© 2019 OmarRutledge.com

  • Omar Rutledge

First TBT

Updated: Jul 27, 2019




I want to start a few different "channels" on my blog. If Friday will be my Current Events blog, Thursday will be my "throw-back" day. In my TBT posts, I want to publish stories from my life in a memoir-type style. A very awesome friend of mine once told me that the best way to write an autobiography is to simply jot down small stories like snapshots from life. Eventually, there should be enough of the individual stories to make for a cohesive life story. Many people have told me that I should write a book given all of the interesting experiences I've had in life. Consider this my first attempt. Please, feel free to share.

All stories are true as affirmed by me for the exception of the names of people. I'm a huge proponent of privacy, so no names used in my stories will be of the real characters. Likewise, if I choose to use a particular name, that name has nothing to do with the real person, nor does the choice of a name mean anything if I happen to know someone with that name. If you are convinced a story includes you and you do not wish to have the story online, please contact me and we can come to a compromise. If we can't figure a good way to edit the story together, I'll pull it. Okay, that's it. Let's begin.

April 2010

It's the break-up season. After the long winter in Alaska following my divorce, it was nice to see the snow melting away into the past. In January of 2010, I started taking classes at UAF, and while I was there I saw someone sledding with their two Huskies. I had two Huskies, Teddy and Sheila (their real names are used because they are dogs, not people). No longer did I have a partner that would tell me that it was a bad idea, so I thought it would be great to learn how to sled with my dogs. Since it was getting warmer and the slow was melting, perhaps using my bicycle would be a good alternative for a sled during our training. I took the run lines and leashes I had around my dry cabin (no plumbing) and rigged them up to the front part of my bicycle frame. This was the bicycle I picked up from the transfer station and fixed up inexpensively. It wasn't the prettiest setup, but the homemade rig worked for my purposes.

It didn't take very long for the dogs to figure out what to do. I knew that Huskies were bred for sledding (mushing, if you're not in the Lower 48), but it was wonderful to see them take to it so effortlessly. They loved to pull! On a typical day, we would go for a quick walk to take care of business, and then it was time to connect to the bike. After clasping the metal wire lines to each dog's harness, we were ready to go for a little ride. "Go", and off we went. I know there are proper commands for mushing, but my English commands worked just as well. After about a week of training this way, I went to Wal-Mart and purchased a speedometer for the bike. I wanted to see just how fast these guys were running. We certainly seemed like we were fast. During our second week of training, I measured the dogs traveling at about 20 MPH! Yes, I was definitely pleased with their progress.

One morning we went for a ride and headed out the farthest we had gone up to that point. I believe it was about two miles. Upon turning around and heading back, we passed one of our neighbors who had a pack of dogs. In Alaska, some people have 10 or 20 dogs in a yard, and these guys are usually Iditarod-level mushers. A typical yard will have each dog tied to its respective house, and it's not uncommon to see the dogs standing on top of their houses (it's just a wood box with hay inside, no sloped roofs with shingles like the cartoons). On this day, it seemed like all of the dogs were on their houses and howling at something. They caught my attention. They also caught the attention of my dogs. One of the dogs slowed down and I had failed to see this. I did not squeeze the brake lever in time, so when the line lost tension, the excess instantly wrapped around the spokes of my front wheel and locked it up.

What happened next was beautiful physics in action. I was traveling forward with a certain speed (about 20 MPH), and the vehicle carrying me suddenly stopped traveling forward. Force equals mass times acceleration. Indeed. I flew over my handlebars, over the dogs, and thought for a brief moment that the landing part was not going to be easy. Should I tuck and roll? How would I do that anyway? What about my head? I didn't have a helmet at the time. (Shame on me!) Of course, I wanted to keep flying through the air above the bike path, but I swear, that pesky gravity is such a drag.

My human projectile motion came to a halt when I stuck my left arm out in front of me and touched the asphalt. My hand stayed where it landed, but the rest of my body had a lot of momentum that was not going to change easily. When the rest of my body flipped over my left arm, I tore my sternocleidomastoid, broke three ribs, tore the acromioclavicular tendon, ripped through the posterior labrum, and caused one of my cervical disks to start a degenerative process (C5-C6). The ripping sensation in my neck was the most intense of all, and I thought for sure that I had torn my carotid artery. I thought I was going to bleed out. I came to rest on the ground facing up towards the clear blue sky. I thought this was it.

Teddy came to me and started licking my face. Sheila did too. I hadn't passed out. I was okay. I was alive. Slowly, I got back up and dusted myself off. My jacket was ripped and my jeans had a little bloodstain, but otherwise I was fine. The adrenaline coursing through my veins masked the intense pain I was going to experience the following day. I picked up my bike, walked the rest of the way home, and vowed to never try sledding again.

In the years since, I've had an exorbitant amount of pain associated with my injuries. The process of finding out what to do about it has been anything but easy. Perhaps in another story I will share what some of those experiences were like for me. Until then, stay safe, walk your dogs, and wear your helmets!

-Omar