Unfortunately, due to a serious collision with a car today, we are unable to continue our journey. We are now safe, but we are physically unable to move forward due to the condition of both bikes and bodies. We plan to finish the last leg come next summer.
Below is the story of what happened.
After spending the night with a Warmshower's host in Guadalupe, CA on the evening of July 4, we awoke to start our next day of bike touring. With only a week or so left of the ride, we were intently looking forward to entering true SoCal territory. As it was, we were really grateful for having a place to sleep as there was little lodging between here and the next 70 miles down the route. She had a permanent setup in her garage for visiting cyclists and we slept well. After a quick morning breakfast, we pedaled out of Guadalupe and down the highway. We passed rows and rows of kale, leafy greens, and strawberries all being grow in mass corporate farms to feed the plates of America.
Things felt casual, not hurried. A low slung-set of marine layer clouds obscured the nearest mountain ranges. The route took the shoulder of the highway. We passed another touring cyclist who was shirtless and helmetless. We pulled up alongside him, talked about the ride, and he told us that he didn't wear a helmet because he said that he read an article that cars were more careful around cyclists who weren't wearing helmets. Janna and I disagreed and affirmed our choice to protect our heads should an accident occur. We parted ways as we moved ahead. The route veered from the main highway up towards the surrounding hills/mountains.
The route was now a smaller two-lane state highway with barely a shoulder. But there was no traffic. A significant headwind blew down the route halting us a to a crawl. I offered to take the lead so that Janna could draft off of me. We passed by large plantations of raspberry bushes covered with sheeting to control pests.
As the road continued up the rocky hills, we slowed ever further.
In a sudden moment of blurred rapidly, I heard Janna scream "FORRRRRRRESSSSTTTTT…." immediately succeeded by the sensation of ultimate speed. My bike felt rocket-thrusted forward; I remember my feet splaying for a moment.
Blink. Standing in the road. Standing, not riding. I blink and look sideways in the mid-day light. There is clothing on the road. My clothing. Where's the bike? I was on the bike…now I'm standing in the road. I turn and look behind. A car is firmly at park in the road. Panniers, neon colored, are frayed and lying about. Janna is sitting on the ground next to a car tire. Her bike is gone. Mine is ahead of me and lying in a ditch. My butt feels bruised. I'm screaming. I'm screaming with urgency with piccolo-words snatching seconds for someone to stop, for someone to help. I realize we've been hit by a car while riding. I run over to Janna, but I'm jumping back and forth between scenes of destruction.
Janna is calm on the pavement. She's so serene. Her words are smooth, slow, methodical, focused. Cars go around us, I'm waving my hands screaming for someone to stop. Panic drenched mouth in a moment seizing of emergency. Cars approach, slow, and go around, never stopping. Why aren't they stopping? Someone help us!
The driver in the car is beating the steering wheel with his hands. He double clenches fists and slam them over and over and over and over. I hear him scream, "FUCK!" and "SHIT!" and "THIS HAS NEVER HAPPENED TO ME!" I run over to Janna, bend near her. She's asking for her cell phone; she's asking where it is. I'm seeking, seeking to know if she's okay. The driver is outside the car now, he's looking at me, looking at the wreckage of bodies and bikes, he's cursing endlessly at his fortune. I stand up and scream again. I look at the windshield. It's shattered. Shattered when Janna's head and body went into it. It's an older vehicle so lacks that shatterproof pane. There are glass shards on the hood, by the wipers, tossed around the ground.
"Where's my phone?" Janna keeps asking. I'm screaming for help. I'm helpless. "I found it!" she says a bit louder and smoothly, leaning over, pulls it out from behind the car wheel next to her. While she's doing this, I'm back rummaging in my strewn panniers, searching for my phone. I rejoin her car-side and she says I need to call 911. Barely a breath of reception in these dry and rocky SoCal hills. 911 answers. I'm sputtering information, trying to organize thought, move that thick tongue to match word with lip. They want to know where we are. I can see a mile marker ahead. I'm calling out location, direction. They don't seem to know where we are, where to direct the ambulance. I FEEL SUCH URGENCY. I can't communicate the urgency enough to them. They ask me if Janna is standing. No. Is she conscious? Yes. Is she injured. I don't think. You should examine her.
I step back to her. A motorcyclist has stopped and is trying to talk to her. Only person to stop.
"Are you bleeding?" I ask Janna.
"No," she replies.
"Don't ask her, you need to check her," the 911 operator on the phone states. I walk around behind Janna and gasp. A long 7 inch shard of windshield glass is jutting out of her upper right shoulder. She's bleeding profusely down her back. I tell the operator, who immediately directs me to remove it. I run to the panniers in the ditch and find a thick pair of wool socks. The operator is still on the line. I wrap my hands in a double bundle, grasp the glass sides, and withdraw the windshield pane. Blood juices out in a stream.
I can't understand why the operator is unable to determine our location. It's panicking me even worse. I'm begging, verbally, for the ambulance. The operator says it's coming, they just need to know where.
A second motorist stops. He's in a white button-down and tie. Janna suddenly gets quiet. The motorcyclist, second motorist, and I gather around Janna. The driver who hit us is on a cell phone panicked and talking to someone.
"I think I'm going to pass out…" Janna says as she wavers in a quiver of voice. For all the madness, the calamity, the seizure of emergency that had been born around us, this is the moment that scares me most because the clarity of her thought, the specificity of her words, are suddenly replaced with a change of consciousness. I'm pleading with the 911 operator again, who keeps affirming that an ambulance is coming. Janna sways in her seated posture and bends over her knees. The motorcyclist says she can think through this and that she doesn't need to pass out. He starts praying out loud, which for some reason, makes the direness of the scene all that more impactful. Draws my adrenaline higher. Makes death seem like a possibility I kept avoiding. All I could think of was Mark Sloan dying on Gray's Anatomy when he has "The Surge" - that moment of transient full consciousness that slips into the body's breakdown and death.
I have now entered the scariest moment of my life. I'm holding my wife thinking she is going to die in my arms. Never have I felt the enormity of such fear in my life before or since. Helpless in the face of oncoming deterioration.
The ambulance arrives at this moment. Pulls in. Two fire trucks arrive as well, A police vehicle. The highway is shut down as emergency vehicles flank either side of us. The relief…was incomparable. In my mind, the singular thought is: Everything will now be fine. Janna will be fine. We will get through this.
A team of paramedics gather around her, stabilize her neck, and place her on a stretcher. Whatever moment of consciousness-change has passed. Janna is clear-headed again, verbal, and descriptive. Relief courses my nerves. At that moment, the shirtless/helmet-less cyclist we talked to earlier comes up the rise. He's in absolute shock asking if we are okay. Janna's helmet is crushed and cracked - a testament to how it probably saved her life. I'm sure that cyclist would never forget.
I'm now able to take in the scene more fully. My rear axle is crooked and the wheel hangs loose while my bike is slammed in a boulder-strewn ditch. Of our clothing and belongs are stripped and drifting across the highway. The clothes we're wearing are ripped. Janna's bike is so far under the car that the car's front wheels are slightly lifted off the road. No wonder the vehicle came to a stop. The rear wheel is sheared of metal, cracked, and bent. Janna is now in the back of the ambulance. I look at our world of possessions haplessly molted about. Time to leave it all. As I climb into the front seat of the ambulance, I look at the helmet-less cyclist and ask if he can gather up our items. He agrees and stands in the drift of action as the sirens turn on. A firetruck is winching Janna's bike out from under the car.
We bullet down the highway towards Lompoc, CA and the emergency room there. The whole time, Janna is in the back, strapped to a gurney, talking and laughing with an officer. She's also asking if the driver will have to pay for this and the officer is like, "OH YEAH." We arrive at the hospital and are taken in. They do a physical and determine that the only damage was the windowpane in her back. They stitch her up. A subsequent X-ray reveals more glass shards still inside the wound. They reopen the stitches and manually attempt to remove the glass. No success. They stitch her back up again.
Bikes were our only transportation. Without them, we have no way out of here. The sullen aftermath of the accident continues to wrap around us. A nurse helps to clean all the remaining glass off us and helps to clean us up. And, in an act of shear humanity, hands me the keys to his personal vehicle and tells me to drive to the fire station where, no doubt, everything we own can be found. I drive over to the station. As I pull up, a crew member runs out and jumps in the vehicle with me to help guide me to where our belongings are being stored. As I turn the corner, I see the mangled pile of metal, plastic, clothing, and rubber in a heap of brokenness. The full reality of what the car did to us hits me. The rest of the fire crew is outside waiting. They tell me that when they got the call for the accident, and even when they pulled up on the scene, that they thought they were for sure pulling up on a fatality. Made me feel gratitude and place merge.
They fire crew helps to load all our belongings and bikes in the back of the nurse's SUV. I make a call to the nearest hotel by the hospital. Reserve a room and book it. Drive the broken gear over and store it in a room. Go back to the emergency room and thank Janna. And thank the hell out of that nurse who let us borrow his car. Janna and I walk over to the hospital. In simultaneous buzz, the fact that our PCH bike tour is over settles in a miasma over us. We call Rae and ask if she'll come get us not from San Diego at the border, but from northern SoCal in Lompoc. She grabs our car and questionlessly makes her way to us. Again, gratitude deeper than words. As for the next 48 hours, Janna and I, with ramped up metabolisms and a sense of loss of the tour, eat donuts to no end.
We would later learn the driver was distracted while driving (perhaps texting). California has the weakest vehicular-bike accident laws in the nation. Thus, he was never charged, fined, or even written a ticket. His insurance did pay for our belongings and hospital bills.
One year later, June of 2016, we drive to Lompoc, CA. We are back to finish the tour taken from us a year ago. And this time, we finish at the US/Mexico border.