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  No dangerous hills on the Minuteman Bikeway in Massachusetts.

The Clavicle Blues

It was about 8 in the morning on a Sunday in early June. Two friends and I were astride our bicycles, making a long, steady climb up a hill on a country road in western Maryland. I was bringing up the rear.

It began to sprinkle as we made our way to the top. But a little rain couldn't dampen my enthusiasm. A morning of cycling across this beautiful rolling landscape was exactly the training ride I needed. My friends and I were preparing ourselves to join 500 other cyclists on the 6th annual Greenway Sojourn—an eight-day ride celebrating a remarkable achievement. After 20 years of trail building, the Great Allegheny Passage rail-trail was now linked to the C&O Canal Towpath, creating a continuous off-road corridor from Washington, D.C., to Pittsburgh, Pa. I eagerly looked forward to the 335-mile inaugural ride on this amazing trail.

After laboring to reach the crest of the hill, I enjoyed the euphoria that comes when you effortlessly coast down the other side, cool wind blowing across your face. But things started happening fast as we picked up speed for the downhill ride. The narrow road was getting slick from the rain. Ahead, it took a sharp right turn around a blind corner. As we turned, a car suddenly appeared from the other direction. My friend fishtailed. I hit my brakes.

The next thing I knew I was airborne.

This is the point at which it would be nice to say that while I lingered midair above my handlebars, I wistfully contemplated the safety benefits of riding on rail-trails versus roadways—their lack of motorized interference, their gently graded slopes, their sweeping arcs and wide corridors… Unfortunately, my abrupt impact with the pavement eliminated any opportunity for such thoughts.

I came straight down, landing on my left shoulder, sprawled on my back in the middle of the road. My friends quickly came to my aid, and through a fog I remember saying, "I think I broke my collarbone."

X-rays (plus three broken ribs) confirmed by self-diagnosis. I already knew the answer, but I had to ask the emergency room doctor anyway: "What are my chances of riding in three weeks?" "Zero," she replied. So that was that. Instead of participating as the inaugural ride left Washington on June 23, 2007, I would be a spectator.

Sure, I'm disappointed. But by the time this magazine arrives in your mailbox, I hope to be back on my bike. After all, it's never too early to start training for next year's ride. See you on the trail!

Keith Laughlin

Fall 2007

Rails-to-Trails Conservancy
The Duke Ellington Building
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