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A dog, a crash, and now, recovery

Heading down NW Cornell Rd toward Skyline Blvd.
(Photos: Martin Stabler)

This story was written by Martin Stabler

Dog and bike collide. Aaron Edge doesn’t know if the dog is OK; he is definitely not OK. It was a bad bike crash.

(Photo by nurse at Legacy Emanuel Hospital.)

Aaron doesn’t remember much, but a dog, off leash, ran across Skyline Boulevard from the parking lot of the Skyline Restaurant and right into Aaron’s path. The restaurant is at the intersection of Skyline and Cornell Road. He was heading downhill on Skyline, going north. It’s a very common route for cyclists. He’s done it dozens of times.

He said, “I’m told the dog wasn’t in the middle of the road, it was running towards me so there wasn’t a way for me to avoid it.” In his first email to me he told me, “I’m meant to suffer, so it seems, not to actually die… one fractured vertebra (C-7), a broken scapula, two cracked ribs, two broken fingers and a gnarly, memory-reducing concussion. Life is not controllable. I’m at my home, healing, counting blessings, ignoring bad luck, regrouping, recovering.”

The accident happened on Feb 21st I first met Aaron at Western Bikeworks where he works part-time (you might recall when BikePortland featured his custom bikes back in 2015). One day I noticed a display of his photographs. As a photographer, I was curious, so we got to talking and he decided to subscribe to my Daily Sightings email (which included photos and a poem). Periodically he sent me photographs.

He knows his stuff when it comes to bikes and clothing and gear. He’s my go-to guy at Western when I need something for the bike. So when I got that first email it was a like a gut-punch. I replied, asking for details.

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He said it was hard for him to type because multiple sclerosis (MS) affects his hands and he’d broken two fingers in the crash. Instead, he sent an audio file with more details. “I totaled a bunch of bike parts,” including electronic shifters which are easier to use because of his MS. “Rear wheel is completely torn in half.” The steel frame is dented, but intact.

“I ride bikes a lot, and when it comes to crashes, it’s not a matter of if, but when, and you just have to be strong enough to get through them all.”

He was unconscious for 20 minutes. An ambulance brought him to Legacy Emanuel Hospital where he stayed for three days.

Aaron doesn’t remember being in the ER, but he was told he kept asking the staff, “Just let me die.” He told me, “That does sound like something I might say. It’s been a particularly hard winter on me, and this whole experience made it a little more tough.”

Aaron doesn’t remember much about his stay at Emanuel. He knows he had visitors, but can’t recall their visits.

He went on to say, “I ride bikes a lot, and when it comes to crashes, it’s not a matter of if, but when, and you just have to be strong enough to get through them all.”

A day after he sent the audio file he emailed to say, “I’m very depressed about all of this, not reaching out to friends and avoiding visits at this time. I’m just not in a good place. I’m scared for my health and thinking about the bills and bike part replacement is daunting.”

Alarm bells sounded in my head and I replied: “Make me a promise, OK? Promise me you won’t kill yourself. And promise me that if you are seriously thinking of suicide that you contact me or someone who can help.”

He said, “I’ll be OK.” I wanted to hear, “I promise,” but I settled for the “OK.”

Aaron at the scene of the crash.

A few days later I met him at his small studio apartment in the Pearl District. He lives alone and does not have a partner, but he has friends and a group of band-mates (he’s a musician). He showed me his broken bike, as well as three other bikes, then I helped him into my car, and we headed up into the West Hills to take pictures at the crash site.

En route he told me “Everyone who rides a lot has come across dogs or kids in their path… experienced riders know not to over-compensate or brake too hard. I’ve been riding long enough that I feel confident in my skills… I know to lean back on my bike so I don’t slide out, and go as straight as I can.”

Aaron’s had two major accidents in the past; the last one was in 2015 when he broke his back while mountain biking. “Once you’ve had a couple of crashes, it gets a little easier only because you know what to expect.”

But it’s difficult nonetheless. In another audio file he said, “It’s difficult to be in a tough headspace, to be alone, to choose to be alone, to already have chronic pain with the MS, and now broken bones, and not have a clear outlook on what lies ahead. The nerve trouble I have, and the stress, is heightened by the accident. There’s no way to work around that. And to not be active is pretty difficult.”

He’s just made a series of follow-up appointments with physicians and is looking for a PT. Because he doesn’t have a car, he needs all his providers to be within a mile of his apartment. On the drive back he said he doesn’t blame the dog owners — or the dog. I asked if he wanted to seek legal counsel or if he plans to pursue legal action. No. His focus, he said, is on healing — both mental and physical. “I hope I come out of the depression about this, because it’s a pretty significant part of the accident.”

He has not tried to contact the dog owners, nor have they contacted him. Aaron said there was a witness — a woman in a van behind him — but he doesn’t have her contact information. Were there police on the scene? He doesn’t know. “If I was told, I forgot in the fog of pain and drugs while in the hospital.”

I asked about what help he needed. “I have all the help that I need. As soon as I feel ready, I can reach out to friends.” (I learned later that he was having his band-mates over to listen to a new record.)

He doesn’t know how long he’ll be out of work, and understandably, is worried about finances. Hospital bills have begun arriving. (I just learned his band-mates have set a Go-Fund-Me
account: Worst Luck / Best Friends (for Aaron Edge.) What does he want from doing this story? “I want people to know my story. My crash reminds us to be more cautious, to just be mindful of the kinds of accidents that can happen on bicycles.”

As his story ripples through the cycling community, we are reminded, yet again, of the appalling randomness of such crashes. If we haven’t already, we’ll add dogs to our library of threats.

My own take on this is that Aaron does indeed want to share his story. His crash has had a profound effect on him and I think there is something about telling the story that contributes to healing. Telling is connecting. And connecting brings light into the darkness.

— Martin Stabler, martinstabler@gmail.com

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