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2018 Coulee Challenge 1200k Grand Randonnée Day 3: West Salem to Winona, Minnesota USA

2018 Inaugural Coulee Challenge Grand Randonnee

Midwest Hill Repeat Jubilee in Midwest, USA

1204km/753 miles of Driftless Heaven

August 13-16th, 2018

Apple Valley, MN USA

ENDLESS BLUFFS

MIGHTY MISSISSIPPI

RIVER VALLEYS

UNGLACIATED REGION OF THE MIDWEST

DAY 3 CONTINUED:

Wednesday, August 15th at 9:15 pm

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Sunset Blessings.  Photo credit Kit Oslin

WEST SALEM CONTROL:  We arrived at the 4th control (mile 155/571 total miles) at around 9:15 pm.  After this control, we had one more control in Holmen before the overnight.  I refueled quickly.  From this point, we had 41 miles to Winona to our overnight.  I was getting tired and was looking forward to getting some sleep.  In total, I had 8 hours of sleep since starting on Monday.  My goal was to get 5 hours of sleep on this last night.

We left the Kwik Trip at about 9:40 pm and headed north onto Co Rd M.  It was a long gradual hill climb.  The road was a 2 lane road with a double yellow center line.  Unfortunately, this road had a very limited shoulder.  We were on this road for seven miles before we turned off.  We all had our standard Randonneurs USA regulation reflective gear on (reflective vest and ankle bands) as well as front and rear lights. The order of our pace line was Scott, me, Bob and Kit.  We were visible.

We headed in a single file, moving slow and steady on Co Rd M.  We were visible.  

We continued to move up the hill in a comfortable pace to stay together to be noticed and more visible.  With the double yellow line in the middle, cars behind us had to wait to pass.  The posted speed limit was 55 mph.  We were riding in a single file.  We were visible.

At about 2 miles out of the control, I recall thinking to myself that I wished I did not forget my rear mirror.  It’s funny because this was the first time in the entire event (at mile 573) that I remember wanting to have my mirror.  Truth be told, I felt uneasy on this road.  It was dark and we were on a climb up a two lane road, with almost no shoulder.  I recall thinking to myself that I would be glad to get off this road.

The four of us moved slow and steady up the hill.  We were riding in a single file.  We were visible.  We were visible.

Then all of a sudden, I heard a loud crash behind me.

My heart seemed to stop.

The hair on my neck stood straight up.

Conversation in my head:  “Oh shit.  That sounded REALLY BAD.”

I held my composure and continued to move off the road on the limited shoulder available to stop.  I did not hear Bob behind me.  I stopped my bike.  Scott stopped as well.

All of a sudden, a medium sized car darted in front of Scott and me and stopped abruptly.  The car cut us off.  We were lucky that the car did not hit us.  The driver got out of the car and began screaming and running onto the road.  From what I could tell in the dark, she appeared to be a younger driver.  She was holding her hands on her head, yelling, screaming, crying and frantically running around in a circle.

I then screamed “Oh my God Scott, that did not sound good.  Scott, that did not sound good. Oh my God, Scott!”  I did not turn around.

The time was around 10:07 pm.

We were visible…

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Spot Tracker details:  Blue dot is the West Salem Control.  The Green Circle is where I heard the loud crash.

I became very scared.  I asked myself, “What just happened?”  Initially, I was too scared to turn my head to look behind me.  Deep down, I knew what had just happened. Someone behind me had been hit by a car.

This can’t be happening.  We were visible.

I was frozen for about 2-3 seconds.  Then something in me shifted very quickly. I went from cyclist to clinician mode.  I took a deep breath and exhaled.  Then, I turned my head to the right to assess the situation.  There was a house to our right.  I looked back and both Bob and Kit were not behind me.  It was dark.  I could not see them initially as my eyes were adjusting.  After about a second, I was able to see more clearly.  Both Bob and Kit appeared to be down in the ditch.  I immediately told Scott to call 911.  At that same moment, there were people running out of the house towards us.  I then screamed to them to call 911.

I swiftly got off my bike.

I had to secure all of us and make sure we were safe on the side of the road, RIGHT AWAY.  I proceeded to get onto the middle of the road waving my hands and screaming with the goal to stop a vehicle.  I was able to stop a truck.  We needed immediate shelter on this road.  I knew with the speed limit, dark road and minimal shoulder that we were all in additional danger now.  I asked the driver in the truck to stay parked behind us with the hazards on to shelter us.  I worked in a Level 1 trauma center and knew all too well the danger we were in on the side of the road.

I took a moment.  The facts became more clear to me:  (1) 911 was called, (2) The scene was more secure (3) a truck was providing us some safety and shelter until the police and ambulance arrived.

I then moved towards Kit and Bob in the ditch.

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Spot Tracker details: Close up of the accident.  Bottom yellow dot is where the accident occurred.

As I proceeded to walk towards Bob and Kit in the ditch, I took another deep breath.  I saw that Bob was getting up. I went to him and asked him if he was ok.  He said yes.  He was obviously very shaken.  In the background, I could hear the driver of the car crying and moving around the scene as I followed her voice.  She then began to move into my field of vision towards Kit.  I yelled to her to STOP and to not touch her or move her.  I then swiftly escorted the driver to the side of the road.  I asked the people who came out from the house to stay with her.  She was now safe off of the road.

I then turned back to Kit and took a very deep breath.  She was laying there motionless in the ditch, but closer to the road.  Her bike was 10-15 feet away from her.  I went to Kit and kneeled next to her, close to her ear.  I then took another deep breath and called her name, “Kit, Kit are you ok?  Can you hear me?”  She was quiet at first and did not move or say anything.  I took another deep breath.  “Kit, Kit are you ok? Can you hear me?”  I asked again.  And then she quietly answered “Yes, I can hear you.  I think my leg is broken.”  I exhaled.  A heavy sigh of relief came over me.  I asked her if she could feel her toes and legs; she replied yes. I then asked her if she could move her toes; she replied yes. Finally, I asked her to tell me her full name; she replied correctly.  By that time, the Sheriff had arrived and began to assess the accident scene and came to Kit.  We were informed that an ambulance was on the way.

I stayed with Kit to support her head and make sure she was ok.  I wanted her to stay alert as the Sherrif began to ask questions.  I did not want her to lose consciousness.  The Sheriff began to get reports from all of us about the accident. Then, another police car arrived on the scene.  The second police car parked like a barricade to block us off.  That police officer exited the car and went to the driver of the car.  Scott then proceeded to call the race organizers to let them know of the accident.

About 5 minutes after the accident, the ambulance arrived.  They came to us and began taking care of Kit.  I knew she was in excellent hands and moved away to allow them to assess her.  I walked away and exhaled again.  I was in shock to what had just happened and tears began rolling down my face.  I took a minute to allow me to feel these feelings.  I then saw Bob moving around the scene.  I stopped the emotions I was feeling and went to check in with Bob again.  He said he was ok and had just called his wife.  He was obviously very shaken.  Scott came by us and we waited to see what was going to happen. All three of us stood by one another.  As I looked at their eyes, my eyes began to fill with tears.  And I could see Bob and Scott do the same.  We were quiet.  There were no words.

What had happened? We were wearing our reflective gear. We had out lights on. Why didn’t that driver see us? Was the driver distracted?  We overheard the sheriff say that the young girl, who appeared to be around the age of 16-18 y/o, said she was “reaching for her vape” when she hit Kit and Bob.  I felt sick to my stomach.  I felt like I was going to vomit.

I walked away from Scott and Bob.  We were visible, yet that did not matter.  I was thankful that Kit and Bob were going to be ok, from what I could tell.  It could have been so much worse for them.  I could have been much worse for all of us.  I felt like I was going to be sick, again.

I walked around a bit around the scene to digest what had just happened.  I worked on some deep breathing exercises to remain calm and try to soothe myself.  I then called my friend Eric Peterson, who was also on the Coulee Challenge, to tell him what had happened.  I wanted to let Greg Smith, one of the Coulee Challenge brevet organizers, know what had happened. Eric said he would contact Greg to let him know.

Two sheriffs and an ambulance were on the scene.  The Coulee Challenge organizers had been called as well.  We waited for one of the organizers from the Grand Randonnee to arrive.   I spent this time between checking in with Kit and talking to the owners of the house who had come out to help us. They were very helpful to us to make sure we had anything we needed.  As time passed, the family of the young driver of the car arrived.

I walked over to examine the car that hit Kit. The passenger side mirror was completely off.  Additionally, there was a large crack in the front window on the passenger side. It was unbelievable.  Again, I felt completely sick to my stomach.  She was reaching for her vape?  Anger then crept in…

Greg Smith, RBA of Driftless Randonneurs and Coulee Challenge organizer, arrived to provide assistance.  Kit was taken care of medically.  Greg made sure that Scott, Bob and I were doing ok.  He was very supportive and concerned about us.  He then said, “You better get moving if you are going to continue.”  That seemed so pointless to me at the time, I actually seemed to forgot I was doing the event.  I wasn’t sure if I could continue.  The three of us then talked about continuing and all agreed to continue and stay together.  I wasn’t sure how far I could go, but I would give it a try.  I would continue to move forward for Kit.

We were stopped and off of the bike for approximately 2 hours.

We said goodbye to Kit and Greg and got back on our bikes.  We started moving again at approximately 12:15 am heading north up the hill on Co Rd M.  We had 5 miles to go on this road until we would be turning off onto Co Rd W.

5 MORE MILES ON THIS ROAD.  5 MORE MILES ON THIS ROAD.  5 MORE MILES ON THIS ROAD.  5 MORE MILES ON THIS ROAD.  5 MORE MILES ON THIS ROAD.

Damn.  I could not wait to get off of this road.  Damn, I wish I had my mirror.  Damn, why did that girl have to reach for her vape?  In this dark moment, the blessing was so apparent. I opened the 2nd present of the day to reveal the clear blessing Kit, Scott, Bob and myself received that evening.  It was so very clear.  As the sign said at the bottom of the Blessing Box I saw earlier that day near Viroqua said, “But most of all, Be Blessed.” How so true, so very true…

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near Viroqua, Wisconsin

Truth be told, I was scared.  The accident really shook me up.  The three of us moved slow and close together.  We were quiet.  We had 40 miles to the overnight in Winona.  We had 1 more control before the overnight.

We were all shaken up and very quiet.  Every time a car would pass us, I had a very difficult time.  I perceived each vehicle to be too close to us.  I felt that every time a vehicle passed us that we were in danger, again.  Damn, I wish I had my mirror.  Additionally, I kept hearing the crash behind me.  This was a recurring theme every few miles in the dead of the night.  Not only was this difficult because of the crash and the psychological impact it had on me, we had some challenging climbing ahead.  The sections remaining from West Salem and Holmen had 51 and 61 feet per mile of climbing respectively.  I tried to concentrate on something else, like my favorite saying I use when I need some positive energy on these longer events that goes like this “Pedal. Smile. Repeat. Pedal. Smile. Repeat. Pedal….Pedal…Pedal…” but there wasn’t any smiling going on.  I was having a very difficult time emotionally.  I said my saying a few times to see if it would help, but it did not.  So I just quit saying it.  I put my head down and continued to pedal.  We were all quiet as we continued to climb towards Holmen.

At cumulative mile 583, we arrived at the last control in Holmen, Wisconsin.  We had 30 miles to the overnight. We refueled quickly and began the final leg to Winona.

I was an emotional mess.

Since the accident, I was having a very difficult time.  I kept hearing the crash behind me. Every vehicle that passed us, I moved all the way to the right of the shoulder, almost moving off the shoulder into the grass.  We all tried to stay together.  It was getting very late.  I was tired.  I was scared.  And behold, the randonneur witching hour arrived…

With each pedal stroke, I was becoming more anxious.  With a combination of the accident and cumulative fatigue factor, my mind was nearing overload.   I was hoping this overload would be able to make it to Winona, but it became more difficult with each mile that passed.

At mile 187 for the day, we turned off W Prairie Rd onto WI-35 N/WI-54/Great River Road heading west. It was around 3:40 am.  There was a large shoulder on the road.  Unfortunately, my mind was nearing max overload.  My anxiety continued to rise.  I kept hearing the accident behind me every 1/2 mile.  I kept turning my head back to look behind me.  There was nothing behind me.  My pedal strokes slowed down.  Scott and Bob pulled ahead.

OVERLOAD.

OVERLOAD.

OVERLOAD.

I was on WI-35 N/WI-54/Great River Road for about 2 miles when I hit my overload.  Bob and Scott were ahead of me and I felt extremely unsafe on the road despite having a very large shoulder with minimal traffic.  I was in full-blown paranoia.  In retrospect, I felt like Sigourney Weaver in Alien when the Alien was right next to her and she could barely breathe.IMG_6335  I could not breathe and it was getting harder.  I felt boxed in.  The accident, the noise of the accident, the recurring noise of the accident combined with my emotional fatigue was completely suffocating me.  I. COULD. NOT. BREATHE.  At 3:50 am, I passed the Hillside Fish House on the right.  I had 7.6 miles to the overnight in Winona.  I had 149 miles to the finish of the Coulee Challenge, but I was done.  My legs and body felt fine, but my mind had enough.  I pulled into the restaurant to stop. I made up my mind, I could not take being on any road anymore after the accident.  I was going to call the event director to tell them I was done.  I was going to DNF and I was fine with this decision.  I was going to sit here and rest my mind.  After sunrise, I would then head into Winona.

I got off my bike and proceeded to find a place to rest.  As I looked at my cue sheet to look at the number to call to DNF, Scott and Bob pull into the parking lot.  They must have noticed I was not behind them and came back to check on me.  I told them my situation and that I could not pedal any further.  I told them my mind was on overload after the accident.  The road was too difficult for me.  I was going to DNF.

It’s funny how things work in this randonnepuring world of cycling.  At that point, I was done, FINISHED.  But then Bob and Scott explained to me that I had 7.6 miles to the overnight.  They encouraged me to come with them and explained that we would all stay together.  Suddenly, the 7.6 miles did not seem too bad.  It seemed more manageable.  My anxiety dissipated a bit as we all left the Hillside Fish House.

As I pedaled towards Winona with Bob and Scott, I kept figuring out my DNF plan. I was going to get to the AmericInn in Winona and give them my brevet card.  I was done. I kept hearing the accident behind me.  It was getting too difficult for me emotionally.  Damn that girl who reached for her vape.  I was angry at her.  I also thought about my friend Kit and wondered how she was doing.  I continued to pedal and completed my second crossing of the Mississippi at Bluff Siding, then into Winona.

At 4:23 am, we arrived at the AmericInn, the third and final overnight of the Coulee Challenge.  As I pulled up, there were riders getting ready to leave for the final day of the Coulee. I walked into the lobby and there was a big group having breakfast.  I ran into my friend Eric Peterson, who I called right after the accident.  He asked me if I was getting ready to leave.  I explained that I had just arrived.  He was quiet and seemed to be at a loss for words initially.  He mentioned he was sorry about the accident.  My eyes teared up. That is all that was said.  I had no words, just intense emotions. I thought about turning in my card to DNF, but I was simply too tired to do that.  I decided I would do it when I woke up in the am.

I was exhausted.

I needed to rest my mind.

I did not eat.  I was too tired to eat.

I showered and went to bed at 5:00 am.  I set my alarm for 7:00 am.

When I first closed my eyes, a tear streamed down my cheek.  I realized how blessed we were today.  I now recognized the reason why the 3rd present of the Coulee Challenge came in the shape of two hexagon boxes.  It was a very complex day.  From the serenity of the Driftless region to a careless distracted driver, I was at two complete ends of the spectrum.

As I closed my eyes again, I only had 3 words to say…

We were visible.

Stay tuned for a true battle within…

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4 Comments »

  1. The last 8 mies to Winona.
    We were going so slow. I said to Dawn, it may take an hour to get to Winona. That may have discouraged Dwan who is normally very positive. She pulled off and I was able to catch up to Scott and talked to him about going faster to stay awake. We went back and talked to Dawn and she was then ready to continue on at a faster tempo.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for this additional information Bob. Gosh that evening was so challenging for all of us. You are so amazing that you were able to continue that night and the next day to finish, despite the accident. You and Kit inspired me more than you both probably realized.

      Like

  2. Thank you for bringing some light to the accident, I did not know much about it until I had read the previous post. Many years ago we had came across a fatal accident just close to the start of a brevet. It must have been very challenging reflecting on wether to continue, and why you would continue. The rest of that night was pretty gruelling, compounded by the accident.

    Like

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