I laid on my back in agony for several minutes trying to fathom how this could have happened. I had just turned on to this unexpected stretch of gravel ten minutes before and was following a nice hard-packed lane as good as pavement, flying along assisted by a tailwind, when all of a sudden I came to a slight rise and then a descent that was thick with gravel. I gained speed before I could brake and then was swerving out of control. The pain in my shoulder was so sharp I didn't realize blood was oozing from my left knee and a golf-ball sized knob had popped up just below it.
It was dusk and there hadn't been any traffic on this road since I had turned on to it. I didn't particularly wish to be rescued. I just wanted to crawl off into the nearby cornfield and lick my wounds. There is nothing a doctor can do for a broken collarbone other than give one a sling, and I could easily fashion one myself from all the bandanas I'd been finding along the road.
I had risen to a sitting position when I saw headlights approaching. The driver had no choice but to stop. He was a 40-year old man in a pick-up truck wearing a reflective vest. "Are you all right?" he asked. "Do you want me to call for help?"
"I think I'm okay," I replied. "I just need help picking up my bike." I knew there was no way I could manage that with just one arm. I was already holding my damaged arm across my chest in the sling position. I could see a clearing between cornfields a little ways away where I could set up my tent and start my recovery.
I hobbled along with a pronounced limp using the bike as a crutch. The pain in my leg was a minor throb compared to the searing pain in my shoulder. I pushed the bike a couple hundred feet through a grassy strip between fields and leaned it against a barbed wire fence. Then began the challenge of setting up my tent with one arm. Any jiggle of the bad arm had me whelping in pain. I didn't care that I was visible from the road, as I would have welcomed a police officer, just to find out how far it was to the nearest motel in case I needed to lay up for a couple of days.
I managed to open a can of beans with one hand and added them to my ramen. There was no quick clapping to death of mosquitoes with only one hand at my disposal. I could finally gain a slight measure of relaxation leaning back in my sleeping pad/camp chair. I began experimenting with my bad arm and discovered I had a little range of movement giving me hope there wasn't a break. The brightest glimmer of hope came when I laid down to sleep and after a few minutes on my back slowly eased over to my right side without any stabs of pain. I couldn't have done that with a broken collar bone. The weld on its previous break may have saved it. My previous severe contusion kept me off work for two weeks. Touring is much less demanding than measengering, so maybe I could start riding in a day or two. Right now my arm was useless. I couldn't lift a thing with it and any jarring of the shoulder was excruciating.
I slept solid and could keep sleeping with the dawn as clouds had moved in blunting the sun, not heating up the tent. I slept till noon and considered sleeping the rest of the day, but I didn't have enough water for a second night. It took nearly an hour to break camp and then an hour-and-a-half to push the bike three-and-a-half miles to the pavement, with a half hour rest break. My leg was sore and my shoulder very tender. Only three or four cars passed and a grader smoothing the gravel. He was a day late. None stopped.
When I reached the pavement I warily threw my leg over the bike wondering if I dared attempt to ride it. I gripped the handlebars with both hands and squeezed the brakes okay. Leaning forward only caused minimal pain in my left shoulder. I pushed off and I was happily, almost miraculously, back riding my bike. It was two miles to the town of Dannebrog, population 345. It wasn't big enough for a motel, but there was a small grocery store. The owner was wearing a "Don't Suck" t-shirt, motto of Cubs manager Joe Madden. He was an ardent fan who makes a trip to Wrigley, 600 miles a way, nearly every year. He said I could pitch my tent in the town park, a block away.
It was tempting, but I couldn't resist giving my damaged left side a little more of a test. Some might advise rest as the best healing agent. I go with exercise, circulating the blood and moving stiff joints and lifting the spirit. It seemed to be working. I managed fifteen miles before dark, camping beyond the county fair grounds in St. Paul and within range of a slaughterhouse where the terrified squeals of hogs made my squeals of the evening before seem insignificant.
It was another night of grimacing, but I was relieved that I wouldn't have to call Janina to come rescue me, as I knew she would gladly have done. I was still done in and slept nearly twelve hours, but I could ride with a lot less pain in my leg, though the shoulder was a different story. Every bump in the road registered with it. I didn't make it to Fullerton and its Carnegie, thirty-six miles away, until mid-afternoon. The library had been retired nearly twenty-five years ago and was presently vacant. Carnegie would have greatly applauded it as it had no ornamentation. It was a purely functional two-story red brick building with no funds wasted on embellishments, though it did have "Carngie Pulbic Library" chiseled over the entrance.
It had more space than the slightly more distinguished Carnegie in Ravenna I visited a few hours before my calamity with the gravel. The town had plans and the site for a new library, but not the funds.
A substitute librarian was on duty. It was a rare librarian that required a code for its WIFI. She had to make a call to find out what it was--booksrfun. I was there when school let out and its lone upstairs room was suddenly filled with kids wanting on to the computers. There is no greater emblem of small town America than kids leaving their bikes unlocked and in disarray out front.
The Carnegie in Arcadia was only open four days a week for just three-and-a-half hours at a time.
The Carnegie in Loup City was now a law office that maintained its regal demeanor facing on to the town's main square where in 1934 there was a demonstration known as the "Loup City Riot."
A historical plaque explained that women poultry workers were threatening a strike over their wages. Ela Reefe "Mother" Bloor of the American Communist Party and others came to tow to support their cause. It resulted in a clash with local residents. Bloor and others in her group were given jail sentences and fine, squashing "the attempt of the far left to organize farmers and workers in Nebraska." Alexander Payne might have another Nebraska movie here, or John Sayles could have his first.