I rode a couple brevets last weekend. The goodness of riding with lots of great company on a sunny day was blighted when one of our companions suffered a heart attack and passed away on Saturday. You can find a better account than I could muster on Mark Thomas' blog here:
I've ridden with Steve some over the last couple years; he was a back of the packer like me so we often leap frogged or occasionally worked together. But he had gotten much stronger this season, so now I might only see him at the start, in some controls, or at overnights on longer brevets.
Steve was a quiet guy. I don’t mean that he was just soft spoken, he just didn’t say a lot. This made us pretty compatible riding partners. Everyone who rides with me knows I’m deaf as a post, especially with a little wind in my ears so on-bike conversations are frustrating for people who ride with me. Still, at controls and stops you always exchange the joys and miseries of the ride, and it is always better to ride with others than to ride alone. I recall our first brevet of this season I thought he had a new bike, shiny and purple. Naw he said, just a new paint job. It was beautiful and I could tell he felt pretty good about it.
On the 1000K I DNF’ed earlier this year I sort of let Steve down. When I came into the Hagans in Arlington late at night and soaked to the bone, as I was getting ready to make a meal in their deli, who came stumbling out of the dark but Steve. I said “where did you come from?” He had been napping by the fire, and said he was waiting for me so we could ride together to Darrington. If I had not been wandering around the store for an hour prior I probably would have taken him up on the offer, but I let my weakness get the better of me and told him I was packing it in. He resolutely went out in the rain and rode on, ultimately finishing the event in fine style.
It was just a couple weeks ago that we attended the PBP riders meeting in Seattle. The club sponsored a get together for all those who would be going to France, as much to connect faces and names as to share past experiences. Sheila and I sat at the same table as Steve and Anita and I recall how excited they were at the prospect.
I’ll miss Steve and think of him while riding PBP. I was actually thinking that somewhere along the way we would probably have the opportunity to ride together and maybe I might benefit from some of his recent fitness gains (that’s the polite way of saying I figured there might be a chance that I could get him to tow me around part of the course).
The hill that Steve was climbing when he had his heart attack is well known to local cyclists. It's steep, exposed to the weather (warm on Saturday but not blistering hot), and the road is straight and narrow so not really any way to zigzag or get out of the way of traffic. One of those places where you just have to point your bike up the fall line and ride.
On that day I was feeling sick; I had stomach distress and was cramping some when I arrived at the base of Curtiss hill. I’d stopped at the Adna store and had a V8 and some cold water. When I made the turn at the bottom of the hill I could see that there were emergency services vehicles near the top and I remember thinking, “I hope that is not support for one of our riders”. By the time I hit the really steep pitch, every pedal stroke was a cramp in the hamstrings. I thought I could tough it out but at one point I nearly tipped over with the pain so I had to get off and walk. By the time I got through that part and on to the more moderate last pitch the scene had cleared and I never gave it a second thought.
I think Steve was riding alone when he was stricken, which I know can be a significant contributing factor on the out come of a heart attack. As a young man I was a volunteer fireman and EMT in a little town in the Cascades for about 10 years and had several occasions to use CPR on real people. It was almost always unsuccessful, we usually arrived on the scene too late. The brain and vital organs don’t tolerate lack of perfusion for more than a very few minutes. But I also know that if someone receives resuscitation immediately after the attack their chances of survival go up, significantly in many cases. IF someone had been riding with Steve, and IF they had known what to do, it is possible that he might have had a better outcome.
I once performed CPR on an accident victim for more than an hour, through the vehicle extrication, the transport, and while in the ER as the doc did his thing (defib, injections etc) and just about the time the doc was going to call him, the victim entered into a spontaneous normal rhythm and respiration pattern. That was an incredible feeling. All the EMT’s who had been involved, and the other firemen who helped out were elated. The doc warned us however that we should not get our hopes up; just because this guy was now ticking and breathing on his own did not mean he would be good as new. This doc was my sponsoring physician as an EMT and he let me know about a week later that the patient had passed away in the hospital in Yakima four days later, never having regained consciousness.
I have been busy making preparations for PBP and have not given much serious thought to my health. The physical I got for PBP was really nothing more than a cursory check. My Dr assumes I am in good enough health for this, and so do I. I’ve never had any heart problems that I know of so assume I’m ‘good to go’. This incident gives me pause, I still think I am fit enough to participate in long distance riding but it makes me think there are things I can do to make myself (and others around me) more safe. I hope it causes you to stop and think for a moment about your personal safety and well being also. Make sure you have some ID on you that is easily accessible (dog tags, a bracelet, or ankle band really helps emergency services folks).
This event has really hit me hard. Death is always so final, and in many cases so sudden. You really don’t get fair warning, it happens and then you are left to deal with the results as best you can. Like Mark I thought about the cliché,”he died doing want he loved” and that gives some solace, but really not enough. I want Steve back; I want to see him up ahead of me on that shiny purple bike. I want the comfort of knowing he’ll be waiting for me on a dark rainy night in a 24 hour grocery store, there to tow me up to the next control.