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May 5, 2020

What Happens to a Cyclist's Body When It's Hit by a Car

Andrew Bernstein’s repaired humorous (Photo: Courtesy Andrew Bernstein)
Andrew Bernstein’s repaired humorous

Last summer, 34-year-old Andrew Bernstein, known to his friends as Bernie, was riding his bike alone on a road outside Boulder, Colorado, when he was struck by a vehicle. The driver fled the scene and left him laying in a ditch, where he would have soon died if a passerby hadn’t noticed him and called 911. Bernie was a passionate amateur cyclist who competed regularly in elite track races, but in an instant his body was shattered and his life was forever changed. Unfortunately, his experience is all too common: 857 cyclists were killed by drivers on American roads in 2018, making it the deadliest year in almost three decades. In this episode, we detail what happened to Bernie, how he’s fared since, and where he goes from here. It’s a deeply personal account—but also a story that has the power to change all of our behavior in ways that will save lives and reduce the number of people who will go through what Bernie has endured.


This episode of the Outside Podcast is brought to you by Visit Florida, one of the country’s great adventure destinations. Have you met a manatee? Airboated in the Everglades? Snorkeled the coral reef? Plan your next Florida adventure at visitflorida.com/outside

Podcast Transcript

Editor’s Note: Transcriptions of episodes of the Outside Podcast are created with a mix of speech recognition software and human transcribers, and may contain some grammatical errors or slight deviations from the audio.

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EPISODE BEGINS 

Outside Podcast Theme: From Outside Magazine and PRX, this is the Outside Podcast. 

Andrew Bernstein: I want drivers to hear me talk about this. I want people who are not cyclists to hear me talk about this. And to understand that your vehicle is a weapon and your weapon is never more than a few seconds away from killing or maiming somebody.  

Michael Roberts (host): That’s Andrew Bernstein, known to his friends as Bernie. He’s in his mid-30s and until recently, he was an avid cyclist, training regularly and competing alongside professional riders in elite track races. For many years, his life pretty much centered around bikes. 

That all changed on an afternoon last summer, when Bernie was riding alone on a road outside of Boulder, Colorado, and a driver crashed into him. In an instant, his body, and his life, were transformed. 

I’m Michael Roberts, and today, we’re going to hear about what happened to Bernie, how he’s fared since, and where he goes from here. It’s a deeply personal account—but also a story that has the potential to change all of our behavior in ways that will save lives, and reduce the number of people who will have to suffer through what Bernie has endured. 

 

Right now, in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, America is experiencing a cycling renaissance. Across the country, people are biking more than ever. Some are riding because they want to avoid public transportation; others to get some fresh air, and a bit of freedom and exercise.

These habits seem likely to stick, even when the travel and activity restrictions are over. The cycling brand Trek recently partnered with a research firm to conduct a national survey, with half of respondents saying they plan to continue to bike more after the pandemic has passed. Which sounds great, until you realize that once all the cars are back out there, too, America’s roads are arguably more dangerous for bikers than they’ve ever been. 

In 2018, 857 cyclists were killed by drivers on our roads. It was the deadliest year in almost three decades, and a 38-percent jump since 2010. And it’s not just because more people have taken up biking: the numbers clearly show that the spike in deaths is outstripping the growth in participation. 

This week, Outside published a series of reports on this grim reality at outsideonline.com/cyclingdeaths. The stories, along with in-depth statistics and graphics, reveal a very frightening picture. But perhaps the most powerful element of the series is an essay by Bernie, about his experience, which began with what felt like the start of just another normal weekend. 

Bernstein: So I had kind of a lazy Saturday, like woke up and I think my fiance Gloria had gone to do her own ride leaving earlier, so she was gone. And I kinda like lazed around the house. And I probably watched some shitty movie on Hulu or something, had breakfast and and puttered around the house for a while and then at like 11 or so I got myself out the door and headed out to ride.

Roberts: For Bernie, this was actually the ride to his ride: he’s a passionate track cyclist, and since moving to Boulder in 2018 with his fiancé, he’d been training at a velodrome in the town of Erie, about 15 miles to the East. He rides out there on his road bike, switches to a track bike for his main workout, then rides home. 

Bernstein: And there's a few ways you can get there. Most of the time I would like to take a route that kind of minimize my interaction with cars, which is a typical thing for anyone who rides a bike to do.

Roberts: At the velodrome that Saturday, he got partly through his training session, when it started raining. Tracks get really slick when they’re wet, so that was the end of that.

Bernstein: So I figured I was done for the day, so I switched to my road bike. I was getting ready to ride home and there were some other folks there and they had offered me a ride and I kind of said, whatever, like, it's just a drizzle. And so I took off and because of the rain, I took a more direct route than I would typically have taken. It was a road called Arapaho. There's definitely more traffic but there's a good shoulder and I had a light on my bike and I figured better to chance it and get home sooner than to take out like a circuitous route and worse risk getting stuck in like a bad storm. 

Roberts: He left the velodrome at sometime around 3:30 or 4:00 in the afternoon. His way back to Boulder was mostly flat, with just some minor hills.

Bernstein: You go past some open space and some tall prarie grass. You go past some gas stations, you go past some housing developments and then as you get closer into Boulder, you go through some like farms and then some more industrial stuff. I remember thinking,  well it wasn't raining that bad. But the road was probably damp. And I went under this railroad track. When you go under that track, you're almost back in Boulder,  within a couple of minutes from the city limit. And I remember thinking like, Oh, I'm making good time, I'm going to be home soon. And that's like my last memory from before the crash. 

Roberts: While Bernie was on his ride, his fiancé was already there, relaxing after going mountain biking. Her name is Gloria Liu, and she was just a month or so into her new job as the features editor at Outside Magazine. She and Bernie had met back in 2014, when she’d taken over his job as the gear editor of Bicycling Magazine.

Gloria Liu: I remember on my very first day of work, Bicycling has this daily lunch ride that everybody goes on. So I of course being the newbie didn't want to be late. So I went downstairs super early, changed and I was the first person out in the parking lot. And I remember standing there and I'm looking at my bike computer and I just hear this voice and somebody just says, hello. And it's so strange because I've never had this experience otherwise before. And it sounds really cheesy, but I just remember looking up and seeing this guy standing in front of me. And he was tall and he was really cute. And I just had this like almost visceral reaction where I was like, Whoa, like he's really cute. And that was Andrew.

Roberts: Gloria still calls Bernie by his full name, which makes her the only person in his life other than his family who does. 

They went on a lot of rides early on, and quickly became close friends. Then they became more than friends. They were engaged in December of 2017, and moved to Boulder the next year. 

By last July, they were at the beginning of what felt like a new chapter together: Gloria had a new job, and Bernie was making strides in his career as a marketing professional in the biking and outdoor industries.

The night before his accident, they had one of those summer evenings that makes life seem so fun and easy. 

Liu:  We had found out that the local swimming pool offers like free Friday night barbecues and you can just go and you don't have to pay, which is hilarious because I think usually you pay $5 and, but we're like suckers for a deal. We're both like, yeah, this is free. So we went to the swimming pool and went swimming, which is like something we never do cause we're both always so busy riding our bikes. So it was really out of character for us to both go to the swimming pool. And a bunch of our friends were there and I remember we just put picnic blankets out and had some drinks and sat on the lawn and like splashed around in the pool. And Andrew was like cannon balling off the diving board and it was super, super fun. And that was Friday night.

Roberts: On Saturday, Gloria woke up early, like she usually does, and went for a mountain bike ride with friends on a trail she’d never been on before. She came home in a great mood. The plan, after Bernie got back from the velodrome, was to go to a friend’s house for tacos.   

Liu: I remember I was upstairs in the bedroom when I got a phone call from a number I didn't know. And I actually don't usually pick up numbers I don't know because we get so many robo calls these days. But I did pick it up this time and a guy on the other end asked if there was somebody named Laurie around and I said, Oh, sorry, you must have the wrong number. And he said, let me rephrase this. This is the Boulder County Sheriff's office. Is there anybody here whose name sounds like Laurie? And I was like, well, my name is Gloria. And I just remember like the weirdest feeling of dread and foreboding. And the officer said, do you know any Andrew Bernstein? And just in that moment, I already knew.

Bernstein: I had this sort of foggy memory of coming to on the ground and kind of understanding what had happened and not being in pain, but like realizing that I was really, really hurt and I needed help. And I remember thinking like, I better call 911, and not being able to find my phone.

Thinking about it now, like I'm not sure if I actually couldn't find my phone or that I just couldn't get my arms back into my pocket. Once I kind of realized that like I couldn't call 911 for myself. I had to signal in my car and I remember thinking like, okay, I'm going to need to like lift myself up and if I can't do that, I'm going to have to like raise my arm up and try and like get someone to stop. And that's my last memory.

Roberts: The driver that ran into Bernie had fled the scene, leaving him to die there, on the side of the road. Which is what would have happened if an insurance salesman named Tim Gillach hadn’t passed by soon after. 

Bernstein: What he told me was that he was driving his father home from church. He was driving down Arapaho and he saw me sit up and then lay myself back down. And the way that Tim tells it, he's like, I saw these eyes. I saw these eyes looking at me. He wasn't sure. He wasn't sure if he'd really seen what he thought he had seen. So he turned around. 

Roberts: Tim is also a cyclist, and just a few months earlier, he’d been hit by a distracted driver near his home in Arvana, Colorado. He’d broken his pelvis and been in the hospital for quite a while, before starting rehabilitation. When he spotted Bernie on the side of the road, it was actually his first week back to driving. 

Bernstein: He saw my helmet on the ground and he saw my bike, which was broken into many pieces. And so he pulled over, and he found me. And he recently described to me what the scene looked like. And in his words, there was like pieces of my bike everywhere and there were water bottles here and there and there was pieces of vehicles scattered around. And he said my leg was pointing every which way.

The interesting thing he said was that you find an injured person, you kind of expect there to be like blood and gore. And in my case there wasn't. But despite that, it was very clear that I was in terrible distress cause I was really struggling to breathe. And so he called 911.

Liu: As soon as I heard the officers say, do you know an Andrew Bernstein? I thought about like, it just sort of came together in a moment, like Andrew's not on the phone, so he couldn't call me himself. There’s a police officer there and this police officer didn't know my name. So I said yes. And I think the next question I must have asked is he okay? And the officer said, yeah, it appears that he was hit by a vehicle. I remember very distinctly, he said. he's a little banged up but we have him in an ambulance and he's on his way to the ER at Boulder Community Hospital. 

So I grabbed a bag full of all of his stuff. I grabbed some regular clothes for him because I knew that he would've been in his bike kit. I grabbed some shoes, which I remember were some foam beach sandals and I grabbed a sorter for him because hospitals are cold.

And I texted him, I'm on my way. I'm bringing you shoes and clothes and I love you. On my way to the ER, I got another phone call from a police officer, a different police officer this time, a state trooper. And he said, Hey it looks like Andrew's bike is still here on scene. You know, do you want to come and get it? And I was like, Oh yeah, like of course and Andrew was hit just a couple miles from the hospital, and actually remember the police officers saying too, Oh, it looks like he's like got a nice pair of Oakley's here too. Oh yeah, he definitely wants his sunglasses.

And when I got there, I saw a police car on the side of the road and I parked behind it. I got out of the car and I started walking down towards the officer who was standing on the side of the road. And then I saw Andrew's bike and I think that was my first indication that something really horrible had happened. 

The bike was in two completely separate pieces. It was snapped in half. There were pieces of red carbon fiber all along the road, probably starting like 30 yards before I actually got to the bike. I was shocked when I saw it. I was like, wait a minute. I thought he was like a little banged up -- he's not a little banged up. This was a bad, bad crash. An I remember I saw his headphones on the side of the road in the grass and his Blinky light. He rode with a Blinky light even in the day time and it was still flashing on his bike.

 

Roberts: We’ll be right back.

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Roberts: After loading pieces of Bernie’s bike and his other gear into the back of her car, Gloria drove to the emergency room. She says she was calm, but also numb, and in a state of disbelief. 

When she got to the hospital, she checked in at the front desk and the receptionist told her she could go in.

Liu: So I walked to the entrance of the ER, which is -- there's a double door and you have to like be led in. You ring the bell and somebody asks you who you are and they let you in. So I rang the bell and they asked me who I was there to see and I said, Andrew Bernstein. And they said, okay, hold on. So I stood outside that door and nobody came for like 10 minutes. And I thought this was really strange. So finally somebody walked out and I sort of slipped my way into the ER. 

So I started walking down the hall and I think they had told me which room number he was in. I got there and I just remember seeing Andrew's feet, his bare feet, on a table and he was lying down and I couldn't see his face. And there were doctors and nurses on either side of him. And there was a table of like metal instruments to the right of him. And I just was standing in the doorway and like, I couldn't say anything, I didn't know what to do. And I was standing there with his bag of clothes and I think I must've stood there for like 10 seconds or 15 seconds when somebody noticed me and they were like, Oh, you can't be here. And they just like shooed me out and took me to this other room. I waited there for probably 20 minutes or so when another doctor came in. His words at the time were interesting. He said, your fiance is very, very sick. 

Roberts: The attending emergency physician that afternoon at Boulder Community Health was Dr. Laughlin McCollester. He’s a cyclist himself and he had treated a number of patients that suffered blunt force trauma. As he later told Bernie, he had a good idea of what was coming his way. 

Bernstein: He heard that there was a major blunt force trauma coming in -- a cyclist versus car. And he immediately knew that like when a large object moving at a high rate of speed hits a small soft object like a person, it can cause broken bones. It can cause severe internal bleeding. It can collapse lungs, it can break necks, it can fracture skulls. And so he was prepared for that type of a case.

Roberts: In the emergency room, Dr. McCollester and his colleagues cut into both sides of Bernie’s rib cage to relieve pressure, helping his lungs reinflate. They inserted two tubes to drain blood that had been collecting in his chest. They also forced a breathing tube into his lungs, and another doctor made an incision in Bernies groin and packed his insides with gauze, hoping to get his blood to clot.  

Full body CAT scans and further examinations revealed catastrophic damage: a lacerated liver, bleeding around his heart, and many, many broken bones, including all of his ribs, his sternum, and his pelvis in three places. There was also damage to his spinal cord. 

Dr. McCollester shared these details with Gloria over a couple conversations, as she made a flurry of phone calls to Bernie’s family. It was during the second update that Gloria came to understand just how critical of a state Bernie was in. 

Liu: I stopped him and I was like, doctor,  are you saying that these injuries are life threatening? And the doctor said yes, I would say that any of these injuries on their own would be life threatening.

Roberts: Several hours later, a nurse came to the room where Gloria was waiting and told her she could come see Bernie.   

Liu: I don't know, like, why, but somehow I just expected to be able to talk to Andrew and even if he was weak that he might say something to me or we might be able to somehow communicate.

But when I walked in, he was unconscious and he was intubated, which means that he had a breathing tube down his mouth. I remember his eyes were like partly open and he had the breathing tube in his mouth  and I just flipped out. I just started, like hyperventilating and like crying and sobbing and holding his hand. And I think what was the most horrific part of it was that, like, in that moment, it felt like Andrew wasn't there, like he was not in his body and I had a really, really emotional reaction to that.

Roberts: As soon as Bernie’s vital signs had begun to stabilize, he was flown to Denver Health, a hospital with the greater resources he needed. He would eventually undergo 10 surgeries in 17 days to repair his broken bones and his spinal column. Through much of this time, he was in a haze of sedation in what’s known as ICU delirium.   

Bernstein: I think people expect that there's like this moment when you wake up and you're like, Oh, like I'm in a hospital and my loved ones are here and it's not like that. Or at least it wasn't like that for me.  I have this like kind of extended period of time where I remember--  there's just like things that I imagined and made up interspersed with reality and kind of commingled with reality.

For instance, I like had this recurring dream or nightmare where I was involved in some kind of like helicopter tour operation and the helicopter company like had retired their fleet of helicopters and we were now using like backpack helicopters, like a Jetsons thing with a blade over your head.And I hated it and I like want to take the backpack off. And I remember like trying to pull at it and like one time like loosening a strap and then someone coming in and like and re-fastening it in a forceful way. 

And like looking back, first of all, I had been in a helicopter and I had some memory of that. And also I had a tracheostomy so I was breathing through a hole in my neck. And there is a part of the apparatus that like gets condensation in it and the condensation, like when a collects starts to make like a fah, fah, fah, fah, fah noise, like kind of like a helicopter. And also I was in a C spine collar, which I fucking hated. Like I did not like that thing and I was always trying to take it off. So I'm sure that like that's what happened. 

Liu: One of the scarier parts about all this was that, as the days wore on, Andrew was actually becoming less and less responsive. So when he first came into the hospital, Andrew. when he woke up out of his sedation, was alert enough to like grab his brother's hand when his brother walked in the room. But as each day wore on, those periods of consciousness became shorter. 

Roberts: Gloria and Bernie’s family began to worry that he had a traumatic brain injury that the doctors had missed. They lobbied for a MRI, to scan his brain, but it didn’t show anything. 

Liu: I remember one night I had come back after dinner to his room and I was by myself and he was lying there and the machines were beeping and he had his eyes closed. And I remember just holding his hand and saying like --  one thing Andrew always hates about me is like that I'm a little bit messy in the kitchen and I make coffee all the time and I'll leave my like coffee grounds all over the counter. And I just remember saying like, just come back. Like if you come back, I'll clean up all the coffee grounds.

The next morning I got a text from his brother who had gotten to the hospital ahead of me and it was like, Hey, I have a surprise for you when you show up. And when I showed up, I remember it was a Saturday morning. It was super sunny and nice and Andrew was awake. He just went somehow from like being completely out of it to like waking up and his eyes were open and he was alert again. And that was a huge relief.

Roberts: Most likely, Bernie had just needed time to begin emerging from heavy sedation. Though still delirious at times, he was able to communicate through eye contact. But being awake also meant that he was now very aware of pain. Historically, he was someone with a high pain threshold. Some years ago, he’d had surgery for a broken wrist and his doctors had pushed him to take codeine for days afterwards. Instead, he didn’t take a single pill after leaving the hospital. 

Bernstein: I'm not a wimp. Like I am a endurance athlete who pushed myself in through many painful intervals to like get to high level racing. I've endured injuries. And so when I tell you that, like, I was in pain, I want you to believe that I was in a lot of pain. 

Roberts: He was also still suffering from ICU delirium.

Liu: At the time he was communicating with us through a pen and notepad and one morning he wrote like, the nurses are beating me up and his brother and I were like, Andrew, the nurses aren't beating you up. The nurses here are amazing and they're trying to help you.

Bernstein: In retrospect, it's like very apparent to me that like the nurses needed to move me around the bed. They needed to like roll me over and look at my back and they needed to like mess with my incisions. And I had 24 broken ribs and all these other injuries and any time anybody touched me, it was excruciating.

Roberts: What Bernie wanted more than anything was to go home. But he was still connected to all kinds of machines and nowhere close to being ready to leave the hospital. This was really hard on him, and on Gloria, and Bernie’s brother, Eric, both of whom were with him as much as possible. 

Liu: It was especially hard to leave him at night. There's no guests allowed to stay overnight at the ICU. Every night we would leave him at 8 or 9pm and he would get his sleeping medications but Andrew couldn’t sleep. I remember one night he texted me at like four in the morning or something. Like, are you going to come visit me today? I just broke my heart like, of course I was going to be there. I'd been there every single day. But he was so confused and scared that he didn't know if we were coming.

Roberts: In addition to supporting Bernie through the early stages of his recovery, Gloria and Eric were trying to find out who’d run him over. They tried to get useful data from the apps on Bernie’s cycling computer. Eric canvassed business up and down Arapaho Road, to see who might have surveillance footage. Working closely with the police and state troopers, they managed to identify the vehicle, and also get the word out in the press.

(audio from news report): Colorado State Patrol released these photos of the van suspected to be responsible for the hit and run. The White Dodge Ram van may have damage on the passenger side front corner. 

“My brother’s bike was snapped in half. There’s no chance this person doesn’t know they hit something and someone.” 

Liu: In the first couple of days after the crash, I was definitely interested in getting the news out about it because, I was always interested in making sure that justice was served and really just more so because when something like this happens, like you just have to know what happened and you have to get as much information as you can. And I was like acutely aware of the fact that every day that went by, it made it harder to find this car. 

Roberts: Gloria says she has never felt any anger or rage at the driver. She’s not entirely sure why, but one thing she was sure of, was that punishing whoever did this wouldn’t make Bernie any better. That would take time, and the grueling work of rehabilitation. 

Initially, his physical therapy consisted of trying to sit up. And then there was the first day that he first stood.

Bernstein: I've been on my back for at that point, like more than a month. And my legs had gone from like elite level bike racer to just complete atrophy. And my left arm at that time was like very much still recovering from being repaired and I could like barely use it to stabilize myself.

And I had lost 35 pounds. I also didn't have control of my bowels. Like I would like just poop myself, like all the time. And this woman whose name is Joanna, she's an occupational therapist. She like came in and she was like, I think that you should stand up today. And I was like, I don't know, like, are you sure? And she was like, yes. 

Roberts: Also in the room was Gloria and a close friend of Bernie’s from college, named Travis. 

The therapist got ready, and then Bernie went for it. 

BernsteiN: She essentially hauled me to my feet from like a sitting position. And I stood for a couple seconds and then I like sat back down and it was the hardest thing I've ever done. It was like harder than any interval I've ever done a bike. It just took like every muscle in me just to get myself up to that position. And the physical effort like caused me to poop myself off course and like, my friend Travis was getting video of this and he was like, you're gonna need to be cleaned up. And I was like, thanks buddy. (laughs) Glad you’re hear for this. 

Roberts: He was eventually transferred to a rehabilitation hospital that specializes in helping patients recover from spinal cord injuries. Here, so long as he demonstrated a certain level of safety and competency, he’d be allowed to leave on weekends. His first trip was to the Rapha Clubhouse, in Boulder, which is a hub for cyclists, and also an easy place to get into if you’re in a wheelchair. A bunch of friends came by to see him, and it felt amazing.    

Then, in October of last year, after more than three months of being in hospitals, Bernie and Gloria went home for good.

Their good friend Joe Lindsay came over and helped them unpack and get set up.

Bernstein: And then we just sat and hung out and like, we had some pizza and laughed. And like that was the moment that I felt like I was really home. It was like just hanging out with, with Gloria and Joe and Metal the cat, like jumped up in my lap and hung out with me even though he like probably didn't remember me anymore. 

Roberts: In the months since, Bernie has continued to progress through the grinding effort of physical therapy. It’s been all the more challenging since the COVID-19 outbreak, which has reduced the number of appointments he can get each week. 

He still wakes up in pain, everyday. His left leg remains parlyzed, though not entirely, and it’s improving. As for his spinal injury, it’s impossible to tell how he’ll recover. Bernie’s spinal cord wasn’t completely severed, but that doesn’t guarantee him anything. For now, he looks forward to hopefully transitioning to a shorter brace, and then maybe going down from two crutches to one. 

Bernstein: And then there's like the ongoing work of trying to understand your new life which is very difficult and your loved ones and your counselor can like help you, but there's no at the end of the day it's just kind of up to you to figure it out. It can be devastating. It can make you question everything. I think the big thing for me, I'm like getting closer to the point where I'll be able to ride a bike again and then I'm like wondering if I want to ride a bike on the road or not. 

Roberts: Not surprisingly, Gloria has struggled with the same question.

Liu: There were times after Andrew’s crash and I thought to myself, I could never ride a road bike again in my life and be perfectly happy. One of the arguments that a lot of cycling advocates like to use is that we should be out there in numbers. Like, we should all be out there riding on the roads so that cars get used to us being out there and like learn how to behave around us properly. And I for a while had it in my head that, I just wonder if people who say that have ever seen the aftermath of what a car can do to your body. 

Roberts: Through last fall and the early spring of this year, Gloria stuck to the dirt, not even touching her road bike. Then, in March, the COVID-19 shelter in place orders caused the trails around Boulder to be crowded and she figured, maybe the road is safer. 

Liu: My first real road ride was actually just a couple of weeks ago. I had been kind of hoping that with all of the restrictions, maybe there wouldn't be as much traffic on the road, but there was still a lot of cars coming up and down. It's this three and a half mile long winding, beautiful mountain road.. But I was nervous the whole time, like every time a car went by, I sort of like shuttered and I couldn't tell if it was me, but it felt like they were all passing closer than normal and it was scary. but I remember when I came back I was like, wow, I did it. I did it and I'm back home safe. And then I went again.

Roberts: Both Bernie and Gloria told me that talking about all this was hard, but also helpful to their recovery. They also both confessed to having an ulterior motive.

Bernstein: I want people to be better drivers. Drivers in this country generally don't take the responsibility of driving seriously. And it's killing us. It's killing cyclists. It's killing pedestrians, it's killing kids who are playing and it's killing other motorists. And all those deaths are preventable.  There's just no excuse. I mean, people will be like, he came out of nowhere. I'm like, well no. He came out of a side road or he came out of a sidewalk or he came out of a parked car and you didn't see it because you were not paying adequate attention.

Liu: All I hope is that like people will hear this story and just change their behavior a little bit and it really doesn't take that much. Like all it really comes down to is just paying attention when you drive and like not answering your cell phone and not sending emails and text messages while you drive. And I feel like if people try to do that, they'll realize it's not that big of a thing to ask. 

Roberts: It’s been more than nine months since Bernie’s crash. The white Dodge Van that struck him was identified and impounded. Law enforcement investigators now face the challenge of proving who was driving it, which requires a great deal of evidence.

Meanwhile, Bernie and Gloria have begun taking long weekend walks on trails into the forest outside of Boulder. He’s still dependent on leg braces and crutches, but he’s getting stronger. 

Spending time together outdoors like this, just connecting with each other, is something they didn’t actually do a lot of before his crash, a fact that they’ve come to regret.

Liu: In those moments, when everything’s hanging in the balance, once you look back at your life and realize what matters, you realize a lot of the stuff that you spent your time chasing -- like trying to be fit, trying to be good at racing -- just wasn’t really that important. Both of us have a lot of regrets about the last two years when we could’ve spent more time together while we were both healthy and able bodied. And I think a lot about days when we couldn’t agree whether we wanted to ride mountain bikes or road bikes and we didn’t work out together. And now Andrew can’t ride a bike for a long time, if ever. That’s why I think the walks mean so much because they’re sort of our second chance. 

Roberts: You can read Bernie’s essay about his crash, and his ongoing recovery, at outsideoutsideonline.com/cyclingdeaths. There, you’ll also find a series of reports about how dangerous America’s roads have become for bikers, and what we can do about it.

Gloria Liu is the features editor at Outside Magazine. Her exceptional work can be seen in our print issues and across our website.

My name is Michael Roberts, and I produced this episode. Our music is by Robbie Carver.

This episode was brought to you by Visit Florida, one of the country’s great adventure destinations. To learn more about all the activities to be had in the sunshine state,  both on and off the water, go to VisitFlorida.com/Outside

We’ll be back in two weeks.

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Outside’s longstanding literary storytelling tradition comes to life in audio with features that will both entertain and inform listeners. We launched in March 2016 with our first series, Science of Survival, which was developed in partnership with PRX, distributors of the idolized This American Life and The Moth Radio Hour, among others. We have since expanded our show and now offer a range of story formats, including interviews with the biggest figures in sports, adventure, and politics, as well as reports from our correspondents in the field.