Michael Toerge, A Tough 48 Hours, Part I

Michael Toerge circulated an email tonight; this tale of a bike ride gone bad appealed to me, so I asked him for permission to reprint it here. Stay tuned for Part II, The Hospital.

You can’t make this stuff up.

On the morning of Thursday, July 26th, after a 30 mile early morning bike ride, I’m off to Two Harbors for a little get away and to attend the Catalina Conservancy Marineros bar-b-que.

I was invited to be on the board of directors of this organization and I am interested in its operating mission and future plans. I arrived at Two Harbors Thursday afternoon after a 4 hour solo motor sail from my mooring just off the main dock at Balboa Yacht Club in Newport Beach. It’s more fun when Suzanne is along, but she has commitments that will not allow her to get away for this four day cruise, so I’m making this trip solo. As I approached the mooring field, I had prepared hawsers at the bow and stern of Pura Vida. Not knowing how the other boats would be moored (port or starboard) I took a guess and set up for a port mooring pick up. Of course, as I navigated the narrow fairways of Cherry Cove and approached my assigned mooring, I needed to change my hawsers to a starboard mooring pick up. No problem, as I position the bow of Pura Vida at the mooring wand, I scurry to the bow, switch the hawser from port to starboard, grab the wand, feed the hawser through the bow mooring loop and secure the hawser. I then grab the sand line, casually but without delay walk the line aft to the stern cleat, place it on the cleat temporarily and switch the stern hawser from port to starboard, feed the hawser through the stern mooring loop and secure to the cleat. This organized approach to single handed mooring retrieval in windy conditions greatly disappointed the several moored cruisers that expected some chaos when they saw me arrive on this gusty afternoon single handed. Anyway, after lowering the outboard onto the dinghy and putting up the sun shade, I decided to take my mountain bike ashore.

I like to get my bike ashore the day before I ride so I am not delayed the day of the ride with the steps required to initiate a long mountain bike ride from a boat. While cruising, I keep my bike in the lazerette of Pura Vida with the seat and wheels removed. In this way I can store it compactly and easily. I took my bike pieces ashore, assembled them and locked the bike up in the junk heap just outside the market. There were old bikes, an overused out-board motor, shopping carts, a pair of crutches and a few beach chairs all piled up in this bike rack area.

Early Saturday afternoon, after riding to the west end of the island, a ride that produces breathtaking and rare views of bald eagle habitat and the untraveled west end of Catalina, I was fast pedaling along the dirt road above Cherry Cove. I didn’t see it, but, there was a patch of sand and as I turned right, my front tire went straight and I went down hard on my right side. I didn’t have time to unclip from the pedals.

It all happened so fast. I was rocked. I didn’t pass out, but, I went down hard. All I kept saying to myself is, “I hope I’m not broken; I hope I’m not broken”. I was stunned and could barely get up.


I was bleeding from my right elbow and right knee, but, that wasn’t what concerned me. My right thigh and hip were not responding to my orders to move. I wanted to tuck them under my body so I could press myself up, but, they were not having it. I had no choices here, there was no one around, I can’t be too hurt, I’m gonna get back on this bike and ride back to the isthmus. Never mind that it is about two miles from here, but, I certainly couldn’t walk it. With a guttural rally call, I swung my right leg over the seat, clipped in my left side and rode off. I probably could have clipped in on my right side, but, I don’t think I could clip out. The ride was painful but manageable. When I got to the isthmus, my point of departure, I realized that I could not get off the bike. I rode in circles while I planned my landing. Finally, I rode over to a park bench and fell against it. A Catalina Island Company worker offered help and pulled my bike out from under my uncooperative right hip.

He said, “Hey, there are lifeguards and paramedics right over there, do you want me to get them?”

I said, “No, I’ll be alright, just give me a minute.”

He was pushy, “No really, they are right there, I’m going to go get them.”

Needless to say, I’m very grateful this guy stepped up to offer a hand to a stubborn injured Type A. The Lifeguards went into action.

What is your name? How do you spell it? What is your age? What town are we in? Where do you hurt? Does this hurt? Let’s just take you into the paramedic wagon, clean you up and examine you. Okay, I say, I can walk over there. Not so fast says my hip, you’re not walking anywhere. The lifeguards and paramedics lift me onto a gurney and roll me into the back of the paramedic ambulance. After a thorough examination and cleaning of my wounds the medics recommend that they transport me to Avalon hospital by lifeguard boat for x-rays, a more complete examination and treatment. We can go right now, they say.

What, are you kidding me? I just need a few minutes. I was going through the logistics of their recommendation. If I were cleared at the hospital, I would be in Avalon and my boat, dinghy and mountain bike would be in Two Harbors and the only certain transport back to Two Harbors that afternoon was by land taxi. Believe me, with the pain I was experiencing in my right hip, I did not want to ride a taxi on the pot-holed Catalina spine road for over an hour. If Avalon Hospital determined that I had a fracture, they would transport me by boat across the channel to their sister hospital in Torrance. Great, but, what about my boat? They said the Harbor Patrol will tend to it, move it if they have to, but, you will just need to sign a waiver. A waiver, what? That doesn’t make me feel any better. I think I just need to get back to my boat, relax for a few minutes and regroup. They agreed to help, but, they required me to sign an AMA form, Against Medical Advice. They were releasing me from care against their medical advice. I understand the need for this type of acknowledgement; I signed it and asked if they would help me get to my boat. These guys were the second heroes to show up. I told them about the crutches that were abandoned over by the bike racks and asked them get them for me. I crutched down the pier to the lower dock, the lifeguards collected my bike, my locker goods and my dingy. They flopped me on the deck of their lifeguard boat like a dead tuna.

Imagine the site in Cherry Cove with the lifeguard boat ferrying a sweaty, dirty, bloody, middle aged male in Lycra shorts and a cycling jersey. One of the nearby moored boat owners approached me as the lifeguards were tying up to Pura Vida and said that the boat that came in about an hour ago, that is now moored to my starboard, hit Pura Vida as they moored their boat. Great, I’m splayed on the deck of this lifeguard boat with who knows what injured and I’ve got to deal with a boat accident? I had no desire to look for damage. I just needed to get on my boat and chill. The lifeguards tied my bike to the starboard shrouds and tied my dingy to the stern. I flopped off their port rail to my starboard rail and slithered aft to the cockpit. They went below to collect a blanket, sweatshirt and water. They graciously said that they would return in 2 seconds, 2 minutes or 2 hours or whenever I called them and was ready to get to a hospital. These guys knew better than I how hurt I was.

Strangely enough and coincidentally, for the first time, as I was departing Pura Vida for my mountain bike ride earlier that day, my cell phone acted up and would not take a charge. So not only was I without a phone, I did not have any contact information to refer to when using someone else’s cell phone. A few minutes earlier, at the time the paramedics removed me from their ambulance, when I realized I could not walk and before we crutched down to the dock, I called my best friend Kelly Coultrup. Kelly and I go way back. We were roommates at USC and we spent a year cruising the Caribbean on a Gulfstar 44. We are the closest of friends. Despite my call to him from an unknown number (I was using the paramedic’s cell phone) Kelly answered. I asked him if he could drop all that he was doing, catch a ferry to the isthmus, bring me some ice and sail me home to Newport the next morning. By the time I hung up, Kelly was being driven by his wife Nancy to San Pedro, where he boarded the last Catalina Express ferry to Avalon and arranged a taxi ride to Two Harbors. He would then take the shore boat out to Pura Vida and arrive by 8:30 pm.

As I lay still in the cockpit of Pura Vida with the sun setting, wondering if I was making good decisions, a couple of cruisers, Eva and Jay, came up and, with permission, boarded Pura Vida. They offered assistance and food. I told them that Kelly was on his way. Eva asks, would you like a couple Vicodin? Now I stay away from these types of drugs and I refused morphine from the paramedics, but, my face must have answered her question, because she left and returned with four Vicodin and three home made cookies. A few minutes later a fellow BYC member cruised by, knowing I was aboard Pura Vida alone, and asked if I wanted to join them for dinner at Fourth of July Yacht Club. I told him of my situation and he too offered Vicodin. I said sure. He returned just a few minutes later and handed me four more Vicodin. After a few minutes, as the Vicodin was kicking in, things did not seem so bad any more. Then, the guy who hit my boat while I was away came up in his dinghy. He offered me some water then proceeded to tell me all bout his seagoing past, yachting experience and rarified sailing mishaps. Yeah, yeah, yeah! I wanted to know what happened to my boat. He said a gust blew him down before he could secure his sand line, but, he had 6 hands on deck and several fenders out. Apparently his boat did bump Pura Vida with his fenders sandwiched between us and there was no damage.

Just a few minutes later, the most welcome sight I have ever seen, my brother from another mother, Kelly, boarding Pura Vida ready and willing to assume medical support and skipper duties. He brought his consistently good vibe. Our plan was to depart Cherry Cove twelve hours later at 8:30 am the next morning. This way we would be at the BYC dock around 1:00 pm, enabling us to off-load and clear the main dock before the 80 plus CFJ National racers converged on the club after their final races.

It was a very calm day with little swell and a southerly breeze. I sat immobile in the cockpit while Kelly learned and implemented the single handed techniques I use in skippering Pura Vida. As we passed mid channel, I called BYC to inform them of my circumstances. I knew I could not walk, so, I had planned to stop at the BYC dock, off-load and then move Pura Vida to the Harbor Patrol dock where paramedics could help me off the boat.

As we approached the main dock, it was clear that BYC management had other ideas. The full dock crew was on the main dock prepared to receive us, followed by six Newport Beach firemen and paramedics. Suzanne and Kelly’s wife and kids were on the dock. Once Pura Vida was secure, they lowered the lifelines along the starboard aft quarter and boarded Pura Vida with a gurney board. I squirmed onto the board and with the help of the dock crew, our general manager and paramedics, I was lifted off Pura Vida, placed on a rolling gurney and whisked off to an ambulance and taken to Hoag Hospital.

I know this is a lot of detail, but you can’t make this stuff up. There is more

Michael Lee Toerge is the Chairman of the Newport Beach Planning Commission.

Comments

comments

2 Comments

  1. Comment by Matt O'Toole:

    What an ordeal! A cautionary tale for all of us who head out by ourselves. Let’s hope for a speedy recovery!

  2. Comment by Frank Peters:

    I spent 4 days in May all by myself on the bike touring Nova Scotia. It was spooky at times and I’d think to myself: “If I were injured someone would find me within 24 hours,” which was little comfort as I rode the gorgeous yet remote rails-to-trails along St. Margaret’s Bay Trail.