By Vernon Felton

What is that flavor? I roll it around my tongue for a minute—it tastes like…like…hmm…I'm not exactly sure. It has hints of peat. It's definitely floral. And kind of woody. There are all those things, sure, but there's another flavor underlying all these things. Something musky, something dirty…yes. No, wait, not dirty, just…dirt. Yes, that's it. Dirt.

I open my eyes and discover that I'm lying on my belly. My bike is lying on top of me—as if it became enraged, bucked me off its back and somehow grappled me into some kind of Jiu Jitsu sleeper hold. Oh, and my mouth is full of what feels like a cubic foot of dirt, decomposed cedars, ferns and Godknowswhatelsewasonthetrail.

Uggh. Arggh. And, finally, fuck.

There's always that moment when I come back to consciousness after a wreck and I go through this mental "What's Mangled Now" checklist. The goal here is to figure out what's broken and what's still functional so I can get back on my feet and, hopefully, back on two wheels.

It wasn't always like this. When I was young, there was no checking of any such list—I'd eat shit magnificently and just bounce right back up like I was made of 170 pounds of Silly Putty and Kick Ass.

As I've gotten older, however, I've become less…uh, bouncy. Parts of my body click, grind, groan and, when they're particularly pissed, they'll flat out tell me to go to hell while they go on vacation for a bit. My limbs have joined some kind of union that's only too happy to go on strike if I treat them wrong. So, now I tick off the items on the checklist.

Legs—are they working? Shoulders—can I move them? Fingers—are they all pointing the same direction? I’ll check all the imaginary boxes on my Mangled list. I do it so often, that I've become something of a pro. I can tell you what's effed up—with an uncanny accuracy—within seven seconds of taking that flight over my handlebars.

So, as I'm lying here, sprawled amidst the squirrel shit and the mud, I go through the checklist and in a few nanoseconds, I'm dead certain I know what's what. There's this ache at the tip of my left thumb. I can bend the sucker no problem, so I'm not sweating a break. There's also this warm, gooey feeling in my glove—that'd be blood—but it's not that spurting, horror movie sensation, so I'm pretty sure I just peeled up the fingernail. It'll be red for an hour or two, then it'll turn an ugly black and purple for a few days before it finally gives up the ghost and just falls off. It's more disgusting and distracting than alarming. In short, no big shakes.


My right shoulder, however, is aching. It's all hot and tingly. Not good. On the upside, it doesn't feel loose and crunchy, as if I had a bag full of marbles and loose change rolling around inside the joint. That's a plus. I'm not worried about a dislocation. The pain is annoying, but it's more like a fuzzy long-distance phone call than a shrieking fire alarm. Nothing's flat-out busted, but I've definitely torn something in there. I'll be able to ride home, but tomorrow morning my arm is going to be floppy and useless, and it'll stay that way for awhile. Now I just have to remember where I last left my lucky sling.

When I eventually limp home my mother-in-law just shakes her head. Why would anyone routinely wreck themself in the name of having fun? She does the mental math in her own head. She puts Risk on one line and then subtracts Reward from Risk and the answer she invariably winds up with is "My God, you're an idiot".

She sees a sprained ankle, broken collarbone or another gaping wound as an indicator that her daughter simply married someone who just isn't that bright.

She might be right, but I do the math differently. Don't get me wrong—I'm not hell bent on breaking myself. I'd love a season without slings and crutches, but I've also found that when I go long periods without a wreck, it's not because I've hit some new plateau of awesomeness. It's usually because I've stopped taking risks. I've stopped pushing myself. And, invariably, I'm not having nearly as much fun on the bike.

Getting better, having fun, progressing—whatever you want to call it—these things require sacrifice. As riders, we pay in blood, bruised body parts and, at times, a mouthful of dirt. That "Oh, crap!" flavor you taste just before or after you wreck? That's the taste of being alive. Savor it.