By John Yoder
As a cyclist, I frequently learn something from my rides, and some events teach me several lessons.
That was the case when I was riding my mountain bike on the shoulder of a busy two-lane highway in my hometown, Goshen, Indiana. As I scanned the road ahead, I noticed that a cyclist had fallen about 100 feet in front of me. As I got closer, I could see that she was a middle-aged woman dressed in work clothes. When I reached her, she was kneeling on the ground and holding up two hands with numerous cuts on them from her fall. Her one-speed bike with a large basket on the handlebars lay nearby.
I stopped and asked her if she was alright and what had happened. She said that she'd hit the curb that separated a business there from the road. But it didn’t really matter what had caused her to fall. She was in pain, and her hands were bleeding.
I helped her get up and was relieved to see that she hadn't broken any bones in her fall. Her major problem was her hands: the multiple cuts were bleeding and full of dirt from hitting the gravel at the edge of the road, and those cuts would make it difficult for her to grip the handlebars if she wanted to ride her bike further.
I wanted to help clean and bandage her hands, but I told her that, unfortunately, I didn't have a first-aid kit on this bike. Still, I decided to look in my seat bag in case I'd put something in there that might help her clean up.
What I found in my bag were two rumpled packets of Wet Ones, obviously quite old. I had put them there to clean my hands after changing a tire – always a messy task for me. I ripped one packet open and found that the little square of paper inside was completely dry. It only took a moment for me to realize that I could wet it with water from my water bottle and make it perform something like its original cleaning function.
So that's what I did: I dripped water from the water bottle onto the dry Wet Ones and gave them to her. She cleaned the gravel dust and dirt out of her hands rather well, first with one re-wetted Wet Ones and then with the other. Although she still had a nasty cut on her left index finger that refused to stop bleeding (I had no gauze or bandage to offer her), she was grateful that her hands were clean enough to grip the handlebars securely. She rode off toward home, letting the cut on her finger bleed onto her handlebars.
I was glad that I could help her somewhat, but at the same time I was mad at myself for not having a first-aid kit on my bike. From this experience, I learned several lessons:
1. I need to carry a first-aid kit on my three bikes, even when riding in town.
I suspect the reason I didn’t have one on this bike is that I ride it mostly on short rides in the city, and I’m never more than three miles from home. But it’s silly of me to think that an accident (involving me, or someone else) couldn’t happen in town. Furthermore, you never know when another cyclist might need first-aid help. I've since added a first-aid kit to this bike. (Even if it's a minimalist one – a couple bandages, a couple wet wipes, a few Ibuprofen, etc. – that's better than nothing.)
2. I should not assume that I have nothing to offer another cyclist who has a problem.
My first reaction on seeing this woman’s bleeding hands was to think that I couldn’t help because I didn’t have the right tools, i.e., a first-aid kit. But we can often improvise, as I did in this case with old Wet Ones and water.
Look around and adapt what you have for the problem at hand. The results may not be pretty or perfect, but like my re-wetted Wet Ones, it might be better than nothing. You can do some roadside repairs by looking for usable trash in the ditch, things like aluminum foil to “boot” a tire (putting something solid between the tube and a tire with a hole) or a piece of wire to wrap up something that’s loose.
3. Water is a wonderful "medicine."
It cleans up cuts with or without a cloth. And often it just feels good to pour some on the skin, even if, alone, it can't completely clean a wound. Don’t leave home without it.
4. We cyclists need to look out for one another.
I can help another cyclist in distress, either directly or by calling 911 or waiting with them until help arrives. Even though many riders carry a cell phone, if they fall or crash, they may have trouble dialing the phone because their hands are dirty, scratched or bleeding. Or they may be dazed from hitting their head. In those situations, a clean hand and cell phone can be invaluable. If the rider is injured but still able to call for help on their own, just waiting with them until help arrives can relieve their stress.
The bottom line is that we should be prepared for accidents and breakdowns by carrying a first-aid kit, a water bottle and a multi-tool. But if we don’t have the perfect tools to fix the problem, we can often improvise a solution that will get us (or our fellow cyclist) home, or assist them by calling for help.
John D. Yoder is a recreational cyclist, former cycling commuter and League of American Bicyclists cycling instructor. He has been active for over 25 years establishing the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail, a rails-to-trails project connecting Goshen, Middlebury and Shipshewana, Indiana (www.pumpkinvine.org).