By Ambassador Shae James
When it came to biking, to me, Taylor was infallible. It was like everytime he stepped on a bike, he acquired the MarioKart star power. He was fast, mesmerizing, and indestructible. I never realized I had this vision of him, until one day the star power wore off. Mid-air.
I wish I had some sort of fantastic tale of how it happened, like that would somehow make it worth the aftermath. Taylor and I were at a friend’s house riding our dirt jumpers. We went there with a simple goal in mind: pump around the track for an hour and get some exercise. To us, it was the equivalent of going out for a run during a particularly long week of work. Our friend’s track has a start deck with a drop in ramp, or you can choose to enter through a quarter pipe. If I had a dollar for every time Taylor bunny hopped into that quarter pipe…
“You should try my new bike out. You haven’t gotten a chance to ride it yet.”
I know it’s not my fault, but I wish I hadn’t offered.
Taylor takes my bike, and drops in like it’s his own. Except it’s not. It’s half the weight, with considerably less air in the fork. The amount of body input he puts into the bunny hop produces twice the amount of air he intended. He overshoots the transition and lands flat. The fork compresses and his arms fold. Caught in the handlebars, there is nothing to break his fall. He hits the ground with the part of his face that isn’t covered by his half shell. The little crinkle in the corner of his right eye hits the cold wood of the bottom of the quarter pipe.
When an older Apple computer used to reboot, it would abruptly go blank and play a distinct sound. If it was unexpected, it would take you a few seconds to realize what you were witnessing. The screen would flicker once or twice, and then slowly piece back together it’s operating system. When a human hits their noggin hard enough, it’s like a harsh reboot. The distinct sound, unfortunately, is not a light computerized tone, but a zombie-like moan. Piecing it all back together is much the same. What were you doing before the reboot? Would you like to go back to doing that? Are you there? Maybe I’ll go to sleep.
The next few months was a difficult healing process. Helping someone through the recovery of a brain injury, is like trying to help a blind bird heal a broken wing. They don’t always understand that they’re injured and they’re constantly trying to fly anyway. There isn’t much to guide you through this process. Experts tell you to stop your life, and continue when you feel better. If you feel worse, stop whatever you did for a week and then try again later. The medical instructions are vague, and you’re back to feeling around in the dark for the path that takes you back to your old life.
Eventually, enough time passes and it’s decided that we can go out for a mellow pedal with a couple friends. He was unsure, but I pushed. I thought it would be good to leave the house and get some fresh air. It took about 25 minutes for his body to fully reject what was happening. His body felt like it weighed twice as much and his veins were pumping sludge to his muscles. His head felt swimmy and was pounding. Nausea, sweat, and the shakes. Taylor tried to bail out of the ride, but that is always easier said than done when you’re with an enthusiastic crew.
“We’re almost there!”
“We can take as many breaks as you like!”
“What?! Don’t leave now!”
As a partner, it is hard to always tell what the right thing to do is, in a situation like this. I stood frozen, not really sure what move to make. I decided to stay neutral.
“Whatever you want to do, babe. It’s up to you.”
I meant it.
He carried on.
Maybe I’ll feel better soon. It’ll pass. I’m just out of shape.
Things we tell ourselves when we’re in the pain cave. He toughed it out and lasted longer than I would have. He threw up. Something was definitely wrong.
Over the next several months, Taylor had absolutely no interest in riding his bike. His last few memories on the bike were ones that brought despair and frustration. It overshadowed the entire lifetime of constant riding. I understood, but internally, I was devastated. In an instant, I lost my favorite riding partner. My absolute best friend. With no end in sight, I mourned. Of course I didn’t lose him in every other aspect, which I was grateful for. However, even though he was over riding, I wasn’t. My passion for it was just as strong as ever. I still rode, but it was just fine in comparison. Bikes were simply better with Taylor around.
After some time, I noticed Taylor still loved to jib around the front yard. He would hit our drop in ramp, boost the jump, roast the berm, and then crank flip before sliding the rear tire on our slippery PNW wooden deck. There it was! The spark! The love was still there and I knew there was hope. Maybe I could add the riding part back into my soul mate.
I had acquired a Kona Remote 160. Originally, I planned to use it as a fun tool for moving heavy trail building tools and accessing more remote trail work. Social media planted a seed for me to consider using it as a recovery tool. After some seed planting of my own, I convinced Taylor to come out on a bike ride with me and try out the new E-bike. He hadn’t ever ridden one before, and I knew I could hook him by his natural curiosity. I figured we’d go for a short loop and head back. I took my trail bike and we headed out. At the very least, I figured I’d gauge his interest and get a little exercise in for myself.
My little plan actually worked. Fortunately for me, E-bikes are immediately fun. You put them in Boost mode, and you can’t help crack a smile. It’s like the first time you sit in a go-kart as a kid, and press the metal pedal down to the floor. Your head goes back and you’re hooked. We stayed out most of the day. We laughed, we sessioned, we jibbed, we loved. I was overjoyed, but tried to keep it on the down low. This was it! I could feel that it was the start of our new beginning. This new type of bike was the thing that was going to end up towing us out of the dark hole we had been trying to scurry out of for months. We spent the next few months going on these rides. Eventually, Taylor healed enough to take his own trail bike out. The E-bike was just the crutch he needed to get back to his old path. There is so much polarity when it comes to the topic of E-bikes. It’s hard to imagine anyone holding a grudge against this object that could be so useful to some, or life changing to others. If it can help someone out of their darkest days, isn’t it worth figuring out the logistics of when and where to use them?