"Hearst Magazines and Yahoo may earn commission or revenue on some items through the links below."
Name: Robert Mang
Hometown: Niagara Falls, New York (currently lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico)
Time Cycling: 58 years
Reason for Cycling: A sense of freedom while moving through open space with its limitless breathability.
There wasn’t much to my life before cycling—it’s pretty much all I remember as a kid. My first bike was a really cool Schwinn Stingray when I was 10, and I have been riding ever since. Forty years ago, I started a more serious pursuit of road cycling. Then, like now, I normally ride five days a week. In the early days, travel plans and apps didn’t exist, but I’ve been keeping an exceedingly detailed log/spreadsheet for the last 25 years. I can tell you miles ridden, feet climbed, hours in the saddle, which bikes I’ve ridden, whether indoors or outdoors, and more.
I develop a cycling plan every year, which for the last 15 years has resulted in between 5,000 to 6,000 miles per year, normally over 400,000 feet of climbing, and 375 to 450 hours per year. I tried racing a few times, but quickly lost interest. I found that it started to take the fun out of cycling—it felt like work.
One of my favorite riding experiences is the feeling of freedom, being present, being part of your environment, and being aware of those first pedal strokes when starting out on the day’s tour. These feelings are especially pronounced when riding in a new country on a new route. Every turn offers something new, and it’s this newness that makes touring so enjoyable.
But eight years ago, I had a near-fatal mountain biking accident. I was on a new mountain bike, a “29-er” with hydraulic brakes and full suspension—features all new to me. I had been mountain biking for over 20 years, but never on a bike with this geometry or these mechanical components. It was at the end of a pretty tough day, and I was tired and hungry. It’s unusual for me to forget food, but in this instance I had. No matter how hard I try, the accident remains a blur. I know for a fact that I was with three friends on a moderately difficult trail that I had never rode before. Being a cautious downhiller, there were several sections where I walked the bike.
I’m positive I rode that last portion, which included the final descent before the end, because that’s where I fell. I remember seeing a rocky, sandy patch as I was making the final drop, and I seem to remember thinking that I might not make it safely around or over this section. I seem to remember my front wheel turning in the sand, and me lunging over the handlebars and crashing on those rocks.
I was airlifted to the trauma center, where I learned that I broke seven ribs, suffered a flail chest—three or more ribs that are broken in two or more places—a punctured lung and spleen, fractured pelvis, and a concussion. I immediately went into surgery to patch my punctured lung and spleen, and to insert a drip tube for my lung. It was not until sometime the next day that I fully understood what had happened, and just how much pain I was in.
According to the doctors, there were a few things I should’ve been very grateful for. First, the helmet I wore saved my life. Yes, I had a concussion, and the impact cracked the helmet. But if I was not wearing it, I would either be dead or would have suffered a very serious brain injury. Second, I’m fortunate that I was physically fit with strong lungs. The doctors said the mortality rate for a flail chest is disturbingly high, and given my remote location, it could have had a much more serious result. And most importantly, I give my thanks—and actually my life—to my riding buddies who knew how to handle me after the fall, and who convinced the helicopter dispatcher to send a rescue team.
Robert’s Must-Have Gear
→ Scott Road Bike: This bike is light and a great climber. I weigh 120 pounds, and I love to climb, so a heavy bike is not an option for me.
→ Tacx Indoor Smart Trainer: This trainer hooked up to the Zwift app makes indoor cycling tolerable.
→ Custom-Made Touring Bike With Break-Away Couplers: I love to do international, self-supported, multi-week bike tours. I can fit this full sized bike into a checkable case and easily roll it through airports. It makes bike touring much easier.
My recovery was not easy, and I developed a dependency to oxycodone, a prescription pain medication, since I was put on relatively high doses of it after the accident. At first, the drug allowed me to breathe, move, and deal with the severe pain I was experiencing. But after about six weeks, I was put on hydrocodone (Vicodin) to “wean” me off of oxycodone. Unfortunately, my physical reaction was severe pain—the very pain I was trying to eliminate—and my emotional reaction was a severe bout of depression.
I went back on oxycodone, albeit a slightly smaller dosage. Over the next six weeks, I started a disciplined tapering schedule with my doctor’s supervision: 60 mg, 40 mg, 20 mg, 15 mg, 10 mg. When I hit 10 mg per day, almost three months after my accident, I thought I could stop taking it cold turkey. But I ended up having most of the typical opiate physical dependence withdrawal symptoms: mild depression, agitation, loose stools, irritability, endless sneezing bouts, runny nose, high resting heart rate, uncontrollable yawning, and the inability to get to sleep. I went back on the oxycodone again, but at an even smaller dosage—5 mg per day.
I thought that surely I could get off oxycodone now. Nope. Same symptoms. When I asked my doctor why kicking this drug was so hard, she said it’s one of the most addictive prescription drugs on the market, and some people are particularly susceptible. What’s truly amazing to me is that when the doctors gave me the oxycodone prescriptions—a total of five doctors over the course of my recovery—not one gave me the prescription with a stern warning about how my body might become dependent on it.
Finally, with a lot of determination, I worked my way through this nightmare. Fortunately, my injuries have healed just fine with time.
After my accident, I lost my confidence, and I felt the “cost” of gaining it back. I had a choice: struggle through getting my confidence back or move on. I moved on—I no longer mountain bike, and I am more careful of assessing my risk when on a road bike. Consequently, I spend more time riding indoors than outdoors. If I do bike outdoors, I will always bring a cell phone and use the Live Tracking GPS app. I will never leave home without an ID and an emergency contact name and phone number.
I’m now 68 years old and in excellent health. Whenever I do visit a doctor, they always comment on what great shape I’m in “for my age.” A lifetime of cycling gets all the credit.
We want to hear how cycling changed you! Send your story and submit your photos to us via this web form. We’ll pick one each week to highlight on the site.
You Might Also Like