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March 19, 2007

Like all race reports, this one would be much better if I could remember everything.

The Parkside criteriums are insignificant races -- they're short, and there's no money on the line -- but they're eagerly awaited because after five months without racing, everyone is keen to shake the off-season out of their legs. And since the riders are so rusty, it's an excellent chance to get the annual crash out of the way.

For me, it would be my first chance to, as one of my favorite cycling expressions goes, "turn the pedals in anger" on my new racing bike.

My first race was the masters open. It was a big field, although absent was Robbie Ventura, the former pro who the week before had been there with his Vision Quest minions. It was only 40 degrees and windy. Reportedly he's a fair-weather Parksider.

The race was fast but smooth. I stayed active near the front and got in one break that I thought was viable, but by the time the bell was rung, it was clear that things would be settled in a bunch sprint.

With a half lap to go, Ed was a few spots ahead of me. I didn't have any other teammates nearby, but I was in good position, about eighth wheel. Four were off the front and were about to be reeled in. We strung ourselves out in chase.

Two bikes ahead of me, a Team Mack rider started to fade. A gap opened ahead of him. I accelerated up the right to leapfrog him into the next draft. He, meanwhile, looked over his left shoulder for help and drifted to his right, right into my path. I had nowhere to go. I tried to bail onto the curb but failed, wiping out at 30 mph and tumbling onto the grass.

My shifters splayed at unnatural angles, but I was fine. People asked if I was OK. I frantically waved them on to the finish line.

Mike Stanley stopped to help and offered his bike to use in the Cat 3 race. I joked that I supposed this would be my free lap. We walked back to my team's staging area.

It's there that I said, "Guys, I'm starting to forget things."

At least, this is what I'm told I said. From the point Mike and I started to walk back, I remember nothing up until when I found myself strapped onto a board in an ambulance.

I hadn't passed out but I was very sleepy. By now I couldn't remember anything about how I got there. I could remember the crash -- Team Mack, argh! -- but not how I got to the race, or what I did that morning, or what I did the previous day. I could remember what day it was, but only because like all race days, March 18 was indelibly circled in my mental calendar.

I could remember I did not like my job but I could not remember how to do it, so I figured the upside of this would be getting a sick day or two.

Things started to come back by the time I arrived at the hospital. I waited in an examination room, anxious for Ellen to show up so she could help fill in the memory holes. Also, so I could put on pants. I was getting cold.

When she arrived I told her about the last time this happened. "When I was 13 I crashed while dirt biking and had a concussion," I said. "This feels a lot like that."

"Honey, you already told me that. Twice."

Surely if I'd told her that I would have remembered it. "Don't be ridiculous!" I roared. "Now you're just making fun of me." I thought it pretty funny of her. Nurses peeked in to see why I was laughing so hard.

They took a few X-rays and a CT scan. Then we waited in the exam room for an hour, eating figs and watching college basketball.

Finally the doctor popped in and confirmed I was fine. Probably a minor concussion, but nothing to worry about. Contrary to my expectation, Ellen wouldn't have to wake me up every two hours to make sure I was still alive. This relieved her greatly.

There was nothing the emergency room could do about my shifters or ripped shorts, so we headed back to the city, first stopping for frozen custard, the highlight of any trip to Wisconsin.

I recently read "The Echo Maker," an excellent novel about Capgras Syndrome, a disorder marked by the inability to recognize loved ones. In the book, the victim emerges from a brain trauma and can't recognize his sister or his dog. He insists they have been replaced by an impostors. Despair ensues.

Even though I couldn't find my keys this morning, I'm so far recognizing everyone, loved and unloved. This episode, however, was a fascinating peek into the mysteries and fragility of the brain. I certainly didn't feel crazy, but to Ellen my insistence that I'd never told her about my spill on the dirt bike was as sane as the guy with the sandwich board who strolls Michigan Avenue insisting that our government has been replaced by Russian spies.

A day later I hurt only in the shoulder where I received a tetanus shot. Weather permitting I'll be back out there next Sunday. I'll be the one giving Team Mack a wide berth.

Photo taken: March 18, 2007