I have written and rewritten this post several times in the past few days and have struggled to complete it. Initially, I was going to just give you a day-by-day recount of my second Adventure Cycling Association tour that I co-led down the Pacific Coast from Bellingham, Washington to Eugene, Oregon. Day 7 was where I struggled and couldn’t gloss over the chain of events that occurred that day. I’ve kept it under wraps as I didn’t want to jeopardize the privacy of our attendees and didn’t want to bring any concerns from other people who may be reading this. Given that it is the end of October, almost 2 months after the tour, I think it’s time to tell my side of the story.
Here is the breaking story of what had happened.
Labor Day – September 7, 2015
Given the circumstances of it being a very clear day and a very wide shoulder on highway 101, this event should had never happened. It was a holiday weekend, and we were smack dabbed in the middle of Labor Day. All of our riders had left camp and made their way into the town of Port Angeles and beyond. I was riding sweep, so I lingered around at the end, like I normally would on days that I was riding. So when I hit the road and made it into town, my expectation was that I was still behind our group. I followed the Adventure Cycling maps, which took me through a nice ascent into quiet neighborhood streets where herds of deer were grazing on people’s lawn, and they quietly watched me roll by on my way to the Olympic Discovery Trail. I eventually got back onto highway 101 heading towards the Sol Duc Hot Springs campsite. I didn’t run into anybody until I reached Granny’s Cafe to grab my second breakfast with one of the riders. It wasn’t until we left that we received a text message from Dominick which stated, “Mark. We were just hit. Jeanie down.” (Mark was the other co-leader who had van duties).
Wrong Place At The Wrong Time
I stared at my phone in disbelief for a few seconds before I texted back, “Dominick, where are you?” No response. Mark followed up with more texts and eventually tried to reach out to them on the phone, but was unsuccessful. After I waited about another 10 minutes and coordinated our locations with the other riders, I continued my way to a trading post up the road from Granny’s where 3 other riders was waiting for me. Everybody was definitely shaken up to see the text and the eerie silence that followed. As people trickled into the trading post in cars, they told us to be careful as they saw a really bad accident a few miles down.
Gulp, it couldn’t be. Then we see law enforcements and other emergency vehicles race by us heading east to where we were just riding about an hour ago.
We asked more people to describe the victims and their bikes. We asked if they saw the same emergency triangles that we were wearing? They confirmed that they did. Oh shit! It was Dominick and Jeanie.
As I got in touch with Mark, and he raced back to find the scene of the accident, we had the opportunity to talk to one of the park rangers who had left the scene. She told us that both Dominick and Jeanie were struck from behind by a pickup truck. Allegedly, the guy was driving erratically and drove right into the right shoulder where our riders were. This is a 7 foot lane with rumble strips! None of this mattered. He plowed through them and sent them flying off their bikes and onto the ground like rag dolls. Apparently, the driver attempted to keep going, but the car who was tailing them and called 911 (thankfully) gave chase and pushed him off the road.
By The Books
When Mark and I were at our Leadership Training Class last year in Buellton, we were taught what to do in the event of an emergency. We were to make sure that the person or people who was involved received the required medical attention and to contact the Adventure Cycling office back in Missoula, Montana, so they can do the communication and coordination on their end. We were to return back to the group to ensure that the tour continues. With this in mind, Mark made it to the site of the crash and did not see Dominick or Jeanie. He did see what was left of their shattered carbon bikes and an active police investigation in process. The officers told him that Dominick and Jeanie were sent to the nearest hospital in Port Angeles. Mark then drove back to pick up 2 of the riders that were with me at the trading post. They were too shaken to continue the ride into camp. I don’t blame them, but one other rider wanted to ride back to camp, so I accompanied her.
The rest of the ride was nerve-racking as we traveled south of Lake Crescent. The road was narrow and the shoulder was non-existent. I rode with my eyes practically glued to my rear-view mirror until we reached our left turn into Sol Duc. Everybody in camp was very somber as you may expect. It was just strange to know that both Dominick and Jeanie were not going to roll into camp, like they had done the previous 6 days of the tour. Right when Jeanie seemed to turn the page in her personal cycling accomplishment when she conquered Hurricane Ridge the day before. They were both excited to continue on the trip with Dominick planning to continue south after Eugene with 2 more Adventure Cycling tours,which would have taken him to the Mexico-US border by the end of October.
We were surprised to see Dominick standing right in front of us after we finished eating our dinner. He was wearing clothes given to him by the hospital which were a size too large for him. Physically, he didn’t look too bad as he told us what happened from his point of view. He was riding ahead of Jeanie when the car had struck them. They both didn’t even know what had hit them until afterwards. All he remembered was being on the floor and he could see Jeanie lying right in the middle of the road. He got up and threw his body on her to cover her from further affliction. Good Samaritans had come to their aid. Jeanie was still unconscious. This was where Dominick’s eyes welled up in tears as he repeated, “I thought I lost her. I thought I lost her.” When he realized that the car was still at the scene, he immediately took off running to confront the driver. People tried to stop him and finally succeeded right before he reached the driver who was being given CPR from his own injuries.
Dominick suffered from road rash, while Jeanie needed to go to Seattle’s trauma center. She was to be airlifted to treat multiple broken ribs and a shattered pelvis. It was going to be a long road to recovery for her. Dominick had come back to retrieve their luggage before driving back over to Seattle. We had offered to go with him or even asked him just to stay for the night, but we completely understood his urgency to be by his wife’s side.
A few days later, we found this update
Road to Recovery
After the events of that fateful day, everybody rode with a bit of caution. We checked our mirrors closely, and we took second and third glances behind us. We were relieved as we made our way south through the Olympic National Park, Aberdeen, Bay Center and then finally into Oregon. 9 days later, we were at the end of our trip in Eugene, Oregon. Our group enjoyed ourselves, but still Dominick and Jeanie in our thoughts. We were so glad to know that their injuries weren’t life threatening. We are very thankful that they will both recover. It’ll be a long journey, but I’m hoping that it is speedy.
Let this be a lesson that it doesn’t matter if you’re wearing bright colors or a reflective triangle to be seen, or if the weather was perfect and you have a wide shoulder to ride on. Things can happen. It is unfortunate that it happened to two of the nicest people I’ve met. What did come out of this accident that reinforces my own personal preference is wearing a helmet. Both of their helmets did its job to prevent serious head traumas. According to Dominick, both helmets were cracked or compressed as it was designed to.
I am still in disbelief that this happened on my first van tour. I guess this serves a purpose so that I know what to do if this happens again. I’m hoping that it never does. I also want to point out that I am posting photos that I took during the entire trip. I know I’ve focused this post on the negative event, but I think it’s a good reminder that most of these bicycle tours are normally uneventful. Thank you for reading and allowing me to get this off my chest. If you want to leave a message to Dominick or Jeanie, I can certainly forward it to them if you post them below. Be careful out there my friends.