Yesterday, the city closed Park Avenue to traffic and opened it up to everyone else: bikers, runners, walkers, roller-bladers, guys in duck suits. My husband and rode our bikes all the way down to Foley Square, stopping briefly at REI so that I could buy a neon pink sports bra to replace the much too hot T-shirt I was wearing, and decided to go over the Brooklyn Bridge.
“Are you sure you want to do this?” he asked me.
Because the pedestrian walkway over the bridge was a knotted, tangled mess of bicycles and people spread out four abreast. Even so, I’d rather dodge people than taxis any day, and as we got closer to the top the walkers and bikers sorted themselves out to (mostly) the correct sides of the path. Even so, when we got to the bottom, we decided to go back via the Williamsburg or Manhattan bridges. We made a left at the foot of the bridge, rode north until we saw another bridge, and turned towards it.
That’s where things got interesting. My husband rode up onto the sidewalk toward the bridge (so as to not be crossing the Manhattan bridge in the same lanes as the cars). I stayed on the street, because it looked like the sidewalk made a dead end a few hundred feet up. As I got closer and realized the sidewalk turned rather than ending, it seemed like a good idea to get on it. I didn’t quite turn my wheel parallel enough to the lip of the sidewalk, though, so instead of going up onto the sidewalk the front wheel of my bike slid along it for a moment before the bike went over, sending me bouncing along the pavement.
I threw out an arm to brace myself, and slammed into a dark green plywood wall, taking a bit of skin off my ankle along the way but otherwise unhurt. Then I stood up, shook myself off, and realized that my shoulder hurt. A lot. I did the visual — no bones sticking out, no bleeding — concluded I may have pulled a muscle but hadn’t broken anything, and leaned against my bike to catch my breath. At about this point, my husband came back to make sure I was okay.
“I’m okay,” I told him. “Just give me a minute.” A really weird thing started to happen. First my ears started to feel like I’d stuffed cotton in them, and everything sounded kind of far away. Then things started to get brighter. It was pretty sunny and bright out already, but the leaves on the trees started to look less green and more white, and the pavement was so bright it almost hurt to look at. I closed my eyes a few times, thinking that would make it go away. It didn’t.
“Everything’s getting brighter,” I told my husband. “I’m having trouble seeing.”
“Did you hit your head?” he asked.
I’m pretty sure I didn’t, but it happened really fast – one minute I was riding toward the sidewalk, the next minute my shoulder was slamming into the plywood.
“You’re okay,” he told me, and he decided we were going to go across the street to where it was shady. The walk across the street took forever. It was one of those big two-way streets, with an island in the middle. It took us an entire light to make it to the island. I could barely see anything – the whole world looked like one of those “turn to sketch” photoshop filters, where everything is black and white and drawn in crisp, bold outlines. Nothing that I was seeing made sense.
My husband made me wait for what seemed like an eternity on the traffic island, even though I didn’t see any cars going by, and other pedestrians were walking by us. I wanted to get off the street and somewhere I could sit down so much that I forced myself to focus. Colors started to appear again: the brilliant orange of the “don’t walk” sign, the green leaves of the trees in the shady area in front of us.
By the time we crossed the street and I sat down on a ledge, I could see again: the gray granite of the ledge, the faded brown of the benches, the orangey-brown of the wood chips around the bushes. It had probably been about five minutes from the time I fell off my bike, maybe ten. I can’t remember a scarier ten minutes in my life.
We sat for a little longer. I pulled a wipe out of the bag and cleaned the dirt and bike grease off my legs. It was enough to make me feel fully human again. Then we got back on the bikes, and rode back onto the sidewalk and over the Manhattan bridge. I rode so slowly on the way up that even the rollerbladers passed me, but I didn’t care. My ankle was still stinging, and my shoulder hurt, but that was nothing compared to the total terror I had felt a few minutes before.
On the way down the bridge, I smoked those rollerbladers.