Light in a Dark Place

Sometimes God gives us opportunities above and beyond our everyday choices, chances to shine as a bright light in a dark place. Yesterday I took one of those opportunities, and I’m still reeling from it.

Thursday, February 21, we pushed out our first release of 2019 at work. With President’s Day on Monday and all the snow the previous weeks, I didn’t feel as comfortable as usual. Every working day that week I put in 10-hour days and still felt less well prepared than I like. But that evening I left work at about 6:25 PM relieved and ready to enjoy a slow, dry, “warm” bike commute home before really nasty weather pummeled us again.

I almost didn’t ride. I’d ridden Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, including a 50-mile ride on Monday. By Wednesday evening’s commute of misery (a different story) my legs had plenty to say about doing more miles, and I’d nearly decided to take the bus home. But at the last minute I checked the weather and decided to take advantage of the one last nice day, fatigue be darned.

I’d ridden nary 15 minutes, and had just gotten on the bike trail near Gasworks Park, when I noticed several bikes laid on the ground around the sides of the trail. Then I noticed a cluster of people standing around together off to the side, and one person sitting down.

“Are you okay?” I called.

Nobody answered. That’s when I noticed the face of the lady sitting down. Blood streaked all over her nose, cheeks, and chin.

I stopped.

The bloody lady, named Teresa, had collided with another cyclist, Ben. Ben seemed completely unharmed. Teresa, however, looked terrible. The blood stopped me, but then hearing her talking worried me deeply. Her words came slow and confused.

“Has anyone called 911?” I asked.

Nobody answered.

I remembered from my First Aid classes that in emergencies, you need someone to take charge and start making decisions.

So I called. I explained to the dispatcher that two bikes had collided, and she asked if anyone needed to go to the hospital. At first it seemed uncertain, so the dispatcher asked to talk to Teresa.

“What day is it?” the dispatcher asked. Teresa had no idea.

“How old are you?” To this puzzler, Teresa answered, “What year is it?”

The dispatcher sent first responders and an ambulance.

Burke Bike Crash 2

Burke Bike Crash 1
Firefighters evaluating Teresa. Teresa’s bike, visible leaning in the background, had a tacoed front wheel. The other person in the collision is the cyclist in the blue jacket on the left.

While the firefighters evaluated Teresa, I started talking to the other cyclists standing around. A couple had stopped to help, but two of them had actually witnessed the collision, and the other person in the collision had stayed around, too. I gathered up their names and phone numbers so Teresa could decide what to do, once her brain started working better again.

After having talked with Teresa a little bit while we waited for the firefighters and ambulance, I gathered that she’d just moved from Philadelphia to Seattle in January. Her parents lived in California. She had no roommates or significant others with her. She was completely alone except for one cat.

Completely alone except for me.

Teresa couldn’t process anything at that point. She could barely see; she knew who she was, but couldn’t remember anything about the crash, what was going on, where she was, or anything pertaining to the date.

I couldn’t leave her alone to go to Harborview in that condition. You need an advocate in a hospital, someone to make sure you get blankets and water and to help answer questions various doctors have asked a million times before. I didn’t know anything about her, and I couldn’t help with questions about insurance, home address, or family. But I could make sure she didn’t spend the night confused, uncomfortable, and alone in the hospital.

As a parent, I can imagine how it would feel if my child was alone and injured in a strange place. I’d want someone to take care of my child until I arrived.

Honestly, I didn’t even debate what to do. I gave my bike to the firefighters, who housed it and Teresa’s bike until we could reclaim them, and I went in the ambulance with Teresa to Harborview.

Bike Crash 3
In the ambulance, Teresa really wanted reassurance that someone had taken care of her bike. Naturally.

We arrived there at about 7:00 PM, I think. At that point we passed through a portal into Hospital Time, some kind of strange spaghettification zone where everything takes 10 times longer than you ever imagined possible.

Bike Crash 4
Arriving at Harborview.

I’ll summarize about eight hours in the hospital by saying that, after x-rays, a head and neck CAT scan, and a careful evaluation by a oral/maxillofacial specialist, the doctors concluded that Teresa had a concussion, a fractured nose, fractured sinuses, and a really nasty hole in her lip where her teeth had poked all the way through.

The bearded doctor in the picture above sewed Teresa up quite expertly–he turned out to be a facial surgeon who’d also gone to dental school, really the perfect person for the job. He found a piece of Teresa’s tooth in her lip. Ew.

In the infinitely long interludes between doctor visits, Teresa and I chatted. At first she kept forgetting what we’d talked about, but within a few hours, she started getting much more lucid.

After an embarrassingly long time, I remembered I had an entire change of clothes in my bag. I felt much better after I’d changed out of my bike shorts. Then I remembered I also had a sandwich, brought as dinner for the release, but that I didn’t feel like eating before I left. With these two realizations, the stay became so much more bearable for me.

Throughout the night, I made sure Teresa had blankets and, later, water and the painkillers she felt comfortable taking (Tylenol only, please). I advocated for Teresa with the doctors and nurses, asking when the next step would happen and making sure we didn’t get forgotten. I also kept all her belongings with her (except the shirt they had to cut off her — sorry, shirt), facilitated a phone call with her mom in California, and sent messages for her until she recovered enough to use her phone herself.

Her mom bought tickets to fly to Seattle arriving at noon today, and I promised her I’d take care of Teresa until she arrived. I worried that Teresa shouldn’t go home to her empty apartment in Ballard all by herself after Harborview discharged her. Who would get her painkillers and water if she needed them? What if she got worse — who would monitor her?

We brought her home to our house.

Easier said than done, of course; we had a logistical nightmare, arranging for Deborah to come and stay at our house at 2 AM while Ian drove to Seattle to retrieve us. But by the kindness and grace of our family, we did it. At about 3:15 AM I installed Teresa in our guest bedroom with extra pillows (using our oldest pillow cases and a large towel; her facial road rash continued oozing for some time, plus the hospital equipped her with lots of ointment for her face) and Ian and I put ourselves to bed.

I found it hard to sleep, having spent the last 22 hours not only awake, but under extreme pressure. Eventually I must have drifted off, only to awaken again when Benji got up at 5:20 AM to go potty.

In the morning we had a car logistical shuffle; I needed a car to go get my bike from the fire station in Fremont, while Ian and Benji needed to drive to Redmond. Mom and Dad loaned us a car, possible because Dad had gotten a cold and decided to work from home.

During the day I “worked” from home, but “working” on what could only generously be described as two hours of sleep didn’t go real well. Fortunately, my boss understood when I explained the situation. I also rescued my bike from the fire station and made sure Teresa got plenty of water in the times she felt like being up. We chatted a bit more, and I learned more about Teresa. She’s a lovely person, a Christian who’s looking for a church home having just moved here (I recommended Bethany in Ballard) and a postdoc doing chemical engineering research at the UW.

Teresa’s mom arrived from the airport at our house about 1:15 PM and swept Teresa back off to Ballard for some family care.

Teresa and I had a long, sincere hug before she left. She has my phone number, and I’m pretty sure that’s not the last I’ll see of her. You can’t go through this without some connection. I certainly feel like I’ve got a special place in my heart for Teresa, and I know I won’t ever forget the last 24 hours.

Why’d I do it? So many reasons. Jesus calls us to care for the widows and orphans, and until her mom got here, Teresa was basically an orphan. She was my neighbor. She needed that care so desperately, care we could give. Then, too, I mentioned before that I knew she’s someone’s daughter. I wouldn’t want someone to leave my child hurt in that situation, and I couldn’t do that to her, either. And of course there’s the Golden Rule: Next time I could be the one on the pavement having no memory of what just happened. Who would take care of me?

Why’d I spend the night in the hospital and house a total stranger?

‘I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.’

Matthew 25:36 (MSG)

Why do I share all this? Not to toot my own horn or try to show what a great person I am, but to show that every single one of us has these opportunities. The question is what we do when they arise.

Open Letter to Specialized

Having run out of options to get financial recompense from FedEx, BikeFlights.com, and USAA to replace my S-Works frame, I’ve sent Specialized the following letter. I don’t expect it to make any difference, but it can’t hurt.

(In case you missed this story, here’s the background:
Crushed, Frame Damage Update, Acceptance, Bike Update)

Dear Specialized,

My name is Katie Ferguson. This June my family splurged on an S-Works Tarmac disc to replace my 2015 Cannondale SuperSix Evo. The full-price S-Works was a huge financial stretch for us, but worth every penny. The crisp responsiveness, zippy power transfer, and incredible lightness combined with the unbelievable comfort made it a joy to ride, by far the most wonderful bike I’ve ridden in my almost 15 years of cycling. I told my friends that it offered all the benefits of the best race bike combined with the comfort of my long-time commuter bike. I named it Swift, after the bird.

And, of course, the chameleon/salmon paint job made it the first bike I’ve ever owned that I actually liked the color. (I’m in the blue jersey on the left.)

On it, I trained for and rode the Levi’s Gran Fondo in October, finishing 7th of the women who did the full 117-mile/11,000-ft Growler route. As a Seattle-area native, I reveled in the glories of riding in Northern California, a new and delightful experience for me. The beauty and challenge combined with the pleasure of riding my S-Works made it some of the best riding of my years on the bike.

Shooting Meteor 3

But then: tragedy.

On the shipment back to Seattle from Levi’s, FedEx crushed the frame of my S-Works.

I’d had it professionally boxed in a hard-sided Thule case, but that didn’t matter; my frame was totaled. And I had opted out of insurance, trusting my case to protect the bike. When I filed a claim, FedEx and BikeFlights.comeach sent me a check for $100. The only silver lining was that only the frame sustained damage; all the components, including the wheels, appeared to come through unscathed. I’d ridden the S-Works a mere 2,000 miles before it was destroyed.

Since then, my family has saved to pay to replace the frame. While my local bike shop, Woodinville Bicycle, has generously offered me 30% off a frame replacement, I’ll be honest: We can’t easily afford to buy and build up the same bike again. I’ve also been waiting for the new color schemes to come out, so I can obtain another bike as beautiful as my destroyed bike.

My two requests for you, then, are:
1. Can you please let me know when to expect the new colorways? I’ve been waiting since October for some size 49 S-Works disc ladies’ frame choices that aren’t red and white.
2. Would Specialized be interested in helping me replace my frame at a lower cost than my bike shop can offer? I know you are cyclists, too, and that means you can imagine the anguish and sorrow I experienced at finding my beautiful, beloved, brand-new frame destroyed in shipping — with no financial recourse from the shippers or our insurance company.

You say that believe that bicycles have the power to change lives, and it’s true. Now you have the opportunity to help change my life directly, to change this story from a tragedy into a romance, where the beloved and its lover get back together after so many travails.

I look forward to hearing from you, and to the day when my rebuilt S-Works and I can be reunited once more.

Cold, Dark, and Rainy

At last the weather has entered the classic Washington pattern of short, dim days, heavy cloud cover, and copious rain. Not that I prefer these conditions, but as a Washington native, it doesn’t feel like winter until the rain starts.

Well, yesterday the rain certainly started… And didn’t stop. By the time I got home, nary a square inch of me remained dry. That’s no big deal, but it was also quite windy, which I don’t care for.

Because of the wind, and the difficulty of seeing in dark, rainy conditions, I opted to take the Burke-Gilman Trail home from Seattle, rather than going across the 520 bridge and up through Kirkland. Especially lately, I’ve felt really nervous about riding down Market Street. At every intersection, cars turn right across the bike lane, and they never stop or seem to notice me. It’s very anxiety-inducing.

Plus, riding in the dark with car headlights blazing into my eyes, with raindrops refracting their light, it’s nearly impossible to see what’s ahead of me. I have super-powerful lights, but they don’t help when my vision is obscured.

So I took the Burke.

In the summer I don’t care for the Burke: too many other people, too flat, too boring, and a couple miles longer.

But in these conditions, there aren’t many other people, and flat and boring mean predictable, which is exactly what I want. Plus, with no cars, it not only feels safer, but it’s much easier to see.

When I got home, I realized something else: going across 520, I have 14 stoplights from the time I leave the UW to the time I get home. But riding on the Burke, I have only two stoplights.

Here’s a typical across-the-520-bridge commute:

Here’s the on-the-Burke around the north end route:

As a result, when I checked my times at the end, I had the odd experience of having a longer moving time (1:22 for 21.4 miles, versus 1:16 for 19.5 miles… Don’t judge me! It’s December, it’s dark, wet, windy, and nasty. You try riding faster.) but a shorter overall time (1:23 versus 1:29). I spent almost 15 minutes stopped when I went through Kirkland, compared with only one minute stopped going on the Burke.

So that’s interesting. My take-away: I may mix up my commutes more, especially on those dark, wet days when riding in traffic is extra-dangerous.

A Little Bike Commuting Math

Today, for the first time all week, I didn’t get soaked by rain on my commute home! I’m not complaining about the rain; not really. We’ve had an exceptionally dry November, with an unparalleled number of beautiful Saturdays that let us keep riding our fast bikes far later than usual. I expect to commute home in the rain most days between November and April, so I’ve just enjoyed all these bonus dry days.

Of course, that all changed this week, which we kicked off with 1.4 inches of rain on Monday. I had forgotten how difficult it is to see in the pitch dark in the rain, with raindrops on my glasses and car lights refracting and my glasses fogging up every time I stop.

On rainy days I wear my Gore jacket, which is phenomenal (although I think the colored sleeve patches are soaking through…). But it’s very light, and the directions specifically say “Use with backpack not recommended” — I assume because it wears through too quickly. So on rainy days I take my pannier and go just a little slower. Meh, I’m so slow anyway in these conditions, it honestly doesn’t matter much.

BUT! Today, as aforementioned, it didn’t rain. Plus, I’m working from home tomorrow and have to carry my laptop. For this, I use my Timbuk2 backpack, which has a perfect cozy padded laptop pocket. Okay, honestly I’m not sure if it’s cozy; I’ve never actually cozied up into the pocket, but I imagine my laptop would say it’s cozy, based on how fuzzy and soft it feels inside.

Anyway… I don’t use the backpack most of the time because, frankly, it’s enormous and I don’t need that much volume most of the time. Long story short, today not only did I need to carry my laptop, but I had some extra cargo that required the larger bag.

If only it wasn’t so darn heavy when it’s fully loaded like that. By the time I’m three or four miles from home, my back has started sending out semaphores, flares, etc., to alert me to the level of discomfort I’m feeling. It’s not fun. 

I wondered, as I waited at a stoplight and tried to take the bag weight off my poor, long-suffering shoulders and upper back, how much all this hoo-hah weights. I estimated about 10 lbs for the bag, fully loaded.

One of the things about having my brain is that you immediately decide to quantify stuff if you can. So when I got home, I got out the scale and did some quick measurements. A few little calculations later, and I got my answers:

Fully loaded bag, including laptop: 7.4 lbs
All the gear I’m wearing*: 8.2 lbs
Commuter bike with rack, fenders, pedals, lights, bike computer, the works: 22.4 lbs

By far the most surprising thing to me was the weight of all the clothes and gear. It never occurred to me that I’d be carrying that much extra in layers. Maybe that’s part of why it feels so much harder to ride in inclement weather… And, also, my bike was lighter than I expected: I thought previously it weighed in at 27 lbs. Must’ve lost some water weight since then.

In any case, if I’m looking for reasons I’m so much slower commuting now than in June, I probably need look no farther than these:

  • It’s dark and I slow down for safety.
  • It’s wet and I slow down for safety.
  • I’m carrying a lot of extra weight in winter gear.
  • I’m riding my heavier bike all the time now.
  • I ate some extra donuts once I finished that Gran Fondo.

Cyclists are so good at excuses!

*All the gear I’m wearing includes counts the weight of all the extra wintertime gear: helmet with light, shoes, booties, and jacket. It doesn’t count the regular base layer of shorts, jersey, etc. that I wear all the time. In retrospect I probably shouldn’t have included shoes, since I have to wear those no matter what. Oh well.

Poem to the Rain

I’ve been more wet —
showering.

I’ve cycled to the sun and under the harvest moon
The hum of tires, the shussssh of the wind 
singing counterpoint to my joyful heart-tune.

I’ve been more wet —
swimming.

I’ve fought, dug deep, eyes on a wheel
Discovering strength through pain, 
a core of ever-forging steel.

I’ve been more wet —
bubble-bathing.

I’ve ridden the miles that build
A firm friendship foundation,
reward of valuable time fulfilled.

I’ve been more wet —
But I’ve never been more happy.

Bike Update

Let’s see, what’s happened since I last updated about this mess?

I filed a claim with FedEx. They wrote me a check, and I was briefly really excited… Until I learned it was only $100, again, the full extent of their liability since I didn’t buy extra insurance.

All I need is another 48 payments like that and I’ve got the frame replacement covered!

So, that finishes off any possible claims with people who did the shipping. They agree that I have a legitimate claim, but they just don’t have to pay fully to make it right.

Meanwhile, our homeowners insurance has rejected the claim unless I can prove somehow it was one of the 16 perils listed in our policy. Which is impossible. I can’t imagine how I, or anyone, would determine exactly whether something was dropped on to the box, or whether the box fell off a truck, or what.

I have contacted John Duggan, a lawyer specializing in bike issues, to get some advice. But lawyers are expensive, so I don’t want to waste a lot of time and resources going down that road. I suspect all the parties involved–BikeFlights, FedEx, and USAA–all are thoroughly covered with impenetrable armor of legal language absolving them of any responsibility.

It’s so frustrating. I made one possibly wrong choice–to not get shipping insurance–and now even though I did nothing wrong, my family suffers the consequences. The insurance was super expensive (relatively) and I thought my box would protect it. I guess I feel like I’m not the one who crushed the frame. Why am I the one who gets punished? Why do we pay for homeowners insurance if they can just weasel out of paying for personal property damage?

I’m just disgusted with the whole system, and resigning myself to not replacing the bike. I have my old Cannondale. I can’t justify spending that much again on what is ultimately a toy.

Acceptance

A little over a week since I learned my S-Works was destroyed, and I’m starting to be able to think about it more calmly. I guess I’m slowly accepting this reality, where I spend my free time trying to submit claims to different faceless, soulless corporations, and they find reasons not to cover the expenses. I’m also coming to accept that it’s very likely we will end up eating the full cost of replacement.

At the same time, I’m finally starting to believe that there are things to be thankful for.

  • I wasn’t riding my bike when it got damaged. Nobody was hurt.
  • It got damaged on the way home, not on the way to the Gran Fondo. I got to do all that lovely California riding on the S-Works! (I set one of the pictures from that weekend as my desktop at work, and it feels very bittersweet to look at it and see my beautiful bike that is, for now, ruined.)
  • It’s only the frame. Everything else seems fine, which makes fixing it that much more manageable. Frames still run $4500, but there are crash replacements and some hope I won’t have to pay full price. Time will tell there.
  • It wasn’t my pink bike. The S-Works was phenomenal, and a joy to ride, but it was all new stock parts that are easy to get replacements for. I’ve customized my pink bike so much, I don’t think it’s possible to get all the parts if something were to happen to it. Plus I ride the pink bike every day. I’d miss it more, I think.
  • I have my Cannondale. I couldn’t bring myself to part with my old bike, and now I’m glad I didn’t. That reluctance means I now have something faster to ride than my commuter bike on Saturdays.
  • I have a hope of replacing it some day. Financially that’s nothing to sneeze at.

So I get to be thankful. There’s so much to be thankful for. I see it more every day.