Devon Balet recounts his first year off the bike after a minor accident. The reality of an unexpected injury can suddenly change everything.
As the anesthesiologist wipes my neck with an antiseptic wipe, I pull back slightly. The sudden cool catches me off guard, making me jump.
“Oh, sorry Devon. I should have warned you it would be cold,” replied the caring doctor, but I say nothing.
Looking past my outstretched legs, I watch as my parents walk out of sight towards the waiting room of Vail Surgical Center; the assistant draws up the Versed from a vial. This medication would in essence wipe my mind clean of what was about to happen. The anesthesiologist continues to prep my neck and shoulder for the nerve block to be implanted in my shoulder.
As I watch the assistant flick the full syringe, clearing it of air bubbles, everything suddenly rushes down on me like the crash of an imploded building. Every emotion and feeling comes to light. Every compressed pain is suddenly felt and what is about to happen fully sets in.
I begin crying, slowly at first, then heavily. There is no sound, my face is blank and I do not blink, but tears fall from my eyes like an open faucet. Quickly my face and beard are wet, soaked with tears. The doctor quickly comes to my side. “Are you ok? Are you in pain?”
“I’m ok,” I say, “I’m just really not looking forward to this.”
“You will do great Devon! You will be back to normal in no—.”
“Just give me the shot...”
I let my head fall back, fully relaxing my body, looking up at the ceiling as my future begins to play out in a new and very altered way. The new Devon. Things will forever be different.
I don’t watch the injection, but feel its coolness. Then, slowly, so very slowly... I am pain free and feel nothing. Blackness engulfs my world.
Looking back on that day I still have no idea how I got hurt. The story itself is lame, the crash was nothing special. It was on a bike path, sober, at 9am on my way to get coffee after riding my local trails for a couple of hours.
There’s no way to tell that story and make it sound cool. People will always say: “That’s how it always happens, doing something easy.” Well, that something has sent me on a vision quest I have dubbed “my year off from mountain biking”. I wanted to see if I still loved it after a year of being apart, but the tough part was it was more than a year.
Looking down at my frail, skinny, right arm encased by some version of cast or brace, I’d lament that the injury had been with me longer than many girlfriends. Being a photographer, this injury affected not just my means of happiness, it also stripped me of my livelihood.
Then came the surgery and a level of pain I’d rather forget. It was 5am, I had been awake for two hours, tossing and turning. The prescribed pain medication wasn’t helping. Kneeling next to the bed in my childhood bedroom, alone, I sobbed in pain. I didn’t know what to do. Eventually I walked a mile through the dark night to the hospital. Arriving in excruciating pain all I could say was: “Please, help me,” through my sobs and tears.
By the time a year past I could barely remember what it felt like to ride my mountain bike. The rush, the joy, the freedom; all of the things that we love. From the day I crashed, my bike was parked, looking sad with two flats and the bars still crooked from the impact. I would go to the storage unit from time to time, simply to sit and stare. Most times it ended in tears.
What happens when you are stripped of your essence, the foundation of your being? Are you the same person when you are unable to do the activity that has defined you for so long?
In a time of people always being connected, posting about their active lives and all the fun they’re having, I was forced to slow down. Just after the injury I was still going strong. Can’t ride my mountain bike? Fine! I’ll train on a spin bike, inside, dripping sweat, while looking outside and imagining the trails I’d conquer with the strength I was building.
I occupied my time with other things. I started writing more and shooting video. I went for trail runs when all I wanted to do was ride my bike. The weeks and months continued to pass, but you know the funny thing about it? After a while, I stopped caring.
When I was in college, I cut my left achilles tendon while working at a climbing gym. At the time I spent any free moment climbing and was interning as the Photo Editor at Climbing Magazine. After the injury, my passion for climbing slowly faded as the months went by that I couldn’t even stand. When I could finally use my leg again, the pain caused wearing climbing shoes kept me off the wall. Slowly, I stopped entirely.
Recently I found my old climbing gear, still hanging in my parents’ garage. The rubber of the shoes was starting to dry out and crack. The metal cams and wedges looked ready to go, but instead hung unused. Would this be what happens with mountain biking? There is no way that could be possible. Mountain biking is so ingrained into my core.
When you go from riding 10-15 hours a week to dealing with doctors and sleeping 10-15 hours a day, your perspective on the world changes and it affects you.
Have you suffered an injury that made you wonder if you'd ever ride your bike again. Share your experience in the comments below.