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October 27, 2006 5:47 PM -- The Cat in the Bike: A Truly Cat-a-Strophic Story (pathetic pun provided by dain-bramaged victim)

There are three versions of this story:

1. My Version.
2. The Eyewitness Version.
3. The Cat's Version.

I'm telling the story, so let's start with my version.

MY VERSION OF THE STORY – I went to bed last Sunday evening (October 22nd), planning to drive to Fiesta Island the next morning for a bicycle "time trial" training ride. I woke up Monday afternoon in Scripps Memorial Hospital's trauma ward. To this day, I don't remember anything of Monday morning, with the vague exception of reading about Scarlett Johansson and a movie called "The Prestige" in USA TODAY at the breakfast table. Every other moment of that morning was permanently removed from my memory by a concussion, just as a layer of my skin was removed from my face by the asphalt road on Fiesta Island. (My face protected my helmet, which was just scraped a little so I can use it again soon. Phew.)

That's all I know from firsthand experience...other than the fact that I'm glad to be alive and conscious enough to tell two of the three versions of this story.

EYEWITNESS VERSION – I've pieced this together from information I've collected from others who spoke with witnesses at the scene. Unfortunately, I don't have contact information for any eyewitnesses. If you're reading this and you were there, please contact me. I'd love to hear your story. (Don't worry, there's no legal risk...I'm just curious.)

After "taking off like a rocket" (Ron's words) on my newly-equipped time trial bike, I was riding at a good race pace on the paved road around Fiesta Island. The exact circumstances aren't entirely clear, but apparently a cat was nicked by a car traveling in front of me. The cat then sprang from its surprise encounter with the car and literally jumped into my front wheel. I still don't know if the car had just passed me or if I was coming up behind the car, but we must have been pretty close to each other. (When I'm going full speed on Fiesta Island, I travel at about the same speed the cars do.) At any rate, Ron Sullivan said that the eyewitnesses said I "didn't stand a chance" against this surprise cat attack.

The cat's body got slammed into my bike's front fork by one of the three big, carbon spokes of my brand new HED3 front wheel, breaking both fork blades like toothpicks. This instant "braking action" sent me flying, which explains the "breaking action" [C7 fracture] in my spine when I hit the pavement. The cat suffered more serious injuries than I did. At the speed I was traveling, the wheel & spokes were like a food processor, and the cat was dead on the scene.

So now there's a bleeding, unconscious bike rider and a dead cat. Time to call somebody...maybe 911.

The paramedics showed up. I apparently regained consciousness and was able to speak at the scene, but I still don't remember anything from the accident scene. Ron said that I was apologizing to the paramedics for the incident, as if I had inconvenienced them. I couldn't remember any phone numbers and by some freak coincidenceI didn't have my usual emergency ID information on me that day, but Ron helped them figure out how to reach my family. Sometimes being the "only guy in the book" with a weird last name like mine comes in handy.

I'm told that the paramedics yelled at the cat's owner (a young lady in a motor home parked on the sand nearby) for letting the cat wander around on the road. I do love cats, but I thank the paramedics for doing this, because this nearly killed me. It was stupid of the owners to let the cat wander around the island with all the dogs and cars there, but I do hope they are recovering from their loss. That was a very bad day for all of us.


I sure wish I had a video of this whole experience, because it seems so bizarre & unbelievable. I've looked at the elapsed time and speed information on my bike computer, and I'm guessing I was traveling around 25~30 mph in the "aero" position (as shown in this photo from my time trial on October 8th). This is fairly fast for bike travel. How could a cat get INTO my rapidly-spinning front wheel at these speeds? This is no simple circus act, and clearly this cat screwed up the stunt big time.

At one point I started to think that this strange string of events could not have possibly happened this way. I started to consider the possibility that I ran OVER the cat, hitting it like a log in the road. But then, as I was trying to explain why the cat's leap INTO the wheel at these speeds was impossible, I noticed cat hair mixed in with splinters of carbon fiber on the bike's broken fork. At that moment I "got religion" on this bizarre reality. I guess the cat did go through--not under--my wheel. She explained how the paramedics told her that they cleaned some cat excrement off my wheel. The poor thing should have had smarter owners.

I am so thankful to the paramedics and the staff at Scripps Memorial. This is the hospital where all three of my children were born. I feel like I'm in good hands there, and I didn't freak out when I finally "woke up" to fairly full consciousness on Monday afternoon.

So now it's Friday. What a week. I've picked most of the asphalt bits out of my gory face. I've shed the neck brace (here I am in my "famous people" shirt with my red "Terminator" Halloween eyeball and broken fork earlier today). Now I have some time and brain cells to reflect upon what the neurosurgeon told me at my follow-up appointment this morning. He says that I have "spinal stenosis," which is a condition whereby the "space" for the spinal cord is not as big as it should be. This condition could make me more vulnerable to spinal damage from falls like the one I had on Monday. I'm bumming out. But I'm still happy to be both alive and walking. And I can't wait to ride again...perhaps with a more wary eye for small animals in the road.

Speaking of cats...what is the cat's version of this story? I wish I knew. Maybe I'll hear that version someday, in one of my nine lives. If it had the chance to look back and comment, I'm sure it would complain of my pathetically slow reflexes. "Worse than a dog" I can imagine it whining.


More on Ron Sullivan: I was apparently warming up with a fellow SDBC rider by the name of Ron Sullivan the morning this accident occurred. I don't remember Ron or our conversation due to my head injury, but when I spoke to Ron on Monday night, he said that we were in fact warming up together (by serendipity, not by plan, as I did not know Ron). Ron told me that we saw the cat on an earlier lap, and that I had made a joke about us having half good luck, half bad luck, because the cat crossed our path but was half black, half white. Unfortunately I separated from Ron when I wanted to try my new wheels out at a higher speed. If only I had found the cat's owner on the slow lap and asked her to put her cat inside the motor home so it wouldn't get run over. I'm not sure what the response would have been, but I'm guessing I wouldn't be sitting here with a fractured spine right now if I had taken that initiative. Oh well...I sure will next time...if there could ever be a next time as strange as this one was.

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