What It Feels Like to Be Hit By Lightning on Your Bike

It was a cloudy day in Boulder, Colorado, and after two long hot weeks on the road, my motivation to ride was waning. I was doing my best to procrastinate, but as the day progressed the realization that I might not get to ride my bike set in and I shuffled out the door around 2 and headed to the low hills for what I thought would be a chill spin.

There was a light mist in the air, but it felt nice after the days of 90-plus temps we had been experiencing. The damp trails were calling my name, the usual decomposing granite, or kitty litter as we call it in these parts, was getting tacky. As I climbed through the mist, I could see the clouds darkening and in the distance the flicker of light bouncing off the Flatirons.

It reminded me of a flickering old neon sign casting its light down an old brick wall. My brain should have started to add two and two together, but as I crested the mesa into the woods I was consumed by the sweet tunes on my iPhone and the intoxicating smell and taste of humidity. My senses were working on their own equation, tacky dirt equals sick riding. Black powder, the kind of stuff the folks in the Pacific Northwest get all the time, but not here on the Front Range, we only get small unexpected tastes of it. But here I was. I was at the right place at the right time…or was I?

“I came to lying in the grass. My ears were ringing, my helmet was down around my chin.”

I had made my way through the twists and turns atop the mesa, the dirt was just right, not too muddy and not too dry. It was just soft enough to lock your tires in and rail the hell out of the turns. The trees were my natural slalom poles. I could picture it in my mind. The slow motion shot of the tires gripping the earth as the dirt radiates off like globs of brown powder.

It had gotten quite dark out and the flashing lights were no longer off in the distance. They had engulfed me and were dancing through out the forest. The crackles of thunder were louder than the music now. I was awakening from my tunnel of blissful ridding. Random thoughts were seeping into my consciousness. I remember thinking of how pleased I was with myself for wearing clear glasses that day.

As I reached the end of the woods I decided that it would probably be a good idea to wait for a few minutes before I busted out into the barrage of lightning that was going on. I sat and waited. It seemed like an eternity, but it was probably only a few minutes. My mojo levels were dipping fast and I knew there was sweeter downhill on the other side of the field, just 45 seconds away. I hadn’t seen any lightning for a while and my adrenalin tank needed filling; the singletrack was calling. So like a kid running out into a dodgeball game, I crouched low on my bike and rode out into the field.

I re-entered consciousness a moment later, lying in the grass.

My ears were ringing, my helmet was down around my chin. What were once colorful headphones were now only bare, raw wires. I wasn’t sure of what I was doing; my legs were wobbly like a newborn calf’s. Like a scene out of a war movie, I ducked as if there were grenades going off everywhere. I scrambled quickly over to my bike 20 feet off to the left in the tall grass and drug it back to the trail. I took a quick glance down. The wheels were still on, it was time to get the hell out of there.

I mounted my bike, but the handles were twisted to one side and the chain was off as well. My mind was still far from coherent but one thought was clear: get out of here, get around the corner to the woods. I used one foot to stride my bike forward, weaving like a drunkard, somehow coasteing off the mesa to the safety of the trees.

I sat for probably around half an hour while the lightning continued to shower down around me. I felt as though I had just had a gigantic waterfall dropped on my head. The damage included one cut ear, one slash to the face, a pounding headache, an aching back, a hole in my arm, a bruised shoulder, stomach, hip, leg and foot. Crap, I lost my glasses, yep the ones I was so pumped to have. My water bottle had also managed to wander off.

Nature had won this round; I had thoroughly been worked over. I reached into my jersey pocket to grab my phone. The lighting had sucked the life right out of it as well. It looked like I was going to have to haul my ass out of here. I attempted to reassemble my helmet, fumbling with the straps, and plastic bits when the smell of burnt plastic caught my attention. I straightened up my bars and hiked through the cover of trees having lost all the bravado I had just a short bit ago. Once I felt I was safely in the clear, I slung my black and blue body over the top-tube and began the slow limp home. The adrenalin had long ago taken over and the pain was not too bad. My senses were coming back to me. I chuckled to myself and thought, wow, even though this is going to require a trip to the hospital, it’s going to make a pretty cool story.

Mike West was a U.S. Super D national champion. He rides for Yeti. Top photo: Mike Lewinski



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