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My first trip in an Ambo

Fatboy's picture

By Fatboy - Posted on 27 March 2015

It’s not often that I or anyone else here writes about a DNF but I have had plenty of time to reflect on mine at the Willo last weekend at Wingello and have learned some lessons I’ll bank away for the future that I thought I’d share.

I talked my wife into staying home from this race as we saw Les Miserables the night before and I knew we’d only get a few hours sleep and the the Willo is a most conducive event to turning up alone due to being a lap race and being able to park your car almost on the track it seemed the right call. I’m sure after what has just happened she won’t stay at home anymore…

Normally a slow starter I held my position until we hit the first decent climb a few km in where I gained some positions, which I repeated on the KOM. After the Great Wall we hit a fire road and stepped on it. A few km later I moved from the left wheel track to the right wheel track to overtake. As I was just getting in front of the other rider I noticed from the corner of my eye a rider squeezing through between us on my left side and suddenly I went from tearing along a dead straight section of fire road to lurching hard left into him. I don’t remember where he clipped me but I lost control very quickly.

I phoned my wife and told her I was in a serious way knowing I had neck and back problems but also realized while talking I had no idea where I was or where she was. I found out later she got me to hand the phone to someone else and they realized I was concussed.

I remember looking at the road that was blocked with all 3 of us down and all the other riders stopped and I realized I had no memory but still had logical thought so was trying to deduce where I was and why. No doubt I was in a mountain bike event and when I saw “Willo” on a number plate I started trying to remember which forest they hold the Willo in and whether that’s where my wife was. I kept this process going for about half an hour before I finally had most memory back which wasn’t until I arrived back at the event centre in the St Johns vehicle.

An Ambulance eventually collected me, immobilized me in a brace and took me to Bowral hospital. The hospital staff were great but they had nobody on duty who could operate the CT machine so I was left to wait while they got someone. I kept hearing all the staff complaining they had 5 of us there from the Willo (3 from the one crash) and nobody had advised them of the event so they felt they were caught on the hop. In the meantime my wife brought her parents down from Sydney so one could drive my car home and they waited with me. Finally I was wheeled in to have the CT.

As I was in the hallway looking at the ceiling another rider sitting in a chair in the X-Ray room started talking with me. I quickly deduced he was the one who caused the fall and asked if he was the one who came up the middle and clipped me. He gave a vague sort of maybe type answer and then started telling me something about single speed and nearly not doing the event while all I kept thinking was “say sorry you bastard, you’ve caused 3 of us hospital visits”.

Finally I had the CT. They shuffled me back to the waiting area where the Dr came and said “do you consent to us drilling a hole into your chest now and if you don’t your lungs are about to collapse which will cause a heart attack and you will die”. I didn’t pick up on the seriousness of what he said, rather focusing on the logic and thought “well given that why wouldn’t I consent”. Once I said yes he introduced me to another Dr and next thing they were doing the job. No time to prep a theatre. They just did it in the waiting area. I was given a drug called Ketamine the Dr said wouldn’t knock me out but would take me on a trip to help the situation. I can’t really describe what that drug did other than it took me to a place I don’t want to go back to and I was convinced I was about to die all because of a silly mountain bike crash and didn’t get to hug my kids.

I then had another long wait until transport arrived to take me to the trauma centre at Liverpool hospital. The Ambo explained I should have been choppered out from Wingello but due to weather they had to do it by road, which meant stabilization first at Bowral but they also needed a qualified Ambulance to move me. Ok, so now I’m starting to think I must have a serious problem…

Liverpool was also a great hospital. For 3 days I was kept in the trauma centre on my back immobilized and all I could do was breathing exercises while looking at the ceiling. I recall them explaining the necessity to inhale fully to help push air out of my chest cavity through the inserted pipe or else my lungs would collapse. I recall pointing out to them I had broken ribs making such a task painful. They gave me a button to push that delivered a dose of Fentanyl each time I needed pain relief and basically the routine was I had to expand my lungs no matter what so just use as much painkillers as I need to make it bearable.

I remember telling the Dr’s during one of my minor procedures that I had this weird drug Ketamine at Bowral to which he replied “did you think you were dying?”…

By day 4 I was getting sick of lying motionless covered in Wingello dirt & my own sweat and was stinking. The neck collar was slowly squeezing life out of me. The pressure on my neck was causing constant headaches and the mix of sweat & dirt under it caused quite an irritating rash. I had an MRI which freaked me out. I was already claustrophobic in my neck brace so to then slide into and be locked inside a tunnel not much bigger than me for 15mins got my heart going. My MRI came back showing spinal problems that were borderline and thankfully the neurosurgeon allowed me out of the brace. The subsequent shower and teeth brushing was the best ever!

I can’t speak highly enough of all the staff in both hospitals. The staff in the trauma centre have to deal with abuse constantly from drug takers who I assume come in with self inflicted wounds then specify which pain killer they want and which vein is best for its delivery then abuse the hell out of staff when they don’t get their way. One hell of a job they have.

I have now had the tube pulled from my chest so am on the road to recovery. Next step is to assess the $ damage - my wife told me my helmet was smashed but she didn’t check the bike which is still on the rack on the car in our garage, they also used scissors to remove my Giordana clothing (ouch) in hospital.

Lessons learned:
1. I know I have been guilty of sneaking up and passing people without any communication. While this time a victim, it could have been me causing it on a number of occasions
2. The signs of someone in real medical danger aren’t as obvious as you’d think
3. Always say no to Ketamine – having a steel rod hammered into your chest to create a hole is nowhere near as bad as that drug
4. Always keep iDevices fully charged in case you find yourself immobile

pancakes's picture

What a horror story. Just goes to show how quickly things can go to sh*t.

Here's to a speedy and full recovery.

all74's picture

Most gnarly mountain bike crash story ever. You have just knocked 5 min of all my future races (no great loss trust me) as I will be taking lots more care. Plus you've ruined my cool story about crashing twice on the same knee on Serata, just sounds lame now. Get well soon!

GAZZA's picture

Rest up.
Glad you're on the mend.
And to people who pass through none existent gaps(and it happens a lot), remember the first rule of MTB.

brakeburner's picture

Get well soon, and if you get down at anytime, check out Martyn Ashton's story, quite the inspiration for keeping ones chin up.

Brian's picture

I hope you heal up quickly mate. Phil gave me an update the other day and said it didn't sound good. Hopefully you'll be back out riding soon.

Pete B's picture

Bloody hell! One to rival Black Flash's incident!
Glad you're on the mend and back on the bike soon.

Edit: have you had chance to see your garmin trace yet? Wondered what sort of speed you were doing?

hawkeye's picture

Glad you're still with us.

You have completely expunged my feelings of guilt about giving a paint-peeling filthy mouthful for not calling the pass to the guy who clipped my bars at start of the WSMTB 4hr last month.

You at home or in hospital still? We should come visit.

philberesford's picture

That's even more intense than I imagined. Chatting to you before the race you would never have guessed it would be over so quickly. So glad to hear your recovery is heading in the right direction. Like I said earlier, rest up and mend well. But I guess you don't need me to tell you that Eye-wink

I'd like add to point 1 - and this is more for EVERYONE ELSE to take from this:

Pay effin attention to the rider briefing. When they say call track they mean CALL TRACK!!! Don't be a hero. If you're making a move whether it be passing or braking make it ABSOLUTLEY CLEAR to everyone around you. No excuses. We do it on the road, the MTB is no different. If you 're not used to riding in a bunch I recommend you join a road club and learn about riding safely. It's our responsibilty to watch out for everyone. Good communication can save good people from getting seriously hurt.

See you all at the Convict

Logan's picture

Some people here are aware of the massive crash I had just over three weeks ago now, I can't say too much as it's now subject to a police investigation but suffice to say I hit the rear passenger side of a car at between 55-60kph, I got lucky I should be dead, instead I have a broken elbow with tension wires in place and a heap of damage to my knee.

Fortunately I only had two days in hospital which is a miracle really but am up for months of rehab now. I hit the car so hard, my left leg was basically black from the impact. Fortunately for me I had my friends around and a mobile phone to get my mates to call my wife.

Unfortunately you can't legislate for idiots is my key learning from the experience. Not to mention that Morphine, Oxycodin, Meddaslin and god knows what else are pretty amazing drugs....

Fatboy's picture

Thanks for the comments guys. It's been lonely this week so having phone calls and texts have kept me doing things and I did get a number of private messages from nobmobbers which brightened me up. I had to answer them all one handed using iPhone as I was in the braces on my back but could lift an arm and hold the phone above my face. I couldn't lift the other arm as it was the one with the drugs going in and it had an alarm that would go off if I lifted it...

According to Magellan I was doing 35.5km/h when I crashed at 10.92km from the start.

Yes I'll read Martyn Ashton's story thanks but I'm low risk of getting down - always the optimist and overachiever when it comes to wife & kids Smiling.

Yes I arrived home last night. I promised my 7yo the other day I would watch him run his cross country race this morning. The nurse suggested while I was still hitting the Fentanyl button regularly I wouldn't be considered for review so I stopped then 12 hrs later asked them to assess me and pulled my brave face while they poked and then had to pass the walk around with the physio test. I was dizzy but luckily have done a lot of work on locking core muscles which also give balance so made it look easy. Wife took me to watch my son this morning. Once outside I realised I have blurry vision still and all my other non life threatening muscle aches are no longer suppressed from drugs so I feel like I've been hit by a bus. I got to see my boy!!!!

Yes visitors most welcome.

There was one incident I can't share that involved a nurse doing something that risked her safety and I'm sure her employer would treat it seriously. It was such a selfless act I have shed tears a number of times this week thinking about it.

Next steps - check bike and if ok I'll buy one of those new whisper drive indoor trainers. I've been challenged by @doc to try to beat him back to the trails...

Fatboy's picture

I hadn't heard about your stack Andy. Lucky outcome! Now you can join Dave & I in our race to beat each other back to the trails.

Pyrate's picture

I am still new to the sport and I am never going to let my wife read your account otherwise I'll have a barely sued bike up for sale pretty quickly.

Fatboy, I don't know you from the proverbial bar of soap, but I am also the father of a 7yr old boy. Probably for that reason I feel elated for you getting to see your boy run. Also, I fully agree, a good nurse makes an immeasurable difference.

Hope you have a speedy and full recovery.

brakeburner's picture

Heal well mate, and well wishes for all injured comrades at the mo!

hawkeye's picture


I hope your recovery is quick and complication free.

sikllama's picture

Sending you best wishes and a speedy recovery mate. Good job getting out to see the boy Eye-wink though as you've found out - freedom means no more of the good drugs!

Daisy's picture

Wow......what a horror story.
I wish you well for your recovery. Might see you on the trails some day.
Cheers, Daisy

Blades_Utd's picture

That was really quite hard to read but happy to hear that you are on the mend and best of all that you got to see your son race his xc event.
It's a harsh reminder of what can happen on bikes (mountain and road), having sat alongside Doc on the trackside and in the hospital and now reading this it does make you think about what can happen. Sad to hear that the chap that caused the carnage didn't say sorry.
Get well soon in any case and wish you well.

obmal's picture

wow! Terrible thing to have happen, shocking story.

Mend up fast

DudeistPriest's picture

I always knew mountain bike racing was a matter of life and death for some people, hopefully the bloke who hit you will be more careful in future. Hope you have a speedy recovery.

Scottboy's picture

As a track Marshall a few weeks ago I heard a few stories about bad passing but yours is the worse hope you mend strongly and get back on the bike and hope that other clown doesn't attend races I'm at otherwise he will be thrown out of the race, heal well .

sly_artichoke's picture

Get well soon Fatboy. Shocking injuries from what should have been a standard passing manoeuvre.
Having broken my shoulder at the Choc Foot at Kinross last October, I can't speak highly enough of everyone in the health care chain, from the St John volunteers, to the 2 ambulances and paramedics, and then to the Orange Hospital staff who deliver exceptional care from ever-dwindling resources.
On the plus side, I've bounced back (no pun intended) since that crash and scored 3 podiums (podia?) from my 3 races so far this year, Willo included. So it's not all bad!
Chin up.

Narralakes's picture

Get well soon

Antsonline's picture

Jeepers - thats one hell of a stack. So glad to hear you are coming good.
It is just another reminder of the dangers of the sport we do - road or offroad.

Last night I was lucky enough to deliver a speech a Garry Millburns Wedding(Elite rider some of you may know) and it was largely focused on an accident he had in France. He was really busted up ways I couldnt imagine. I wont go into long details, but it taught him, and his friends, that sometimes you just get lucky. All of us could have faced death, paralysis, permanent disfigurement - life changing incidents - at some time. But, the skill of the medicos, the support of our friends and family, and also the tough resolution that most of us have (and make us do this in the first place instead of Bridge, or Dominos) is what get us through and back looking at things laughing over a beer, but always mindful of the risks.

Fatboy - rest up well. Dont rush back to riding. MTB racing will be around for a while longer, and a month or two of extra recovery will allow your body to focus its precious resources on what it needs to fix. I find that when I am injured, I enjoy going to races to spectate, to commentate, or to feed friends - it makes me enjoy the sport all the more to see a non-competitive side too.

You always be a rider, even if you arent riding for a bit. Enjoy the enforced break and dont stress being fit. It'll happen when you are ready again...

Black Flash's picture

Rest up mate, as antsonline said, don't rush back, heal first, ride later. And do your rehab exercises...
PM sent.
Wishing you a speedy recovery!

Fatboy's picture

Thanks everyone for the well wishes. That in itself has a healing affect. I have really appreciated those I haven't even met reaching out and sending their best.

Body is healing well. I can now breathe without any pain at all. Sure I feel like I've been hit by a bus but most of that is just those muscles that were trapped inside the braces now screaming out to be heard now they have their freedom. The only part of me not showing improvement yet is my head. I still have blurry vision and sudden movement such as rolling over in bed, standing up etc causes head spins that feel like I'm going to black out. Once I'm up and moving though it's all good.

And yes Ant your advice is sound. I expect racing will be off the cards for months. Maybe I'll position myself at the canoe bridge at The Convict with camera and see how many Nobmobbers I can catch swimming?

doc's picture

Hey Fatboy, really glad that the early signs of recovery are showing. Keep up the good spirits and hope the return to the trails is a smooth one.

Will the route change at the Convict mean it will be a little cold at the bridge for any unplanned swimmers Eye-wink But I must say I quite enjoyed trying to catch some trail side photos while sitting out at the Willo last were pretty ordinary but mix of smiles, greetings and little racing moments was almost priceless.

ps's picture

Craig, get well soon mate, so glad to hear your still with us. Will try & catch up soon now that I am back in Australia.

Fatboy's picture

Cheers Paul - I guess NZ isn't the best place for an Aussie to be living right now after the World Cup?

BlackFlash used his Jedi mind tricks on me yesterday to help me mend. He came over then we compared notes on our injuries (his from the big one 3 years ago) and by the end of the chat I was thinking I have no right to be sitting at home feeling sorry for myself. Mine pale into insignificance in comparison... Maybe I should harden up and get back to work!

philberesford's picture

Eat a big bowl of Concrete Flakes™ sprinkled with nails and HTFU, it's the MTBr way Laughing out loud

Black Flash's picture

No need to go back to work. Just become a part time barista! You do make a good latte!
Good luck at physio today, its time to start activating and rebuilding... Smiling

Andy Bloot's picture

Holy shitballs
That is one hell of a stack baby
In time you'll just shake your head at the memory of it
Until then, heal up and alcohol therapy is permitted Sticking out tongue

Fatboy's picture

Finally after 95 days I had my first ride this morning!!!

All of my head & chest injuries healed a while back but my neck with compressed & prolapsed discs has been an ongoing problem. I’ve been getting regular physio and have been going through cycles where I come good and then bam!

About 3 weekends ago I had one of those bad ones with a pain up the back of my head that had me thinking I was having some sort of brain explosion. I sent a message to my physio Rob who was at his holiday house down the coast. He rode his mountain bike up a local mountain to get enough mobile reception to talk where he diagnosed my problem and had me doing some twists on the floor and my pain stopped. I’ll add that to the list of the beers I owe Rob…

My wife has been pushing me to get back on the horse but I’ve been fighting those mental demons until finally I decided last weekend it was time. I spent Saturday stripping, checking, cleaning then re-building the bike as I hadn’t done much more than a quick look since my crash. I announced I was going to ride the next morning when Liz reminded me I had smashed my helmet in the crash and hadn’t yet replaced it. Doh!

So armed with new helmet I took off this morning. I spent the early part of my ride constantly looking back for what may hit me from behind and kept the brakes on down hill. I wondered whether I was mentally ready.

Once I got to Parramatta Park I rode casual laps for a while until finally a group of 6 roadies went past. I instinctively jumped on the back and next thing I know I’m on it. As usual, when roadies see me jump in their nice compact group disintegrates as their ego’s try to prevent a mountain bike with big nobby tyres staying with them. After a few km the group was down to 2 of us. I’m back!!!!!

I thought ‘job done’ as I had stopped being a pussy and forgot about my fears so rode home to share my excitement with Liz. As soon as I entered the house my kids came running up with cards they had made while I was out saying how proud they were I was back on my bike after 95 days etc. It was one of those emotional moments…

Now back to those early morning starts and I’ll have to tell my mates who kept me company over the last few months to stop coming over at night – Pinot from Central Otago and Shiraz from McLaren Vale & Barossa…

Dicko's picture

Just in time for the convict ?

philberesford's picture

beat me to it Wayne

Welcome back Craig. Fantastic news. See you in St Albans

Brian's picture

That's awesome news. Welcome back.

Andy Bloot's picture

Just re read your story that had me wincing
Oh the claustrophobia of that neck brace Sad
No wonder you were tentative
Nice recovery though - 3 months isn't too bad considering
Before long you'll be back and pinning it!

Black Flash's picture

Welcome back mate.

Antsonline's picture

Welcome back big guy.
Getting over something like is inspirational. i love reading stories like this.

Take it easy FFS! Let your body and mind continue healing for a while yet.

Enjoy the riding and the re-learning.

hawkeye's picture

Well done on getting back in the saddle Craig. Always good to give roadies a bit of curry Smiling

Edit: Just re-read your original post. Heavy stuff. Sad After such a nasty crash and long recovery it takes a while for the brain to get back in the zone, just like the rest of you. Take it from someone who has done similar a few (too many) times - ease your way into it. For me it was crucial to focus on form and good habits first and worry about going fast later. (Not that you could ever call me fast.)

If you want someone slow to keep you in check for the next few weeks on a Sunday morning ride, give me a shout Eye-wink

doc's picture

That first ride back is a great milestone....
Enjoy the fresh air and cold mornings and hope to see you on the dirt soon.

jp's picture

I haven't been on nobmob much lately so have only just read your story Fatboy. I crashed very early on in the same race - just went a bit wide in a corner, into some soft sand, over the bars and straight onto my shoulder. Tried to get up and realised my collar bone was sticking up about 10cm higher than it should have been... So my race was over. The St Johns guys got to me after about 20 mins, but immediately got a call to say a couple of riders were down and one had concussion. I told them I'd be fine and they should go check the other guys... So they left me with a blanket and took off. Eventually the event organiser picked me up in a ute. A couple of riders had looked after me, and many many riders offered help - I was very well looked after. I had driven Sarah Mills to the race, so I opted to wait for her and she drove me back to Sydney. Turns out nothing was broken, but I had a separated AC joint - basically all the ligaments were torn off.

So after reading your story I feel like I got off very lightly Fatboy. I saw you on the stretcher but didn't know it was you. So glad to hear you're back on the bike and healing.

We all know that what we do carries risks, and there will always be riders that increase the risks for others by making bad decisions. I hope your story alerts a few people to the dangers and makes them stop and think - we all want to do well in races, but we do this for fun and we all want to get home safely.

Take care, and all the best for your continued recovery.

Fatboy's picture

Thanks for all the comments guys. Yes I'll be taking it very easy as suggested by a few. I'm not keen on smashing it until I know I can go over the bars without ending up back in the trauma centre...

I'll probably be at the Convict as a volunteer. I'll enter The Fling which is on in November and hopefully do an event or 2 leading up to it but I'm in no hurry.

JP - I was told the Ambo got to me quickly as they were already headed to another stack so sounds like my good luck and your misfortune. Glad you mended.

Hawkeye - slow mtb ride sounds like a great plan. Knowing me if I go alone I'll probably start getting my confidence back and do something silly so it will be a smarter play to ride with others to keep me grounded.

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