Update

This isn’t a fun or easy post to write, but I have told so many people that I’m writing a book over the last five years, that I do feel I owe you some closure. Before you read any further, there is a graphic photo I’d like to warn you about. (Family – don’t bother reading more.)

I am stepping aside entirely on the book. It was never meant to be a therapeutic activity. Since the beginning, my intent was to see it in bookstores and coffee shops. The ideal reader was not supposed to be my cycling friends, but strangers who drive recklessly on the roads, people diagnosed with bipolar II who feel alone, and people who have struggled from trauma or secondary trauma. I’ve had the opportunity to publish it with a hybrid publisher, but they wanted to make the content PG.

News flash: Trauma isn’t PG.

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Yesterday, I received the final rejection letter I’m going to deal with. I admit, my undergraduate degree is in civil engineering and my masters is in education. I did not go to school to write. However, in the process of writing this book, I did take a writing course and have the guidance from a writing coach. I read aloud the entire draft to Kennett, who does have a journalism degree. It was a good book, which is why my disappointment level is running pretty high at the moment.

I am not looking for extra motivation from anyone at this point. I won’t be self-publishing and I actually probably won’t want to talk about this much beyond writing this blog. If you ever listened to me talk through the book, I want to thank you. I processed a lot of it out loud with those around me. I also owe a ton to the supportive people who jumped in to help immediately after the crash.

Good news – I got out for a brillant two hour ride first thing this morning.

The Power of Photos

In 2014, it was estimated that people uploaded 1.8 billion photos to social media daily. Photos are a way we express ourselves and share our memories. Beyond the internet, photos are also a way people ID us. A prime example is our drivers’ licenses. 

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I’m crying in my driver’s license photo. Hopefully, it’s as close as I get to a mugshot. 

It started on New Year’s Eve of 2015, when I took the opportunity of short lines to get a new driver’s license. I had already been running errands before friends came by for dinner. It was a fiasco from the start because I had forgotten proof of my new address. However, after a promise that I’d be allowed to skip any lines if I came back with the correct documentation by the end of the day, I pushed through to make it happen. 

Back at the DMV, a woman called me up to the front desk for an eye test. Then she directed me to another line for my photo. My mind spun out. 

No I can’t. I need to keep my old photo. My old photo was a good one. I had a great smile. Those were my teeth. She doesn’t understand…

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I got in line and the tears started welling up in my eyes. Nine days earlier I had undergone my third facial surgery to pull my lip down away from my nose and clear up some of the thick scar tissue that had formed along my jawline. Now, sitting in a plastic chair, awaiting my new driver’s license photo, I still had black stitches lining my face.

All I wanted was to keep my driver’s license photo.

I wrote the DMV: 

Hello,

I renewed my license today at the DMV in Boulder and asked to keep my picture…Last October I was hit by a driver while on my bike. He has had 17 serious traffic violations. I almost didn’t survive the ambulance ride to the hospital and due to the crash, I have severe damage to my face. The extensive scarring and damage has been extremely traumatizing. He still has his driver’s license even though he is a danger on the road, while I’m being told I can’t even keep the photo on my license.

It is important to me because I’m struggling with PTSD. I don’t want to have a constant reminder of the crash everytime I pull out my ID. Plus, I’m a girl – I lost my smile and my license photo was a good photo that always makes me happy. I feel like it is such a small thing to do for me and it would make a huge difference to me in the upcoming years as I heal emotionally.

Please help, Adelaide

The response I got was that photos are required by the REAL ID Act to be taken if a document is issued at an office or at the very least, every 16 years.  When a customer renews a document in person a new photo and fingerprints are taken and the system is updated with the new information.

Had I renewed it online, I could have kept my photo, but I hadn’t known that until after I walked into the DMV. For months, I kept my old license tucked in my wallet’s clear ID slot on top, while my valid ID sat tucked underneath where I wouldn’t have to see it. 

These days I rarely think of showing my ID. However, recently I was talking in depth about my book with a person who generously read it in advance. It brought me back to how I felt during December 2015 and January 2016. I was in the midst of a surgery, which brought about another significant change to my facial appearance, and mediation with the insurance companies. Smack dab in the middle of both of those stressful events was when I went to the DMV for the new license. As I recall that time period I feel very sad for my prior self. I don’t think I had ever signed an email with the words “please help” before that day, or since. It was a sign of my desperation. 

Now, between all the forms of social media and phone cameras, we take photos without any thought. This is a reminder that photos hold a lot of power. In my book I discuss all of these events in much more depth and the power that other photos, like wedding pictures, had over me too.

If You Met Me After 2016…

It has been five years since my crash and in that time I’ve met a host of new friends and acquaintances. Initially, people associated me with the newspaper articles written about the crash when they could see my relatively fresh injuries. More importantly, I think during the first three years, before I went to trauma therapy, I wore my PTSD on my sleeve where everyone could see it. 

For example, in 2016 when Michelle Walters, a triathlete, was killed during the bike leg of Boulder Ironman, I spent a solid three days crying. At track practice the Wednesday of that week, I pulled off into the turf during my first 400 of the workout and fell to my knees convulsing as the tears flowed. I made other people deal with my trauma more back then. 

For a sense of how it’s changed, yesterday a woman was pinned under an SUV in Boulder after being hit by a driver while riding her bike. While it has been on my mind since last night, I was still able to show up at run group and complete the 20-minute tempo effort with everyone else. I no longer feel personally wounded when someone else is hurt on the road. I understand that it can be hard to relate to that type of trauma unless you’ve been through it or near it, but for years I didn’t just relate, I lived it through other victims. 

I’m really struggling with new friends I’ve met since I’ve gotten my PTSD under control. One Saturday morning Kennett and I were cut off on our way to swim practice by the driver of a giant SUV. As the woman sped past, I saw it was a fellow swimmer who I really get along well with. She explained in the pool how her kids had made her late to leave the house that morning. I spent two days yelling at her in my head. It is SWIM PRACTICE and it is OKAY TO BE LATE. You and your giant SUV are DANGEROUS to others on the road. Especially if you decide you are too good for the speed limit!  

People will tell me their traffic woes and I cringe. I’ll be in a group and someone will say, “So-and-so just said they ran into traffic and will be three minutes late.” What? That means they had their phone in their hand while driving, most likely texting.

Many people who saw me during my recovery remind me that they put their phones away in the car because of my crash. They drive extra carefully when I’m in the car because they know I’m sensitive to traffic—particularly in instances when drivers pull out from side streets on the right, since that’s how I was hit. However, now there is a growing contingent of people who don’t even know why I have scars.

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A few weeks after the crash.

I don’t want to burden others with trauma that is mine. I don’t need the world to support me on the days when I want to cry over my disfigured lip. I don’t need to share my every opinion about crashes that happen locally. I DO need people to drive with an added caution and regard for others on the road. I am finding myself isolated from new friends, not because they don’t understand my emotional response to unsafe driving, but because the way they drive could cause a crash like mine.

While writing this I found out about two other serious collisions involving two pedestrians that were hit walking to school, and a cyclist who was hit by a driver all within 24 hours. The city needs to take real action and stop pandering to drivers—a topic for another blog post. Drivers themselves need to take responsibility for the way they drive, and start operating their vehicles like the deadly, destructive machines that they are.

 

Why CEMEX, a Multinational Building Materials Company, Cares about Cyclists

There is nothing better than reading a good book chock full of interesting information that you can use as a conversation starter for the following week. It keeps me from gossiping and encourages me to think more deeply about the world. Recently, my reading list has included two excellent books by Johann Hari, Life is a Marathon by Matt Fitzgerald, and How Cycling Can Save the World by Peter Walker. This last book has provided me with my most recent antidote to share.

Before this book came into my hands, I was talking with a friend who told me that CEMEX co-sponsored the Lyons/Nederland Omnium, a bike race that she competed in  earlier this summer. She was impressed that the company brought out one of the cement trucks to the race and had representatives there to talk with the cyclists, asking them to give the cement trucks extra room because they can’t stop on a dime. (No surprise to me, they conveyed that the cement truck drivers often have more trouble with impatient drivers than with cyclists.)

It was after this conversation that I found myself reading How Cycling Can Save the World. In the book, they make mention of Cynthia Barlow, whose 26-year-old daughter, Alex, was killed by a cement truck in London way back in 2000. Out of grief and anger, Cynthia bought enough shares in the company, which was then Readymix and is now CEMEX, to be able to attend the company’s annual shareholder meeting. In a prepared statement, she questioned why the crash had happened and demanded to know what the company would do to prevent it from happening in the future to someone else. The company listened and started to work with her to make improvements in their trucks and driving program.

As I sat there reading I thought, Holy shit, that was 19 years ago in England! Cynthia didn’t organize the company to co-sponsor a bike race in Colorado but she absolutely is the reason that CEMEX cares enough to be involved. I decided to put a bookmark in and go downstairs to message my friend the backstory about why she saw CEMEX at one of her races.

In the years since Alex died and Cynthia attended her first shareholders meeting, CEMEX has added additional mirrors onto the trucks for visibility, sensors to alert drivers of cyclists next to them, and additional turn signals to alert cyclists of the drivers’ intentions to turn. The company has also sponsored events, partnering with cycling organizations to allow cyclists to climb into the cab of a cement truck to understand what it is like from a driver’s perspective. Just Google “CEMEX and bikes” to see how widespread their efforts are.

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Photo from one of an event with CEMEX in Texas

Are you proud of Cynthia Barlow? Do you want to harness a little of that not-giving-up-until-someone-answers-me attitude? – Cause I do.

I’ll leave you with this. Recently, I heard Rabbi Jonathan Sacks speak on the radio. His comment was, “Optimism and hope are not the same. Optimism is the belief that the world is changing for the better; hope is the belief that, together, we can make the world better.” According to his definition, hope is believing a situation will improve, but only when action is taken.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot with regards to bicycle safety and advocacy. I’m not optimistic that the world is going to get better for those who commute or train on two-wheels. However, I am extremely hopeful and hearing stories like those of Cynthia Barlow only stoke my fire to make sure it happens.

 

 

 

What Happens When Cyclists Finally Fill a Room?

Today I showed up for a group ride called Wednesday Morning Velo that leaves from North Boulder. As the organizers reminded people to be safe on the roads, many people turned on flashing bike lights, (I did too, but I think I forgot to turn it off and it is probably still flashing on my bike in the garage now…), and we left town. Shortly outside of town I made small talk with another rider who asked, “Have you done this ride much?”

“This is my first year, but I’ve been joining almost every Wednesday. You?”

“This is my second time out with the group. It is quite big. There must have been about 100 people there this morning.”

Now, I don’t have the exact numbers, but we did split across four different groups and I would agree with the assessment that there were at least 100 people in total—cyclists who set an early alarm and were on their bikes, ready to pedal out of town via North Broadway at 6:30 a.m.

The ride this morning fit my energy levels perfectly and I was happy to be in a pack. Briefly, I was even in the best paceline I’ve been in since I was a pure cyclist in 2014. Then I came home to shower and my mood shifted every so slightly because I got to thinking about this past Monday night.

Monday night was a Transportation Advisory Board (TAB) Meeting in Boulder. The hot topic up for public comment was a redesign of North Broadway because the asphalt has reached its lifespan. North Broadway is the same road that all 100 cyclists this morning had to ride on, at least in some small section because we left from the coffee shop on that same stretch of road. At Monday’s meeting, all the public comments were from bike commuters and recreational cyclists, urging the city to chose protected bike lanes over simply adding two feet to the width of the current bike lanes. Whatever the city creates, it is expected to last 40 years. This is the last redesign of North Broadway that some of the riders out there this morning will see in their lifetime.

And while Monday’s meeting went well because the support was overwhelmingly for better vulnerable road user infrastructure, guess how many people showed up to that TAB meeting? Fewer than 25 people including Kennett and myself.

Do you see where I am going with this? This is one of the main roads out of town for cyclists, and while I easily see hundreds of people riding on a sunny, summer day on Broadway, we couldn’t even fill the seats at a TAB meeting.

To be completely fair, I understand that I don’t have children to take care of in the evening. I also know that everyone has their own passion and just because mine is cycling advocacy, not everyone’s is. A variety of passions in a community is important. For instance, we had a friend over for dinner who told us about the store Refill Revolution in Boulder and gently reminded us that we could be doing a better job reusing, as opposed to just recycling, in our house.

Still, if someone is passionate about cycling, then I believe they need to take a greater interest in cycling advocacy out of self-preservation. Reminding fellow riders to be safe and to turn on their bike lights is small in the grand scheme of safety. To make monumental changes I believe we, as vulnerable users of the road, need to ask for better infrastructure. No, we need to demand it. And show up en masse.

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My Favorite Holiday

Bike to Work Day is a holiday in our household. It is not to be missed for workouts or appointments. Our excitement exists, in part, because winter Bike to Work Day was the first time my husband, Kennett, invited me to ride with him. He worked in the bike industry at the time, and his entire office met at Dushanbe Tea House early in the dark morning to take advantage of free chai, which Kennett’s boss referred to as “rocket fuel.”

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WInter Bike to Work Day 2019

By Winter Bike to Work Day in 2013, Kennett and I had been dating for less than two months. He didn’t own a car, which I found very attractive. It was a sign that he thought for himself and didn’t just follow societal norms. While I had done a month-long bike tour with my sister, I didn’t have the same close connection with the bike that Kennett had acquired during his previous seven years of bike racing. I didn’t understand the nuances of being a bike racer or bike commuter, nor did I appreciate the dedication that it took to bike commute full-time. For instance, Kennett would ride 18 miles round trip that winter to have dinner at my house. Until I began bike commuting myself over the following year, I failed to realize that he must have really been interested in dating me because he was willing to ride home at 11 p.m. in the snow after spending time with me. (He wasn’t riding all that way for my cooking, because apparently I undercooked all of my rice dishes.)

I got a taste of winter riding when I pulled my Surly touring bike out on the frigid January morning in 2013 to ride in a pack with Kennett’s co-workers from one stop to the next. As we navigated across parking lots to the next street or bike path, people in our group would bunny-hop a curb or joke with the person next to them. I felt like a kid who was simply inhabiting an adult body, like Tom Hanks in the movie Big.

Bike to Work Day is more than just an anniversary of our dating life. The Bike to Work Day that meant the most to me was two years later in the winter of 2015. By then, Kennett and I were engaged. His co-workers had become my own because I started working at the same company. More than co-workers, I viewed them as friends. They had, along with many people in the cycling community,  jumped to support Kennett and me when I had nearly died in a crash with a car less than four months before. I felt an incredible sense of bliss and excitement, enhanced by the spicy chai, to be alive riding with them, cruising down the streets to the next sweet treat.

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Winter Bike to Work Day 2015

Tomorrow is the next Bike to Work Day and I’m excited for it. As the summer version, there will be more fair-weather riders joining the festivities and the streets should be full of people who find joy on two wheels. For a little precursor fun, tonight we’ll go ride bikes at Valmont Bike Park with our niece, who is just learning how to pedal.

I realize that I’m privileged to be able to ride my bike to work and activities, but I have also worked to make it happen. It is even more important now that I celebrate the good rides and the events like tomorrow because, while I want to open up about my crash and continue being a cycling advocate, I don’t want to be consumed by the dangers of riding. Nor do I want to scare people away from riding. If you are a local, hopefully I see you tomorrow on the roads. If you aren’t in Boulder, still consider pulling out your bike and celebrating my favorite holiday in your hometown.

CO Needs a Vulnerable Road User Bill

Colorado is currently considered a Vulnerable Road User Bill. In March, I testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Since then, it has made it through the Senate Finance Committee, Senate Appropriations Committee, and Committee of the Whole Senate. Today it is being heard by the House Health Committee and I will go to Congress again with Triny (another cyclist who was hit in a crash after mine) to testify. Below is my notes for what I will say this afternoon. It isn’t edited the way I would for my writing, but I think it important to share anyway.

My name is Adelaide Perr. I’m a vulnerable road user and I’m here asking you to vote yes on HB-175.

Today is day one for a young woman in North Boulder. I got home from a run this morning and saw my husband a few hundred feet away, standing by the street as someone was loaded into an ambulance. When he walked over to me I hugged him. As he cried, he said the woman looked like me. He said she her eyes were rolling back in her head and it looked as though she was trying to move her arm. She was bleeding from her face. I’m here because this is important, but I’m worried about my husband who is at home suffering from PTSD today.

In 2014, I was the one on a bike ride, when a driver ran a stop sign and pulled abruptly into my lane of traffic. I was going downhill and didn’t have enough time to stop. My wheels skidded out from underneath me and I went through the driver’s side window. The last thing I remember from that day was hearing an EMT say, “Her face is peeled off.” The entire left side of my face was shattered, teeth broken, and my skin was what they call degloved — it was ripped from my lip all the way behind my ear. My boyfriend was supposed to meet me midway through my ride. When he came across the scene I had been taken away. My injuries were so severe that nobody could tell him whether or not I was alive.

I went through two major surgeries, was in a sedated coma for five days, and spent 11 days in intensive care, which ran up a bill of $251,000. When I got out it took a long time to figure out what the traffic penalty was for the driver. He was charged with careless driving causing bodily injury. I didn’t understand why it wasn’t considered reckless driving so I asked to the deputy DA. She told me that for reckless driving the DA has to prove, “wanton and willful disregard for a person’s safety.” She told me that was very hard to prove in bike v. car crashes and that she couldn’t do anything to change the law. Her example of reckless driving was a person doing donuts in an empty parking lot, even though they are only endangering themselves and property versus putting people at risk on the road like the driver in my case did.

The driver who hit me had 17 traffic infractions, had caused 4 crashes, and had previously been listed as a habitual traffic offender. However, after my crash he only received 4 points on his license, meaning he could go out and cause two more serious crashes that year before his license would get revoked by the DMV.

The day I was hit, I didn’t own a car and commuted by bike. Due to my injuries, I immediately lost my mode of transportation. Even now that I ride again, I will probably always own a car because some days my PTSD is too severe to ride. I think it is appropriate to take away a person’s license after they have harmed someone with their vehicle.

The first night I was in a sedated coma, my boyfriend proposed to me. I’m not just asking for your support on HB-175 to keep me safe. Every day that my husband leaves for a bike ride, I make sure to give him a kiss because I worry he is going to be killed. Please help keep unsafe drivers off the roads and make the consequences for injuring someone severe.