There is a moment before you tumble off a bike, when you think you might save it, stay upright and continue as if it were a close call but not a fatal one and, in doing so, not besmirch your athletic resume and cycling reputation. Heroic effort comes with a cost. What was bad will often be made worse.
You might as well give a windup toy another half-twist. Put topspin on a forehand. The toy, the ball has extra whoomph and properly struck, explodes when it meets the ground.
My youngest brother, Courtney, and I were riding gravel bikes (wider tires, sturdier and less fussy than road bikes) up Eldridge Grade in Marin County. I was going to show him. I'm from Bakersfield and he was from Bakersfield but he lived in the Bay Area so long I question many things about him including his toughness, fortitude, attitude and certainly his ability to handle a challenging hill on a gravel bike.
I don't care if the trail is beautiful, if there is a body of water every 10 feet, breathtaking stands of eucalyptus so old that the ancient winds still roar through them, climbing a hill is a gut check and I've checked my gut and my gut checked out just fine.
"We're coming to a hill," Courtney said. "It's about as steep as we're going to see."
Hill? Hill, shmill. I invented hills. I'm a highwayman and on these horses I do ride.
I switched smoothly into my hill-climbing gear; I mean I almost did but didn't quite make it. No problem because I'm not a quitter. I yanked the gear lever again and this time the chain slipped, caught and then slipped again.
Status check: I had gone from 5 mph to 0 mph and when the chain slipped for the second time, I hit -0.5 mph. This meant I was sliding backwards down the hill from whence I came.
With no forward momentum or hope thereof, the front wheel started to wave back and forth like a windshield wiper. This was no bueno. I was like a deer that had been shot, jumping in the air for the last time before surrendering to its inevitable death throes.
My options had narrowed and included falling or riding off the side of the hill into a shallow ravine and taking my chances with the puckerbrush on the way to the bottom wherever that was. I opted for slamming down the bike on my left side and hoping it didn't hurt as much as the last several times I've fallen but knowing that it would.
I remembered the spill I'd taken on the front side of Round Mountain Road when I was wearing my red skinsuit, and could I wear a red skinsuit. The good thing about a red skinsuit is after you skitter across the pavement and start bleeding, the blood and skinsuit color coordinate.
When I hit the ground, I could do one of two things: Lay there in a daze or spring up quickly as if I had never fallen in the first place.
"You think that hurt? I'm up. I was barely down for a second."
My left knee, a gravelly, bloody mess, could have been worse. My elbow had a small owie but was already healing. The sides of my bib shorts looked as if they had been belt-sanded but didn't have a hole in them.
Courtney circled back when he heard the whomp.
"Are you OK?" he said in his most concerned voice.
OK? I've never felt better. I'd like to do this loop twice and then go swim across the bay.
We kept going. After you fall, you don't want to fall again. Not on this ride, not ever again.
When we returned to the house after the ride, I bled all over the garage, the sheets in the guest bedroom and on a few towels besides.
I'm fine. I'm from Bakersfield. I sure showed him.
Email contributing columnist Herb Benham at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column appears here on Sundays; the views expressed are his own.