Accidentally Perfect

“Stay in the bag,” the stranger told me. I had no idea what was going on, but from the tone in his voice I could tell he thought it was serious. The first thing I noticed was that my face was sore and swollen, my front teeth jagged, my mouth unpleasantly full of grit. And, indeed, I was in a bag.  Somehow I was inside my sleeping bag, inside my bivy sack, next to a dirt road somewhere in British Columbia. I started testing my brain, running through some mental math, reciting my social security number. Everything seemed to check out and I started moving around again. “Stay in the bag.”

The scene at the start in Banff

Slowly the picture started to emerge. I must have had an accident. After a while I noticed my bike sitting on the side of the road and that brought back to me what I had been doing. Six or seven hours earlier I had departed from Banff—along with 180 other hearty souls—to attempt the Tour Divide mountain bike race. I still don’t know the particulars of how I crashed, but descending Elk Pass in cold, wet conditions I must have gone over the bars.

My left cheek took the brunt of the impact, opening an impressive gash scarily close to eye. I cracked three teeth and tore up my face a bit in two other places, but the wounds were amazingly mild compared to what could have happened. The stranger talking to me was another racer. One link in an as yet unending chain of good luck, he was also a doctor. He told me later that when he found me I didn’t know my name or where I was, but I was trying to get back on the bike. I can’t lie, that made me smile.

Some lovely riding early on

Had I crashed on day 2, when we were more spread out, I might have been alone for hours. Wandering around dazed and bloody in an area known as the Grizzly Bear Highway, that probably wouldn’t have been good. Dave the doctor had activated the SOS function on my SPOT GPS tracker (we were hours from cell service) and put me in the bag to stay warm while we awaited help.

I don’t know how long he and another racer waited with me, but it was long enough that they built a fire to stay warm. It must have been a couple hours at the least. I wanted to tell them to keep racing, that I would be fine to wait for help, but even in my hazy state I could tell that was not going to happen. Instead they waited patiently, chatting amiably and watching a steady stream of racers passing them by. By and by, another Dave arrived, this one a cop in a 4 x 4. My stuff got loaded into the truck, I thanked my saviors profusely and we started off for an ambulance that was waiting down the road.

Breakfast in bed

Already I knew that I would be okay and that I had been extremely lucky not to break any bones, not to mention my neck or spine. Deb, the sweet nurse in the ambulance, began the long process of cleaning my very dirty wounds while we bumped along the dirt road. She told me we would be heading to the hospital in Fernie and that Dave would meet us there with my stuff.

We arrived to a blissfully quiet ER and the amazingly kind Dr. Ma got to work on my face. 4 or 5 hours and 27 stitches later she informed me I had better stay overnight in the hospital, concussed as I was. How much would that cost, I wondered out loud. “Oh, I didn’t even think about that,” she replied, having forgotten I was not a Canadian. She paused a moment and replied “We just won’t charge you.” I was taken aback and also kind of worried that she would somehow get in trouble, but I certainly wasn’t going to argue the point. Her kindness and generosity set the tone for how I would be treated for the rest of my time in Canada.

I used the hospital WiFi to book a hotel room and late the next morning I packed up my things and headed there. I must have been quite a sight, heavily bandaged and black eyed, walking my bag laden bike down the shoulder of the highway. I had picked the hotel based on price and proximity, but I knew before I was even inside that it was the right spot. In front was a bike washing station and next door was a dentist’s office.

First Real Ride Back

If you like mountains, rivers, trails, natural beauty or amazing people, you should go to Fernie. Completely encircled by the Rocky Mountains, it is a paradise of about 4000 citizens, pretty much all of whom will smile at you and talk at length about any topic, unhurried and genuine.

I knew pretty quickly that the race was over for me. In order to resume, I would have had to somehow retrace the 80 or so miles to the site of the accident. I couldn’t picture being back to racing strength (or able to eat regular food) for at least a few more days, by which point I would be far behind the back of the pack. More to the point, it didn’t sound fun any more.

The Tour Divide race is invariably and rightly described as epic. Starting in Banff it traces the spine of North America, covering about 2700 miles of mostly dirt roads as it winds toward the finish in Antelope Wells, New Mexico. I had put in a lot of training and preparation to reach the starting line, and before my crash all was going well—my legs feeling strong, my spirit prepared to accept the punishment that was sure to come, my soul craving the adventure and unknown.  It was hard to let go of a dream as big as that one, but there was nothing else to do.

Miraculously, my beloved Stinner (her name is Celeste) had come through the crash all but unscathed. On the second day after the crash I rode her into town to get checked over. My wounds throbbed with even the mild exertion, but I was relieved to discover that being on the bike still felt like home. Celeste had faired a lot better than I, just a frayed derailleur cable and a bent hanger. With a rideable bike and a rapidly healing body, I started formulating a plan.

Five days after the crash the stitches came out. Realizing he’d have to charge me $700 for an ER visit, the doctor told me “just go home.” Oh, Canada. Eleven days after the crash my teeth got fixed, the dentist volunteering to do most of the work for free because “you’re from out of town.” Twelve days after the crash I bid a fond farewell to Fernie and got back on the road.

My first ride was about 100 miles into Whitefish, MT. I had definitely lost some fitness while sitting around in Fernie (I did explore their copious dirt roads, but mostly I was resting). Still, it felt good to be moving again. Day two was 130 miles into Missoula, it being important to me to prove that I was not too weakened. It was a hot day, and a long day, but when I finished it was with that rush of endorphins and happiness to which I have long been addicted.

Big Sky Country

Having proven to myself whatever I wanted to prove, I’ve been taking it a bit easier since then, appreciating the fact that I’m not racing and enjoying the beauty of so many places I’ve never been. Sunday was 100 extremely hot miles into Bozeman. Today it’s Thursday and I’m sitting in Jackson, WY. I rented a car in Bozeman to better explore Yellowstone and for a respite from the heat. Tomorrow I’ll get back on the bike and start making my way toward Boulder, CO, where friends and more mountains await.

It may seem strange to say, but it is entirely clear to me that crashing was the best thing that could have happened. There is not room here to share all of the amazing things I have seen since then nor the amazing people who have entered my life. All I know is that I wasn’t supposed to race this year, I was supposed to crash. The best way I can put it is that the whole trip has been accidentally perfect.

5 Tips for Effective Blogging

1.  Provide Something Valuable

You can do this a lot of ways, often by providing information, entertainment or both.  People are busy and not many will read what you have to say just because it’s well written or funny. On the other hand, if you provide your reader with something genuinely valuable to them, most will tolerate any stylistic failings and keep coming back for more.

What’s valuable? Well, things that are rare are valuable. If you are getting ready to run a race and the only information you can find about the course comes from someone’s 3 year old race report, then that race report is pretty valuable to you. Of course, if you’re not running the race, the report wouldn’t interest you at all. That leads to our second point…

2. Know Your Audience

As we all know, different people find different things valuable. You have to think about who you are talking to in order to understand what they will find valuable. If you have no idea what your target audience will find valuable then the chances are high that you will struggle to engage them. If you are working to build an audience for a new project or brand, it helps to start with a very narrowly defined group so that you can create content that will appeal to their specific interests. There may not be a ton of people out there who build miniature ships in bottles, but those who do are really going to love your writeup on an easier way to get that sucker in there!

3. Organize Your Information

When you do write that prize-worthy post on the minutiae of miniature shipbuilding, be sure to make it easy for people to find what they want to know. If information is the valuable thing you are providing, serve it right up on a silver platter. List-based posts like this one are a great way to achieve that goal, with their familiar format making them easy to navigate quickly. If the valuable thing you are providing is more tangible—like a discount code or free sample—by all means make that super obvious.

We implore you, if nothing else, to use paragraphs. Plenty of good blog topics call for long posts, but you are actively repelling readers if you lump everything into one big mass of text. Think about how magazines use design elements and images to break things up  and create interest. Speaking of which…

4. Use Images

A blog post without images is like a magazine article without pictures, boring. What does that picture of me throwing a stick have to do with anything? I’d argue that it’s a pretty good illustration of the importance of knowing your audience and what they find valuable, but it doesn’t really matter that much. Mostly it’s a cool picture and maybe you read this far just hoping that I would explain what was going on there. It’s definitely more relevant than this photo below, right?

Grandview Campground — Inyo, CA

5. Know Your Voice, Use Your Voice

On a personal blog, obviously, the voice should be your own. The challenge there is for you as a writer. It can take a lot of time to find a voice that feels authentic to you, so don’t be afraid to experiment. Think of bloggers or other writers that you admire and ask yourself what you admire about their writing. The goal is not to replicate their style but rather to understand better what you appreciate about their approach.

When writing blog content for a business or other organization, the question of voice is a bit more open and should be driven largely by considerations of your audience. The first choice you must make is about tone. Is this a formal place where we use fancy words and avoid contractions, or is it an informal place where slang is okay and capitalization can get creative? Either can work, it just depends on your audience and your brand.

Is your voice funny? Humor is a great way to keep your content light, but it is not the easiest thing to pull off and bad jokes are often worse than no jokes.
Is your voice controversial? Taking a strong stand can generate a lot of attention, particularly if your opinion is unpopular or unusual. The pitfalls to such an approach are obvious, but sometimes it’s the best way to get the message out.
Is your voice authoritative? If you’re trying to convince your audience that you are an expert, everything you do should reinforce that.

Ask yourself these questions, which will lead to many more. As you answer them, keep your target audience in mind and work on developing a voice that they will find uniquely compelling and relevant. Once you have developed that voice, be sure to actually use it and don’t be afraid to double down on the things that make it unique.