It was a typical Saturday morning. Outside the sky was a stunning cobalt blue with wispy white clouds floating by. Temperatures were predicted to reach the high 60s.
From my journal: May 5, 2012, Newbury Park, California
“Going for a long ride today…can’t wait to get out into the warm sunshine and cool fresh air! Back to work on Monday…”
Just two weeks prior we had returned from U.K. where we completed the London Marathon. Now, well over our jet lag, and feeling healthy and strong, we were ready to enjoy a picture-perfect day out on our bikes. We decided on one of our usual routes, a 25-mile loop into Westlake Village. After checking our tires, filling our water bottles, and putting on sunscreen, gloves, and helmets, we clipped in and were off.
Heading west on Wendy Drive, we rode for about 10 minutes until the street dead ended at the Wendy Trailhead. On our Francos this time, we didn’t cycle onto the dirt path into Sycamore Canyon Park, instead we’d turned left and began the steady climb up Potrero on the narrow well-worn blacktop with skinny shoulders that border fenced in farms, set back into tangles of trees. We’re always grateful for the shade of the oaks lining this road, especially when it gets harder and harder to pedal. Reaching the top of the grade, sweat trickled down my back. There we paused for a quick water break and anticipated the steep curvy road that lay below us.
This is the piece of the ride just about everyone looks forward to. Some compare it to an exhilarating run down a mogully ski slope. I, on the other hand, inhale deeply, say a prayer, and always hope for the best. Fluttering my brakes, I relax only when I hit the wide flatter expanse that always lets me know I can finally release my white-knuckle grip.
This is Hidden Valley. Entering it is like coming out of a cold dark jungle into a huge clearing, warm and light. So welcoming, so open, so serene. Rolling hills stretch as far as the eye can see with acres of farmland, horses, and cattle dotting the landscape. Once past the Sherwood County Club, gated communities appear on both sides of the now four-lane street. That’s where our second ascent began, its backside taking us around Westlake Elementary School. From there, I knew it wouldn’t be long until we’d turn onto Triunfo Canyon Road and circle Westlake Lake – such a gorgeous sight! This 125-acre man-made lake shares its shores with just over a thousand homes, as well as the Westlake Yacht Club and its bobbing Lasers and Catalinas ready for members to take out for a sail, and an array of restaurants like The Landing Grill, Boccaccio’s, and Zin Bistro Americana, that offer alfresco dining under umbrellas. This is the place we acknowledge as the halfway point. It’s where we relax, nosh on protein bars, and drink more water before we’re homeward bound.
From that point on, the street we follow is segmented by traffic lights. The downside is they break up the steady flow of riding, but the bike lane feels safer there, wide enough to ride side by side. Not that we do that, most often we travel single file. It’s one of our unspoken rules. Another is to glide through yellow lights to keep moving forward. However, when we reached the first intersection, something happened. Something unusual, unexpected, and unpredicted.
In the lead, Robert stopped. Was the light turning red? Following, I continued. Was the light still yellow?
From my journal: May 11, 2012, Newbury Park, California
“Still in rehab. Can’t believe how much has happened since last Saturday…we just went out for a leisurely ride along Westlake Lake…right in front of St. Jude’s Church – Wham! I hit Robert’s bike…it was a blur…I flipped over my handlebars and landed on my left side. I remember the ambulance ride and hours in the ER. Thought I only broke my collar bone but found out I fractured my pelvis when I tried to stand up and go home…agonizing pain.”
Only 14 days before the accident, I was running 26.2 miles…and now I was sitting in a wheelchair. Until then, I had never broken a bone, I had never felt so vulnerable and I had never been so humbled. In an instant, everything changed.