say I was back on the dirt in a couple of months and I’m looking forward to riding season and even Whistler more than ever.
PS – I’d like to thank all of the people who helped scoop me off the mountain and patch me up. I wish I could remember some of you but I can’t – not even a glimmer. Thanks very much for taking such good care of me – and for taking care of everyone else as well.