All the world’s a Curiosity Shoppe
ALL THE WORLD’S A CURIOSITY SHOPPE
“I can’t give you a short cast.”
Pouty face. He looks me in the eye. Our heads are in close proximity and I feel we are sharing our very first real doctor/patient moment. One where he is not three feet away, aloof, and speaking to the translucent vapor across the room that is me.
“Your elbow needs to be stable.”
A slight pause where he holds my bandaged wrist.
“You do know you have a very serious fracture?”
I look down.
“I did a good job,” I say.
“Yes. Yes you did.”
I remember pretty much every bike stack I’ve ever had. I say pretty much, because there are two I hardly remember at all, but know occurred. For the most part, these crashes, come-a-gutsers, and falls are kept in a drawer in the back records room of my brain and are rarely riffled through for old times sakes. Who reminisces about iodine and Band-Aids? Have you ever heard someone start a story with, “Man, I had this scab once that was sooooo crusty and epic!”
There’s no room for sentimental scab stories in any friendship.
But I find myself looking back at these crashes now. Digging through that drawer. Ranking them. To decide where this one falls in the great, grand scheme of eff-ups on a bicycle. There are some I remember purely for the stupid-ness. Some for the spectacular-ness. Some for the scars. But here’s the thing, and it holds true for this latest drama too.
I have never blamed the bike.
It matters not where I fall. On gravel, in tall grass, into trees or ditches, or even other people. It matters not that my knees are a banged up Bayeux tapestry of cuts, scrapes, and road rashes. Like rings in a tree, you can trace my history with bikes via the faded web of welts and hairline scars on knees and elbows. I am beat up. Busted.
It matters not. The bike is never to blame.
Look at this one. I am ten or eleven. On a friend’s BMX with pedal brakes (great for skids!), and my brother and his friend, Sean, spray the gravel road with a hose to make me fall. I slide on the red, pebbly surface wearing only my togs (bathing suit) and a towel around my neck. Turning my body as I slide, ripping knees and palms and ego. Sooking while maintaining brat-like bravado and as much pre-teen dignity as I can muster, I rage:
“You’re gonna be in so much trouble!”
I never blamed the bike. Even in our anger my friend, Belinda, and I continued on our summery way. Knee all bloody. Riding up the road to a swimming hole in the creek and having a dip anyway. Bitching about “those horrible boys!” and freaking out an hour later when I found leeches gleefully attached to my scraped-up knee.
So many bikes! So many falls!
My Dad built me one. It was a modified boys bike. He cut the cross bar and welded it down further on the frame, then reinforced the joins with a metal plate. Bingo, I had a step-through girl’s bike. I even painted it myself. A sparkly, light blue coat. I can see it now, hanging in his workshop, drying.
I rode that bike like I stole it, and crashed it like that’s what it was for.
Once, I flew down the hill near the cattle yards on that bike and hit two giant rocks hidden in a tussock of grass. Crying, clutching my gashed-up arm, I stalked back up the hill to the house. Mum and Dad were in the shearing shed. I dabbed the rocks out of the wound and into the laundry sink, wondering how I was going to hide it. After all, I was supposed to be making smoko for the shearers but, in my infinite daydream-iness, had thought I had time to squeeze in a quick bolt down the paddock and back.
The bike had no brakes. I never really had a bike with brakes as a kid, and would hold the sole of my summer thongs (flip-flops to Americans), to the tire to slow the momentum. All hail the permanent tire-groove in the soles of shoes, or in this case, blue and black $2 K-Mart specials.
“What happened to you?” my brother asked, later.
“I stacked it.”
He shrugged in understanding and sloped off. Stacked it. That’s all you need to say.
The biggest crash I ever had (until this one), I don’t remember at all. That day, I’d gone to Chaffey Dam with my cousins and grandparents. I have no memory. That afternoon, after getting back from this trip I don’t remember, I raced Phil on the flats leading up to the farmhouse. I was riding Uncle John’s childhood bike; a gold-colored, 3-speed, bloke’s bike that I needed to get up on a fence to get on. I loved that bike. It was the first bike I ever learned to ride no-handed on, and was heavy and impressive. Anyway, apparently in the sprint, Phil swerved towards me, I swerved away and BAM! CrankArmageddon!
These were the days before helmets, before Stack Hats. My first memory of this day is my Nan asking me if I was ok while I was in the shower, many hours after. That night they let me stay up later than the other kids. I lay on the couch in my jammies, watching (READ: looking at), the latest episode of Simon & Simon. The adults watched me. Yep, that was a pretty good crash.
I never blamed the bike. But I’m looking pretty accusingly at you, Phil!
And then there was that time I was hit by a blind man in a van. I love putting it that way, but it was a man driving a van for a company that sold and installed blinds. He reversed suddenly out of an alleyway and sent me flying off my bike as I rode home from work. I broke a tiny bone inside my hand. My work colleague, David, was driving down the street at the time and recalled seeing an object flying through the air in his peripheral vision. There was a moment of incomprehension, he said, when he realized it was me. Flying.
But hey, the bike cannot be blamed for things that reverse out of alleys.
Check this one. Standing on the back verandah, I’m about 15 years old. There is a small branch stabbed in above my left knee. I’d been doing skids around a corner, over and over again, and had lost it under the gum tree right in front of the house. I held the stick in place as I hobbled back home, because I’d read somewhere about not pulling things out of wounds. Keeping it steady, I called to Mum through the screen door. The stick was assessed and pulled out, while the knee was dabbed with antiseptic ointment and covered with a sticking plaster.
Many years later, I gave my Mum a very stern look when she noticed the scar and said, “Probably should’ve gotten a stitch in that.”
But the bike remains blame free.
It has been 16 days since my spectacular crash in Virginia, and I remember bits and pieces. But there is one distinct memory. Of the trailer fishtailing very violently and me, accepting the inevitable, right before I dirty-danced with the earth. It is easily the most impressive crash I’ve ever had or hope to have—the helicopter flight to hospital seals that deal—and while I don’t blame Precious, it would be very easy to blame Mr. Zimmerman, the trailer.
Human error in the pursuit of wind-in-the-hair adventure is the one commonality. It is human to be curious. It is human error, and the fear of making another error, that has the capacity to kill the curiosity in us all. And I’m not just talking about crashing bikes, but it’s a good example.
People ask me if I’m afraid to get back on the bike, since I lost it on a downhill and was quite badly hurt. But in never once considering the bike at fault, I find this question puzzling. I’m not afraid of going fast. I’m not afraid of the bike. I’m afraid of windows of opportunity closing and wrists not healing in time.
I’m not afraid to fall. I’m afraid to fail.
I carefully peel the final sticking plaster off my face while at the bathroom mirror. Along my temple is a jagged, rough line where the arm of my sunglasses snapped and got stuck between my helmet and head, cutting me harshly.
I run my finger along this healing wound. Then I just look for a long while. It’s not good.
The scar on my nose is bold and all ‘hi, look at me!’ The doc called it a ‘trapdoor’ scar, due to the shape and flap of skin that had been peeled back, most probably by my helmet visor. I joke later about how they should have installed a headlight in there, for night riding.
Andrew laughed. Sort of. I think I was still concussed.
It’s lucky I’ve never built my life on looks, or this would be quite devastating. Yet looking in the mirror, running my finger over this foreign body on my nose, one that has no sensation and an abrupt drop off, I feel vain. Perhaps for the first time ever.
There’s a trapdoor. On my face.
There’s a trapdoor on my face. What’s in it?
I find myself worrying, fretting about my ability to continue my ride across America. Knowing that there is a fine line between triumph and heartbreak, there are just so many variables right now.
Health. Will the wrist heal in time to continue? I will give it time, of course, but as each week passes the actual window to travel the TransAmerica begins to close. I don’t want to hit the Rockies in bad weather. As it stands now, even if I get back on the road on the date I have in my head, there will no time for lollygagging anymore. No more planning the day on the day. This will be a highly regimented sprint across America. Sixty days.
And with that daily increase in miles, I will need an increase in fitness. Yet, here I am sitting on a couch in Manhattan with a cast that goes up to mid-bicep and a brain that gets the spins when you lay it back or stand up quickly. A person loses no fitness in two weeks of non-riding. We’re talking 6 weeks off here.
When I resume, at the scene of my crash, I will be one day away from my first big climb.
What if I’m physically unable to do this? What if?
There’s a trapdoor on my face. What’s in it?
I worked and worked and worked to save enough money to take four months off with no cash flow. And while I wouldn’t change a thing about the medical care I received—I am very fucking happy to be alive and have a functioning brain—my comfort buffer has been well and truly killed. What’s that? A boil of false financial security? Let me lance that with my reality scalpel while you lie there in that ditch.
So while it’s great and easy to say, “I will 100% pick up where I left off!” what if that is no longer financially possible?
There’s a trapdoor on my face. What’s in it?
For the first time in a very long time I find myself with thinking room. And I’m not just thinking about how lucky I am, or how much I love being alive, or about the people in my life—I think about what it means to be human. It’s dangerous to think too much, but it’s just flowing through me.
I believe we have a duty to be curious. That all the world’s a Curiosity Shoppe, and that by exploring the overstuffed aisles, shelves, and back rooms, by picking things up and turning them over, we discover who we are. Some of the stuff in that shop is total poop-on-your-shoes shit, and there’s also a very strict “You break it you bought it” policy. It’s the breaking it that tests us and makes us change.
Hey, I broke it and I totally bought it, but I’m putting this experience in a box marked TRANSAMERICA ATTEMPT 1 – FAIL and pushing it into the storage room with all the other failures and poorly thought out ideas.
In truth, I don’t know when I’ll be making my second attempt. I have a few Plan A, B, and Cs, and I won’t know which one will be called to the stage for a week or two.
But I do know this—I will never blame a bike for trying to take me places. I will never blame a bike for helping me stay curious. I will never blame a bike for taking me into the Shoppe.
A bike is a ride-able dream. A freewheeling idea. It embodies all it is to be curious about the world. It symbolizes possibility. It laughs at things that seem impossible, and helps you to discover your strengths and limitations. It holds both success and failure harmoniously in its cranks, and you never know which one you’re gonna get. Sometimes you eat the mountain, sometimes the mountain eats you.
Nope, the bike is not the problem.
The bike is the solution.
Three pieces of inspiration
Exhibit 1 – “IF”
Dennis Hopper, you art-loving curious son of a bitch, you will be missed. But I found great comfort in your performance of this great poem. Ride on, Easy Rider!
Exhibit 2 – Failure – The Key to Success
Yes, it’s an ad of sorts, but its heart is in the right place.
Exhibit 3 – Lemonade (full movie)
As I’ve said before, when life gives you lemons, kick it in the lady balls. (Might not work outside US as its on Hulu, but if you get a chance to see this film, do.)