Sunday, April 12, 2015

In Memory of Jim

On what felt like the first real day of spring in April of 2005, I went out for a long ride in the Stables trail system behind Skidmore. I expected to be alone, but ended up syncing up with two perfect strangers. A second-semester freshmen, still new to the area, and the trails still being largely unmarked as they were in those years, I was happy to have the company.
The events of that day disproportionately impacted my life for what should have otherwise been a pretty, early-Spring ride in the woods, and as is so often the case, forced me to grow up a lot more than I probably expected to when I pushed my bike out of my dorm in the quiet morning sunlight.
I think back a lot on this ride this time of year, even here in Alaska, as breakup takes hold.
It surprised me this year, to realize that 10 years have passed since I met Jim for the first, and last time.
After re-reading what I wrote following Jim's death, I decided to republish the article published in the Skidmore News.
"Note from the Editor in Chief

On the afternoon of Saturday April 9, Dante Petri ’08, was mountain biking on lands behind Skidmore’s Van Lennep Riding Center, when James E. Murphy, one of the two local riders he was with, suffered a massive heart attack.

Petri, News Editor of the Skidmore News and the Vice President of Mountain Biking for Skidmore Cycling, worked with another man to administer CPR, and contacted 911.

Murphy, 34 years old, lived in Halfmoon, NY, with his wife and child. He was an avid mountain biker and stay-at-home dad, according to an obituary published in the Times Union on Monday, April 11.

 The lands on which this incident occurred are owned by Finch Pruyn, but leased by the Saratoga Mountain Bike Association.

Below is Petri’s first person account of the incident.

When I met Brian and Jim at the beginning of the Dam Loop, it never occurred to me that although we might be mountain biking the same trail, we wouldn’t share the same destination. I came across the pair on a sunny April day. The leaves had yet to bud, and the bugs were still out of sight, but the ice was gone and the ground was quickly absorbing winter’s mess.

It was a gorgeous day to be in the woods, the two couldn’t have picked a better day for their first ride of the season. Although clearly in better shape than either Brian or Jim, I chose to stay with them, both for company and direction. 

I didn’t know it at the time, but Jim wasn’t feeling well as we rode deeper into the woods.   When we passed an area where the trail swings around the top of a ledge overlooking a pond, the three of us sat for several minutes. We soaked up the day, talked about trails that should be built, rides that should be taken, and summer activities soon to a arrive. Less than five minutes later I was stopped on a rock ridge an eighth of a mile from where we’d stopped when I heard screams from behind me.

These weren’t “you missed the turn” or “I blew a flat” cries, and they made my heart begin to race while a cold numb feeling swept over my body. I pounded on my pedals back to where I could see Brian, the distress in his face was striking. Jim was no where to be seen.

“Jim’s down! Jim’s down!” Brian started yelling. I jumped off my bike and ran to see Jim lying passed out against the hill side.

“Did he crash? What happened?” I asked, searching his body for tell tale marks of impact.

“No! No! He just collapsed, I don’t know CPR! Do you? We got to start! He’s my best friend!” Brian cried.

We moved Jim onto the trail and Brian started chest compressions. Neither of us really knew what to do, nor did we know exactly where we were. We were on one of the longest, hardest, most remote loops in the trail system.

I pulled out my cell phone and dialed 911. When the call connected with a single bar of reception, I couldn’t believe that I had gotten through. As calmly as I could, I began to try and explain to the dispatcher our location. The trail we were on isn’t marked on any of the maps, and I have doubts that we would have been found anytime soon had it not been for Brian’s quick thinking to get the dispatcher to notify Chris Pitts, the owner of Elevate Sports, which maintains the trail system.

 Meanwhile, the dispatcher explained the proper technique for performing CPR. Brian administered rescue breaths while I did chest compressions. But nothing seemed to be working.

Jim’s stomach began to bloat, indicating that air was going into his stomach not his lungs, and we had to continually clear phlegm and food mass from his throat. I tried to convince myself that the shudders Jim kept making were not the same that I’d seen and heard after making a kill while hunting.

Each second slipped by with the realization that our chances of seeing Jim again were decreasing, while the sense of helplessness made those same seconds drag on for eternity.  My hands got a strange sensation that started in my finger tips, and slowly swept through my entire body. This feeling I tried so hard not to accept, was the feeling of the life of a stranger expiring in my arms.

We kept going for another ten minutes before the dispatcher said that if we were comfortable splitting up, one of us should go find the rescuers. I was more than willing to stay with Brian, but he urged me to go get help. I ran for my bike and tore into the trail.

My bike sped under me as though I had traded legs for wheels. I remember very little of my bolt, other than occasionally feeling bumps and hops. I stopped a few times to mark intersections with arrows, and yelled every time I cleared the top of a ridge.

Finally, I heard yelling, accompanied by the growling of an all-terrain vehicle. I met Chris, from Elevate, accompanied by an EMT and an ATV rider who’d given the two a lift. I threw my bike into Chris’s arms and told him to ride to Brian while I guided the ATV and EMT back to Brian and Jim.

The four-wheeler had to leave his machine almost a mile from Jim because of a set of rock ledges that he couldn’t descend. When we got back to Brian and Jim, the EMT went to work. She began to give Jim oxygen, and turned on her portable defibrillator. She ordered everyone clear of Jim as she prepared to administer a shock.

 “Shock not advisable,” the machine reported in a dull, computerized voice. The EMT and Brian continued to administer oxygen while performing chest compressions, but they couldn’t find a pulse, and the machine continued to advise, in its emotionless voice, against giving a shock.

The EMT asked us how long he’d been like this, and I realized for the first time, that it had been almost an hour. She continued, but it was clear by the look on her face, that the fight was over. 

She continued for a few more minutes before a paramedic, accompanied by a local firefighter who knew the woods, came in from another direction. The paramedic stepped in for Brian, and attempted to get the machine to clear a shock, but all to no avail. He confirmed our worst fears.

I might have expected to be overwhelmed by shock at seeing the EMT and paramedic give up, but instead they just confirmed the sense of hopelessness that had taken hold of me. I felt numb, and it took a while for the cold hard reality to set in. 

I crossed the small stream below the scene, and walked into an open patch of light on the other side of the ravine, shaking, despite the sun’s warmth. I made a few phone calls, canceled my evening plans, and asked my parents if they would do the same so I could talk to them when it was all over.

I spent another two hours in the woods before we were allowed to walk, largely through untracked woods, to Bream Road.

I had a lot of time to reflect about the whole thing as I waited to be released. The fact is, I didn’t know Jim. He was a nice guy from what little I was able to learn about him. I would have loved to ride with him again, split a few beers, or just shoot the breeze. Instead, he’ll always be the stranger that died in my arms.

There’s so much tied up in that statement. This wasn’t a stranger that fell before me on the street, or one that I happened across in an auto accident, or someone who crashed at a ski resort. This was a fellow mountain biker.
It is a rarity in a world so disconnected and exclusive, that people can become fast friends by virtue of some woods, a trail, and a bike.

One responder tried to comfort me by pointing out that “I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.” What this person failed to recognize was that I didn’t feel that this was just something that I had the misfortune of witnessing. Of course, I wish that I could say that Jim and I will be riding this weekend, but if I could only know him for 45 minutes, then those are 45 minutes I will not forget, and forever consider a privilege.

Had I passed Brian and Jim at the intersection, or had I listened to them when they said to go on ahead, I’m not sure I could consider myself human. If I had gone off and had a blast while Brian struggled alone in the woods to save his friend's life, all on the same trail, I’m not sure if I could ever enjoy the woods quite the same way.

As for location, well, I think the most valid point I heard all day came from the old firefighter who brought the paramedic into the woods. As I sat in that patch of sunlight, feeling cold and numb, he made a comment that awakened me from my sunken state.
“Son, look, you did all you could do,” he said, “And as for him, well he couldn’t have asked for this to happen any other way. He died doing what he loved, and that’s better then what most of us get.”

Writers note:  An autopsy revealed that Jim had suffered a massive heart attack. Although there was little that could have been done had he been in the presence of some of the finest medical equipment available, I will always regret knowing that there was nothing we could do. My full sympathies go out to Jim’s wife and child, who will feel the loss of his presence the most, I wish them the absolute best in their struggles through these trying times." 
Jaime, Chris, and I stop on a sunny rock outcrop on Bee Loop on a remembrance ride for Jim in April 2006 . Photo Credit: Unknown.


No comments: