It hadn't been four months since I started as a bike courier. Bossman said I was doing well, and I guess it was true. In those early months, there were few thrills greater than tearing around City Hall, weaving between cars like a mouse through a maze. Often, the urgency with which I rode surpassed that of the delivery being made.
After my first month of courier work, I entered my first alleycat. Thrown periodically by groups of couriers, these are grueling races for couriers--and any other daring city cyclists--to test speed, endurance, and knowledge of the city's streets while riding through traffic. Dangerous and irresponsible? Definitely. No one is forced to enter these races. After what was one of the most intense 90-minute intervals of my life, I was floored to learn that I had won second place--a high honor for an unknown rookie. There were a few small prizes awarded, but the true spoil was the recognition that came with high rank.
I began craving for the next alleycat. Each one presented new routes to be plotted--usually while simultaneously rocketing through narrow Philadelphia streets. Unlike the yuppies found training on
I had just entered a 'triple crown' race--Summer Slam 2007. The last three Saturdays of August would feature an alleycat, and there would be overall winners as well as individual race winners. I took first place at the first one, and third place at the second. I was feeling great. At stake, in addition to the tattooed, beer-soaked glory of victory, was a voucher for a brand-new bike frame, custom made in
The race began at
I have little recollection beyond sprinting across the
My last memory is falling down and getting back on my bike on
Acute renal failure, often symptomatic of heat stroke, involves the kidneys shutting down as the body prepares to die. I learned this shortly after opening my eyes, about five hours later. I woke up with tubes down my nose and throat, surrounded by frantic doctors. I quickly decided that I was in a hospital, but had no idea what had happened. I was high on lorazepam, which flowed through an IV to quell the panic they knew would ensue should I regain consciousness.
Nine liters of saline had been pumped into my arm. A nurse asked if I knew my name or what day it was, but I didn't understand her questions. All I could do was glance from face to face, my eyes communicating drugged terror. Later, I told a nurse I felt like I was peeing. She told me that I was peeing; a catheter had been inserted to monitor my internal body temperature. Gradually, spotty memories began returning. Not just of the day's events, but of basic information. Names, places, and images had all escaped me. As I began to understand what was being said to me, a young doctor told me that he had been uncertain if I would recover, but was now fairly sure that I would be fine. I was kept overnight in the Hospital of the
Shortly after my discharge the following day, I learned that the other racers were abuzz with my story. What really happened? Had I survived? My courier friends were eager to be the first to tell me that despite not finishing the third race, I still ranked second overall, and had been awarded a brand-new set of shiny Phil Wood Track Hubs--a $200 value.
Many of my coworkers proposed to buy the hubs--pure profit for me. But, I smiled and rejected each offer. This bounty signified far more than any prize could. While that race garnered some temporary acclaim for my name, the glory of victory was, for me, put out of mind by the humility of survival.