News from the Tennessee Valley Columnists


Two amateur surgeons prove fatal to patient

Our first attempt at the 13-mile Pine Torch Trail ended after a half mile.

The clattering sounds coming from the mountain bike in front of me was the first clue that we would go no farther.

I examined the damage to Dr. Mark Sweeny's bicycle. The rear derailleur, which changes gears, was twisted into the wheel spokes.

Although my penmanship closely resembles that of a medical doctor, I lack the aptitude for medical school and the tact to break bad news gently.

"I think it's fatal," I told the next of kin.

We consulted with each other. We scratched our heads, kicked the dirt, hemmed and hawed. We looked at the 12.5 miles of unridden trail before us and the half-mile walk back to the parking lot.

Then we did what any self-respecting man would do in this situation — made things worse by trying to repair it.

The rough nature of trail riding had left me in this situation before, stranded in the middle of nowhere with a broken ride. Calling on all my great expertise in the field of bicycle surgery, I recommended a double bypass to the Decatur internist.

All we needed, I told Mark, was the chain tool from my emergency repair kit.

The planned procedure involved shortening the chain by removing several links. Then we would loop the chain directly around the lowest gear and bypass the two pulleys on the broken derailleur.

Mark could ride his bicycle the rest of the way in the easiest gear.

What could go wrong? After all, we're both college graduates. How much brains could it take to fix a bicycle?

It had been awhile since I utilized the emergency repair kit. It lacked one essential tool: reading glasses. The last time I tried to do something like this I didn't need them.

Mark was wearing eyeglasses, so he took control of the operation.

It was a frustrating procedure. When he got to the point of belittling the patient with name-calling, I took his place. By holding the chain an arm's length from my eyes, I could almost see the chain pins.

We took turns, using every idea that came to us.

Approximately an hour later, the chain was lying in half on the ground with the chain tool hopelessly stuck inside it.

Despite our valiant efforts the patient expired and we were left to carry it out of the woods.

Mark looked dejected.

"It's a good thing," he said at one point, "that I didn't become a surgeon."

Scott Morris Scott Morris
DAILY City Editor

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