'AIN'T NOTHIN TO IT BUT TO DO IT !'
- Jackson Ross
In 2014 Jackson Ross was in a motorbike accident, he suffered a concussion, a badly separated shoulder, a broken hip, and a broken foot. The Broken foot being the least serious of his injuries. I found Jackson and his story to be an inspiring testament to bouncing back from injury. Not only did he ride his bike across America, but he chose to do it on a fixed gear...
I met Jackson at Powell lodge, just a few miles from the summit of Lolo Pass in the Bitterroot Range of the northern Rocky Mountains in Idaho. Myself and new found riding companion: Theron, were spending the afternoon off drinking repeated refills of coffee on their breathtaking veranda overlooking the surrounding mountains. Later on in the afternoon Jackson showed up, followed by another rider: Hayden. It was strange to meet two more riders around a similar age, on the same day, at the same place. I had so far seen very few other riders on this trip. We all camped at the lodge that night indulging in a bottle of whisky, getting to know each other, and exchanging stories from the road.
The following morning Myself and Theron headed up the pass early. Much to our amazement Jackson caught us up later in the day. If you ride a fixed gear you only have one speed going up the climbs, and its definitely not a leisurely pace. For Jackson every climb was an out of the saddle affair. On steeper climbs he would have to zig zag left and right across the road to build momentum, before eventually taking a quick breather before continuing the often intense accent. Whenever we arrived at the base of a climb it usually wouldn't take long for him to completely disappear from sight.
We all spent the next few days in Missoula, and from there we rode together until Colorado.
I ASKED JACKSON A FEW QUESTIONS ABOUT HIS ACCIDENT AND HIS RECOVERY:
~ You where in an accident back in 2014, could you describe what happened, and the extent of your injuries?
I was travelling down the road on my motorcycle on a street with 3 lanes in either direction. I was in the far right lane as I approached a light, where someone was waiting to make a left hand turn from the inside lane in oncoming traffic. As I approached, the light changed to yellow and I was too close to stop, so I went through it. The guy on the inside lane was watching the light and not the road (Vancouver is notorious for it's poor drivers) and began making his turn despite me being in the intersection. He noticed me at the last second and stopped abruptly in my lane so I went into emergency brake mode, but couldn't slow or swerve so I impacted the passenger side of his car and flipped over the hood onto my side on the pavement.
Typically when I ride street I'm in jeans , boots, gloves and a helmet. But today, for the first time this season and for no real reason, I wore my fully leather and padded race suit. This stopped me from getting any road rash, and the hip guard likely prevented the injuries from being worse. My injuries included a concussion, a badly separated shoulder, a broken hip, and a broken foot. The broken foot was the least serious of all the injuries. They didn't do anything for my shoulder since the only fix is a cosmetic one. My collar bone would still be unattached at the far end, but it would be tied down so it doesn't look so gross. However this has a higher instance for shoulder arthritis so I said F it. For the hip they put in what's called a gamma nail.
This crash came at the worst possible time - it was on a Saturday and the following Friday I was going to participate in a charity ride called the Ride to Conquer Cancer that I had raised a bunch of money for. I was going to use this as a leg up to launch myself on a Trans-American bike tour that I had painstakingly charted for myself at length, not realizing Adventure Cycling existed and did most of the groundwork for me. Naturally, I was unable to follow through with these plans which was incredibly disappointing.
~ How long did it take to recover?
After my surgeries and when I had regained some coherence I talked to the doctor and he told me that it wasn't the kind of injury people completely recover from and that I shouldn't expect to recover entirely. Well, little did he know the stubbornness of Jackson 'Jules Winnfield' Ross! I spent the first month following the surgery in a wheel chair, unable to roll myself for a while due to my shoulder. That was an awful thing. I couldn't get up to feed myself and just leaving the couch to use the bathroom was an adventure in and of itself. I recall the first time I managed to crawl up the stairs on my own being an especially proud moment. It wasn't without a lot of pain, and it took a while to do stair by stair, but I made it! I was fortunate enough to typically have family around so I didn't have to do that very often.
After a few weeks in the chair when I began to regain a little mobility, I began to physio my little heart out. A physio therapist worked closely with me and helped me set goals and not give up. I was there a few times a week and at the pool all the time, where I met several others with their own injuries and we would soak in the hot tub and gripe together. Around the one month mark I graduated to one of those old lady walkers. I couldn't use crutches for my shoulder and I think it would have been too jarring anyways. In an attempt to make myself feel better about the whole situation, I painted the walker red black and gold and it looked so much cooler than the stale hospital grey it was before. I used this walker for about a month before I was mostly walking around on my own. The accident happened in June of 2014, and it would have been mid August when I began mostly walking on my own though; with a pretty bad limp. This was just in time for me to start university classes again, which was one of the goals I set for myself: not to have any walking aids when classes started.
The recovery I was told to expect was not the one I experienced. I was at the time training gymnastics and was in great shape. This was a huge factor in me bouncing back quickly because people who are not in very good shape don't rebound so well. My doctor said it would probably be a year and a half long recovery, but was blown away every time I saw him at the progress I made. He even went so far to say it was an 'almost miraculous recovery.' Don't get me wrong, it was a hell of a recovery. I remember when I was unable to stand out of a chair on my own and feeling like maybe I'd never be able to do it painlessly again. It was discouraging to say the least, but I never gave up or relented and approached each physio session with a great degree of fierceness and determination to make the doctor eat his words for telling me I couldn't recover completely.
After I had spent a few months in Physio I was handed off to a Kinesiologist who is like a Physio therapist but does a more active rehab. He was a great guy for me to work with and kept me focused on the road to recovery. He, like my doctor and Physio, couldn't believe how fast I was moving along. He had worked with many people with the same hip injury before and confirmed that most people don't completely recover. For the most part I met each and every goal he set for me and usually surpassed it. Tyler loved working with me because he could see I was 'gonna be good to go' if I could continue at my current trajectory.
~ What made you want to do a cycle tour?
The biggest moment of pride for me came in February of 2015. I had at that point decided I would like to do a bike tour in the summer to make up for the one I missed, but first I needed something to test the water with this new hip. I set my sights on a 500 km tour in New Zealand, my first real multi day bike tour. I figured this would be a great challenge to do on my single speed. At this point I had a coaster brake so I actually enjoyed the down hills. Even so, it was a testament to my stubborness and willingness to push my limits physically. It started out rough, but I began to get in the groove and the terrain was mostly cooperative. The crux came a few days in though when I had to cross Takaka hill. A gentleman told me it was one of New Zealand's bucket list hills to cycle over. Greeeeat. It took a few hours to summit with flat tires and rest breaks, but as the evening set in I finally made it to that always welcomed down hill sign. I had done it! I had climbed an incredibly challenging hill not 8 months after breaking my hip on a single speed bike. My eyes welled up and I was over come with an enormous sense of pride. I thought to myself "Up yours doc, if I can't make a 100% recovery I'm only willing to go as low as 99%!" I got a lift over the hill on the way back.
"I had done it! I had climbed an incredibly challenging hill not 8 months after breaking my hip and on a single speed bike. My eyes welled up and I was over come with an enormous sense of pride."
With this trip under my belt I felt a lot more confident taking on a bigger adventure. I still felt like a coast to coast trip was a little out of my reach, so I decided to do the Pacific Coast in the USA which turned out to be a fantastic decision. It was a hard trip, and again I did it on my single speed, it was breathtaking, fun and liberating all around. Halfway through the trip the coaster brake of my bike began to seize. The whole rear hub was busted. It wasn't exactly meant to handle the long descents that come with the bike touring turf. I went to the nearest bike shop where all they had was a fixed rear wheel. I had rode my friends fixie for a few seconds one time and hated it, but I saw an opportunity to upgrade to the greatest challenge of all and prove indefinitely that I haven't lost anything. The shop mechanic was insistent on putting brakes on my bike, but I turned them down. I could already hear how that would go: people would be impressed I was doing it on a fixie but when they found out I had brakes their reaction would be something like 'oh well I guess it's not that bad since you have brakes' so I turned them down. Besides, the whole point of riding a fixed gear bike is that you don't need brakes! And my friends back home would give me heck for it, too. The quip I used when people noted that I didn't have brakes was "Psssh, brakes would only slow me down!" From here I had to learn the finer points of riding fixed gears, which out of necessity were picked up hastily.
~ Some would consider doing a 'long' bike tour challenging enough. What made you want to do it on a fixed gear?
My rationale for doing the Trans America Trail on my fixie had a few angles. First, one of the things I noticed when I rode the coast is that many people have really nice bikes that they spent over a thousand dollars on, sometimes! In comparison, I was riding a 200$ bike on the same roads, doing the same hills. Sure, I suffered more. But my point is you don't need an enormous resource pool to go on an adventure like this. My total investment, including bike, to start out on this trip was only about 3-400$! I want to show people it's the attitude, not the equipment. Do what you can with what you got and don't make excuses!
"I want to show people it's the attitude, not the equipment. Do what you can with what you got, and don't make excuses!"
The second part is to once again prove that I didn't lose a single thing in that motorcycle accident. Perhaps this is something I will spend the rest of my life occasionally trying to prove and remind myself of.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I did this to become legend. As the Eternal Prophet Jack Black once told me, "You ain't hard core, unless you live hard core." I fully believe that anyone could do a ride like this with low enough gears and sufficient patience, but not just anyone could do this on a fixie. I wanted to be that guy that after the end of this trip people are talking about. "Would you believe I met a guy doing that ride on a fixie with no brakes?" That gets me off to be perfectly honest. The whole time people said I was nuts and that I was going to ruin my body or get messed up by doing this. Well, I came out without any injuries to my knees or anything, so why not? And even then, to quote John Steinbeck in his book Travels with Charlie, " I did not want to surrender fierceness for a small gain in yardage." Having done the ride, I regret nothing. Sure, I may not have enjoyed the down hills as much or gone as fast on them as others, but I toed the line between possible and impossible and tackled a challenge greater than myself to see how tall I could really stand. And I bet people remember me more than they remember some of those down hills.
On the horizon I have set my sights on the Atlantic Coast and I will, of course, continue the fixed gear legacy.