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November 7, 2010

Beware Bike Path Bollards

Filed under: Birding,Cycling,Photography,Travel — Steve Hamlin @ 7:40 am

In the spring of 2005, Linda and I made our first extended trip to Florida. What follows is my trip log entry for Thursday, May 5. We were getting our first intoxicating experience in wildlife photography and just beginning to explore places we’ve gotten quite familiar with since.

We left home on April 21, two days before my fiftieth birthday. By the time of this entry, we had been to Kiptopeke State Park in Virginia, Huntington Beach State Park in South Carolina, and St. Augustine, Florida. We had visited our son in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, then crossed the state to Naples.

This entry is from our first day at Fort DeSoto – a Pinellas County park off the southern tip of the St. Petersburg peninsula. We had checked into the campground the previous evening and gotten tips on places to bird from the ranger.

I got up around 7:00 and watched the bird life on the shore. Linda got up and had a cup of tea, then we drove to the other end of the park to look for the great horned owl that the ranger had told us was predictably there every morning. He had said something about it being at ‘station four’, but we hadn’t thought to ask of what. We stumbled around the Arrowhead picnic area until we happened on a self-guiding nature trail. It occurred to me that that was probably where station four was, so we walked it.

Sure enough, we found station four, but we didn’t find an owl. We walked the length of the trail, chatting with a young couple from Gainesville whenever our paths coincided. We didn’t see much, except a redbellied woodpecker or two. We eventually emerged onto the main road through the picnic area again.

Near the restrooms, there were several birders with expensive cameras. They seemed to know the area and be familiar with the birds. We hung around them trying to glean some useful information. I happened to be walking near a parking area just as a woman was parking her car. She climbed out, Canon camera around her neck with a long ‘L’ series lens mounted on it. She saw me and, apparently sensing that I was a novice, said, “You’ve got to go where the flock is. They’re over here in this grove of oaks.”

I followed her and almost immediately she spotted a Blackburnian warbler. We both shot it, then it flew to another tree. We followed it to where it landed in a low branch, caught a fat caterpillar, then sat there eating it, allowing us shot after shot. Linda had disappeared and missed the whole performance. We searched the oaks and saw a few other warblers, but didn’t have any other opportunities like that one.

The very helpful lady, Lynn Atherton, is a well-known local birder. She spends most days at Ft. DeSoto and places like it, photographing the birds, giving many of the photographs to the park to encourage other would-be birders. She and her friends were extremely generous in the time and information they gave to Linda and me. We asked about the owl after we’d been looking for songbirds in the oaks for awhile, so she led us through the nature trail looking for him. We didn’t find him, but she pointed out a yellow-billed cuckoo, which we would have missed.

When we were unsuccessful in finding the owl, Lynn told us of another place we might look for him, then told us of other places that we should look for other birds. After we’d stayed much longer than we’d planned, we realized we needed to get back to the ranger station and extend our stay at the campground.

We headed back to the campground and took care of business, then returned to our site. Linda wanted to take a shower, then head to Karen’s and Grace’s, so I decided I’d take a quick bike ride. I knew I’d have at least an hour, so I figured I could ride the bike path on the park as far as I could, which would be somewhere around 20 miles. I changed up and headed out.

I rode back toward the bridge to the end of the bike path, turned around and headed back past the campground. The bike path was laid out in swooping turns, which I was having a good time riding through. I was feeling good – it was beautiful day, we were in a beautiful park, and I was on my bike. I rode out to East Beach, past the park headquarters, the pier and the fort. I rounded the corner, headed out towards Arrowhead and North Beach. I passed the bike rental concession.

As I was nearing Arrowhead, I noticed a car parked between the bike path and the woods, which looked like a car that belonged to one of the birders from the morning. One of the places that Lynn had told us about was the area around a nearby communications tower, which, in my newness to the park, I had been thinking was on the other side of the road. I realized, on seeing the familiar car, that this was the place that she had been describing.

I continued past Arrowhead, sweeping around the circle at the north end of the road and into the North Beach parking lot. I circled the parking lot, then headed back the way I came. As I passed Arrowhead, I began looking closer at the service road at which the familiar car was parked. I crossed the service road and looked up in time to see that I was headed straight towards an iron bollard intended to prevent motor vehicles from driving on the bike path.

I was only riding at about 15 mph, but I crossed the distance between me and the bollard in a matter of seconds. I reacted quickly, veering to my right, and almost cleared the bollard – but not quite. My left brake lever clipped the top of the bollard and my momentum carried me to the right. Before I knew what happened, I landed hard on my right hip.

I lay there stunned for a few seconds, then dragged myself up. My right leg couldn’t take my weight. I realized I couldn’t walk. I was three or four miles from the campground and Linda was unreachable. I was utterly alone. I thought about flagging a passing pickup truck and asking for a ride, but my pride wouldn’t let me. I’ve been with people on several occasions who crashed and made it home under their own power, most recently last year, when my friend Don rode about 65 miles after crashing. I decided that if they could do it, I could too.

My first obstacle was getting on my bike. I couldn’t raise my leg high enough to clear the saddle. I lowered my bike enough to roll it between my legs. Then came the challenge of pedaling. I found that, while I could pedal with my right leg, I couldn’t sit down and do it. I rode standing on the pedals as long as I could stand the pain, then I un-clipped my right foot from the pedal – excruciatingly – and pedaled one-legged with my left leg as far as I had the strength.

By alternating between the two methods of pedaling, I was able to ride the distance back. I endured the humiliation of having to ride past the bike rental concession guy, as well as a few walkers I had passed in my earlier incarnation as a happy, fit cyclist. I finally rolled into our campsite, dismounted and began the painful process of getting ready to take a shower.

I got a change of clothes and my toilet kit out of my bag, then limped to the blockhouse, each step nearly bringing me to tears. I got myself mercifully into a shower stall, only to discover that there was absolutely no way I could get my shoe or sock off of my right foot. Feeling abject, dismal failure, I retraced my painful steps to the campsite and sat on the bench of the picnic table to wait for Linda.

When she came back from her shower, she sunnily asked how my ride was. I told her that I had a story for her. I filled her in on the highlights and saw her good mood replaced by shock and worry. She offered to help me with a shower, but there seemed to be no way to do that, so I suggested we just go to her aunt’s, as we’d planned, but with her driving.

We drove out of the campground to the office, where she insisted that a ranger look at my bloody arm, at least. The next thing I knew, a park vehicle was pulling up behind the van with its emergency lights flashing. A paramedic jumped out and I got out of the van enough so he could clean my wound and wrap it. Linda asked about an ice pack, which he didn’t have with him. He offered to give us a couple if we followed him to the headquarters, which we did.

Linda drove us over to the mainland, where I asked that she find a CVS or the like, so I could get a cane or crutches. We found one almost immediately. I got out of the van and limped to a shopping cart, which I used as a support to get me through the store, then back out to the van. As I was making my way in excruciating pain through the store to find a support, I caught a young couple making fun of me- as if I hadn’t already suffered enough humiliation. I found a cane, then left Linda to attend to checkout and went back to sit in the van and wait.

Finally, at about 6:30, we made it to Karen’s and Grace’s. Karen was out, so we visited with Grace after calling Karen on her cell phone to tell her we were there. Karen had fixed lasagna, which we ate soon after she returned from the beach, where she’d been visiting with some friends. She wanted us to spend the night and stay the weekend, especially in light of my injuries, but I insisted that we return to the campground. We had to pack our tent and the rest of our belongings and check out anyway. It was going to be very difficult under any circumstances, but if we had to drive there first thing in the morning, it would make it even worse.

We returned to camp around 11:00 and I turned in for what I was sure would be a very painful night.


Due to a combination of hard-headedness, a pile of responsibilities, and a high tolerance for pain, I hobbled through most of 2005 before my injury was diagnosed as a crushed femoral neck – a very bad broken hip. We followed through on the balance of our trip, arriving home on May 20. I carried on throughout, despite the pain, relying on over-the-counter medication to alleviate it.

In March, 2006, I had surgery to repair the hip. I was extremely lucky that I didn’t do further damage in the intervening months. My hip was pinned – a fix that the surgeon predicted might buy me a few years before I’d need hip replacement surgery.

I’ve undertaken a self-administered therapy program that includes cycling for the benefit of the low-impact rotational exercise, and Glucosamine and Chondroitin in the hope that it will help prevent the deterioration of the joint. This coming March will be my fifth anniversary of my surgery and my hip seems to be doing fine.

All text and images © Steve Hamlin
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