(Photo: H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStock)

The Best Worst Accidents


Some experiences are unforgettable for both very bad and very good reasons. A violent car wreck that ends up putting you on a path to the summit of Mount Everest, for example. Or an injury that ends your Olympic dreams but introduces you to the love of your life. Or a bike crash that leaves you literally naked on the trail—but with a reminder of your great luck. Because sometimes it’s the hard left turn that makes everything go right.

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.

Michael Roberts: Around 20 years ago, I went on a date that was a total disaster.
A woman who I'd just started seeing invited me to go windsurfing with her on the San Francisco Bay. I'd been windsurfing just once before, but I said yes because I really liked her. And I figured: it'll be ok. It's not that hard.
Well, you know what's coming. That's especially true if you listen to this show regularly, because I shared a tiny bit of this tale a couple years ago.
Anyway, several things stand out in my memory of the experience. There were my bloodied hands, which I'd rubbed raw pulling the line that lifts the windsurfer sail when you're trying to get going again after falling into the water. That happened a lot.
There was the look on the guy's face driving the rescue boat that picked me up after I ended up a mile downwind and couldn't get back to the dock.
And there was my date, who zipped all over the Bay, and made it look so easy.
But it all ended well. Because, you see, I got to tell this story at our wedding.
I'm Michael Roberts, and, yes, here at Outside colleagues we talk a lot about how we learn the most when our adventures go sideways. For today's episode, we have a special twist on that theme put together by producer Paddy O'Connell that we're calling "My Best Worst Accident."
And it begins with a story that you definitely haven't heard before, from my boss, about a mountain bike ride he'll never forget.
Jon Dorn: It's funny now that you mentioned the ride home, that does jog the memory of my wife suggesting that perhaps we go freeze some sperm just in case.
Paddy: This is not a typical adventure tale. But then nothing about Jon Dorn's mountain bike crash is commonplace. Jon is a hell of a talented athlete, specifically iron man competitions and cycling. On a bike is where he feels his 6'6" frame is most balletic, because elsewhere, well.
Jon: If you've ever been at the zoo and seen a brand new baby giraffe sort of awkwardly stumbling along in its first steps…
Paddy: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah.
Jon: That's kind of what I'm like, in all facets. never blessed with much in the way of coordination, right?
Paddy: Jon Dorn is a head muckety muck for Outside. But all the way back in 1994, he'd just finished graduate school and had been married for only a few years. He and his wife didn't have two pennies to rub together, so they were living with his in-laws in Old Greenwich, Connecticut. Jon spent a lot of time mountain biking the Mianus River Gorge, a network of single track that split the horse country of Greenwich's ritzy mansions. For him, this was a chance to escape his moneyed surroundings and get grimy in his blousy t-shirt and extra tight spandex shorts. It was the 90s after all.
One warm, sunny day, Jon was enjoying a solo ride on a trail he'd ridden many times.
Jon: At this one particular bend in the trail. There was a unique feature. It looked like a shark fin. Like literally the kind of fin you would see on a 13 foot great white.
Like it's not a small rock. And it came right after a difficult sort of rock garden section, that sort of took all my skills to, to get through. And so, I clean that tough section. I relax for a couple of moments. I come to the shark fin.
The dozen times that I'd ridden this trail before, I'd always gone left for some reason, in this particular instance, I thought, ‘oh man, I am such a good rider. It would be groovy to go right.’
I don't do it fast enough and my 220 pounds of mass on a 25 or 30 pound mountain bike hits the shark fin, and the bike doesn't move, but I do.
As I ejected over the handlebars into a full Superman, the craziest thought came into my head and I'm like, ‘fuck, I'm flying. This is what it feels like to fly.’
Paddy: The superhero elation was momentary. Jon wasn't flying, he was flipping through the air uncontrolled. He landed on his back on hard packed dirt and rocks. He knocked the wind out of himself, but that was about it. He briefly felt gratitude, and then...
Jon: In looking up at the heavens to thank whatever deity was protecting me, I saw my bike, flipping over.
I could see that the handlebars were coming down first and they were spinning in such a fashion that I was gonna get skewered by one end of the handlebars.
And not only was I gonna get skewered, but the destination of those handlebars was right around the crotch
Paddy: Oh no. My God.
Jon: Now Paddy, I was a young man. I had not yet had children. My wife and I wanted to have children. Her parents who we were living with talked to us every day about having children. My mom called me every week about children. This 27 pound bike was coming down right at the good parts. We're not talking just about painful injury. We're talking about like multi-generational extinction.
Paddy: The bike landed on Jon but…missed the mark. Feeling grateful once again, Jon stood up and dusted himself off. And that is when he noticed pain in his upper thigh where the bike had hit. A bump started to swell up in less than a minute.
Jon: by the time it got to be the size of a tangerine, and I'm like, huh, that's, that's happening pretty quickly. Like this is unusual. But the thing that really kind of freaked me out was that it was pulsing. Like I could feel the blood actually pumping.
Paddy: So Jon did what anyone would do in that situation: he pulled his spandex shorts down to inspect his wound. The bump was throbbing and continuing to grow.
Jon: I'm standing there with my shorts around my ankles and as I'm rubbing my crotch, trying to figure out what to do, I look up. And for the first time ever in the Mianus river gorge, I see a hiker.
Not just any old hiker. It is a 60ish, uh, woman dressed to the dines as if she was walking down Greenwich Avenue shopping in the high class stores. Chanel purse. Poodle.
Paddy: Stop it. No way. You gotta be kidding me.
Jon: Whole nine yards. The whole nine yards. Yep. She was not dressed for hiking, and she was prim and proper and she was probably worth a hundred million dollars by the looks of things.
And here she comes along the trail around the bend to discover this six foot, six giant, rubbing his crotch with his spandex around his ankles.
I was completely struck down. I, I simply stared at her and kept rubbing.
Paddy: The hiker made eye contact with Jon. Then looked past him and continued walking.
Jon: She pretended as if nothing happened and walked right on by me. The poodle didn't even say anything.
Paddy: But the adventure continues. Jon still had to get home. He finished the loop, got back to his wife, and…
Jon: pulled down my shorts and showed my wife, and she's like, oh my god, we're going right to the hospital.
Paddy: The doc at the hospital told Jon he was lucky for two reasons. The first:
Jon: All that bike coming down right there, you could have just split those things in half.
Paddy: Oh my God.
Jon: But I'll tell you, you're really lucky, uh, because what you see here is the result of nicking your femoral artery.
Paddy: That pulsing was blood leaking out of the femoral artery and filling the hematoma. The doctor informed Jon that if the bars hit at a slightly different angle or with slightly more force, he would have bled out on the trail and died within three minutes.
The next weekend Jon went back to the Gorge and rode that same section of trail 10 times, always going right around the shark fin. Jon says he felt like he needed to master his mistake.
Jon: I didn't really screw up that bad and I just screwed up a little and the sheer dumb luck of how I landed and how that bike flipped, created something that no one ever could have predicted. So I'm not gonna let that weird stroke of fate stop me from doing something I love.
Coming away from that experience, I think my advice to anybody else would be, ride with a buddy when you can. On a lighter note, I would say don't, don't be afraid to pull your pants down when you need to.
And I am delighted to report that I have two fabulous, healthy 20 something daughters.
Paddy: All's well that ends well, right?
But sometimes even when you ride with friends, even when those friends are incredibly experienced mountain bikers, things can still go terribly wrong.
Brian Park is a self proclaimed mountain bike nerd. He helps run Pinkbike, the end all be all mountain bike website, and part of the Outside network. Brian is also one of the voices you'll hear on the Pinkbike Podcast. He lives in one of the epicenters of mountain biking, Vancouver, British Columbia.
Paddy: As a Canadian, I'm a little upset to find you not like drinking syrup out of a straw.
Brian: I'm hiding it. It's impolite.
Paddy: Brian is the quintessential well-mannered, even keeled Canuck. Which came in handy during an especially brutal crash.
In 2019, Brian attended the Whistler Crankworx mountain bike festival, about 90 minutes north of Vancouver. Each year, Pinkbike employees take friends and family on an adventure during the festival: a wild ride in the coastal mountains that requires a helicopter drop.
There are two routes down: an aggressive trail and mellower trail. Brian usually chooses aggro, but this time he felt like taking it easier. When he was cruising at half speed on the mellower trail, a very not mellow thing occurred on a section running through a talus field.
Brian: I just wasn't paying attention. Miscalculated. Snagged a pedal. And out the front door of the bike, just off the front and in the worst possible place.
Paddy: So you just went full over the handlebars.
Brian: Tomahawked. Yeah. Just tumbling down the talus field for a while.
Paddy: What's a while mean?
Brian: Uh, 30 ish feet off trail. I put my hands out to sort of stop myself and my right hand just was not where my brain thought it was or where it should be in space. I look and it's just pointing backwards in the wrong direction, I just yanked my arm around and I was like, in my mind, I was like, the universe didn't see it. I did it so fast. Like it's, I, I'm so embarrassed, but like, nobody's even gonna know. I'm gonna ride outta here. It'll be fine. You don't want to be the guy…
Paddy: It's fine. It's fine.
Brian: Yeah, you don't wanna be the guy that crashes out on the ride, you know?
And, when I tried to do things like a muscle would fire and it would not do, like, it was just spaghetti. It was gross. And so I, I, I remember yelling up. I super broke my arm, like not just, I broke my arm, I super broke my arm
Paddy: While this sounds agonizing, at this point, Brian was feeling more emotional distress and embarrassment than physical pain. But then his colleague Sarah came running up to him with a very concerned look on her face and said.:
Brian: Brian, it's gonna be okay. We're gonna get you off this mountain. Your arm is gonna be fine. And I was like, oh God. I hadn't considered any other alternative.
Paddy: And then when she was like, you're gonna be fine. You're gonna be fine.
Brian: Then I stopped believing that I was gonna be fine immediately.
Paddy: And that is when the pain started. It is also when Brian noticed his arm was about three times its normal size.
Brian: It looked like, you know, those weird Russian fake bodybuilders that have the synth oil injected into their, to make their biceps look big. Yeah. It just looked like that, like, not normal, not right. The big nerves were like kind of going right over the edge of the exploding bit. Every time I moved it was really not, not great.
Paddy: Like a lightning bolt?
Brian: Oh, yeah, yeah.
Paddy: Fortunately, the group was well prepared for an accident. Since there was no cell reception they had radios and SAR transceivers. They called search and rescue, since it was too far to hike out, but it'd be hours before a helicopter could evacuate Brian. So Brian's pals opened up their first aid kits and splinted his arm. This is when Brian noticed something important missing from their medical supplies.
Brian: Here's the most shocking part. It was something like nine or ten. Experienced mountain bikers all like mountaineering, bike industry dorks.
Paddy: Yeah.
Brian: And not a single one of them had any recreational drugs. We didn't even have Advil.
Paddy: Without any numbing agent, Brian was in excruciating pain. So what would get Brian and the others through this horrific situation? Giggling and being very, very relaxed.
Brian (field tape): Well. I have a super broken arm now. But at least we’re in a nice place.
Unidentified: Dramatic reenactment. Brian.
Brian: I think everybody was pretty chill and funny, pretty quick. It was a good vibe, good crew.
Paddy: I don't think I've ever heard a single person describe an accident and say, ‘yeah. You know, like it was pretty chill vibes.’
Brian: I would say definitely if you're going to have a terrible accident, that the people that you're having a horrible time with are important.
The staying calm thing just seemed like the right thing to do. I'm sure I wouldn't be calm in a different situation.
Paddy: You're almost shockingly mellow in the retelling of this. Even for–
Brian: Even for a Canadian,
I definitely am somebody who is practical in what I let my emotions do or myself do. And if it's not helpful to me, I turn that part off.
My reaction, at the accident and since is always just like, is this useful right now? And if it's not useful, I'm not gonna focus on it. And I think everybody can do that on some level
Paddy: In addition to being a super laid-back Canadian who has access to socialized medicine, Brian's ability to take the air out of a chaotic experience made this crash unremarkable in the grand scheme of his life.
Brian: And it was fine. It was all fine. I still ride bikes. My hand works. My brain works. It was awful, but it was fine.
Paddy: Like hard, terrible shit can happen, but I can be okay in all of it.
Brian: Yeah. Exactly. I would definitely recommend not doing it again though.
Paddy: But what about those mishaps that do serve as a flag in the ground moment? Those events that change everything?
Jenn: I said, is there anybody else in this accident? And he goes, nobody that's hurt. You're the only one that's gonna be hurt. So just keep talking to me.
Paddy: That story coming up next.
Jenn: snow would blow across the highway, but it wouldn't, it wasn't sticking to the highway. The highway really wasn't that slippery. I remember thinking, ‘Oh, I'm so glad I get to live in these mountains’
Paddy: This is mother of seven, investment advisor, and mountaineer Jenn Drummond. But back in 2019, Jenn was not a mountaineer. In fact, at that point, she'd only been camping about two times in her life. That would all drastically change following the events of a sunny and cold December day when Jenn was driving home to Park City, Utah.
Jenn: I was driving a Porsche Cayenne. Okay, so it's a little bit of a hot rod if I had to be honest. And I hit a light that was green. So I continued at a speed a little bit higher than what I should have been going, and I was coming in hot to a semi-truck.
So I look over the corner of my shoulder, I can see that I can get into the fast lane.
I start to do that. At the same time, there was something on the side of the road where the semi was in front. And so he kind of just veered a little bit to the left and just enough that when I was going into that speed lane, the corner of his semi hit the passenger side of my Porsche and it sent me endo, right?
Like the back over the front, back over the front three times.
The first question that came to my head was, am I gonna die?
Paddy: After the three flips, the car slid on its side into a snowbank built up on the median. Jenn was hanging in the air by her seat belt.
Jenn : I'm like just kind of coming back to hearing sound again and smelling smells again, and I'm feeling hot in my body and I hear this voice like, ‘are you okay? Are you okay? Are you okay?’
I finally realized like, that's somebody talking to me and I, I'm thinking like, am I okay? And I didn't want to look at my body at this moment because I was afraid of what I was gonna see. So I, I closed my eyes and I wiggled my fingers and toes. And I could feel my fingers and toes.
Paddy: Oh my God. Were you like immediately relieved?
Jenn: I am like, I'm okay. Like, I, like, I literally, I was like, I'm okay. I could feel my fingers and toes. And he is like, honey, you're in a really bad accident. You just sit here and talk to me.
He is like, I'm a paramedic, but I'm not gonna move you. We're really close to the hospital. They're gonna send an ambulance. We're everything's gonna be fine. Like, I'm not waiting for this ambulance. I'm getting outta this car. So I unbuckle–
Paddy: Really?
Jenn: Yeah, I did wanna wait. I was like, I’m getting out of the car.
Jenn: I'm like, and he's like, I don't think you should do that.
I'm like, I do. Okay. So I'm getting out.
Paddy: Jenn crawled out of the car and looked at the wreckage, which she describes as a crumpled up pop can. Paramedics took her to the hospital, where doctors ran tests and miraculously Jenn was uninjured.
Jenn: So physically you're fine. Mentally and emotionally you're different. Like you just don't, there's, it's a line in the sand
I freaked out the next day.
When I went to see the car where it got towed and see if I had anything in it left or whatever. I was like, when I saw the car, it was like, in that moment I like, I was sobbing and like couldn't breathe and like had to sit down and was just, that's when it became real.
I mean even I got a call from the police station a couple weeks after the accident and they said we rebuilt this accident over 50 different ways to try to make this area safer. We can't build one where you live.
Paddy: Jenn says that the emotional toll of the accident affected her for months. She'd be going about her day, feeling fine, and then the slightest or strangest thing would set her off.
Jenn: I could like hear a sound or I could get a phone call or I could be in Costco and start sobbing. Like just start. So like, just sobbing.
Paddy: This industrial size jar of mayonnaise is just so beautiful.
Jenn: I, amazing. I can make all these sandwiches for everybody in my family for life.
So good!
Paddy: All jokes aside, Jenn says she spent a year asking herself some tough questions.
Jenn: How am I here? Like how did this happen? Like why am I saved? Like what is going on here? And it just scared the living crap out of me that I should have been dead. I knew that I had to have been saved to make an impact, right? Like there was a purpose to my life.
And so then I started just experimenting and saying, okay, this is something I like. I'm gonna do more of it. This is something I don't like. I'm done with it.
I don't get to choose when I leave, but I sure get to choose how I show up? So what am I showing up as, what am I doing?
For my 40th birthday, I was like, what am I gonna do that's amazing, that like earmarks this decade. And I decided that I was gonna climb a mountain. I called out to friends and said, okay, if there's one mountain you could climb in the whole wide world, what would it be?
And the overall arching theme was this mountain called Ama Dablam located in Nepal. And so I signed up to do that and started training for that and like leaning into that as my North star.
Paddy: Soon after deciding to take up mountaineering, Jenn, ever the optimist and a defacto at-home teacher because of Covid, was helping one of her sons, who was struggling with a math assignment.
Jenn: I'm like, we do hard things. Like we got this. And he looks up at me and he goes, if we do hard things, why are you climbing a mountain called I'm a dumb blonde instead of a real mountain like Mount Everest.
Paddy: Geez.
Jenn: I’m like, Ama Dablam. Not I'm a dumb blonde. Okay.
And I'm like, you know, maybe I should do Everest because that would show them, my kids, that whatever their Everest is they can do.
Paddy: Jenn hired a coach to train her for Everest. As part of the training, the coach had Jenn read an article in the Guiness Book Of World Records about a female moutaineer's suffer-filled adventures in the Alps.
Jenn: I'm like half joking with this coach. If anybody can suffer, it's me. I've had seven children, let's be honest. And my kids learned how to read on Guinness World Records. And I'm not growing a pumpkin or eating pizzas or hot dogs or whatever the thing is. But if I could get a Guinness World record, my kids would think I'm kind of cool.
Paddy: Jenn set her sights on becoming the first female to climb the Seven Second Summits, the second highest point on each continent.
Jenn: Hasn't been done by a woman before. It's harder than the first seven, and it just makes a statement about being a mom and doing what ignites your like soul on fire. And so many times as a mom, we're so used to putting ourselves on hold for everybody. And I'm like, oh, you know, let's look into this.
Paddy: Jenn did more than look into it. Since her car wreck, Jenn has climbed Everest, and a bunch of other mountains, including six of the seven second summits. All this, and more, happened because of her car accident.
Jenn: The doors that it's opened or the impact it's been able to have, or the things that it's put into motion is bigger than anything I could have done before.
And I am living my happiest fullest, greatest, craziest life.
Here's the thing, like I have seven kids watching me. If I'm working hard and doing all these things every day and I'm not fully happy, then why are they gonna wanna go to school and work? Or why are they gonna wanna do things? Like, because it does, like the message I'm giving isn't congruent with the life I'm living.
Give yourself the space and permission to listen to what makes you happy, and then figure out how to put action behind that.
Paddy: As it happens, Jenn's takeaways from her experience are quite similar to what another Jen says about her accident, and what came after.
I'm talking about retired professional skier Jen Hudak, a two-time world champion, 5-time X-Games medalist, 4-time national champion, and an ESPY nominee. Oh, and she was also integral in getting freestyle skiing into the Olympics.
In the runup to the 2014 Games in Sochi, Jen had battled back from a ton of injuries, including a two year rehab of her right knee. Competing in halfpipe in Sochi was going to be the tidy and beautiful bow tied around a storied career.
Jen: There was a lot of pressure. I think I recognized that I was nearing the end of my career, but I needed to seize this moment, and I had to have all of my performance come together in a very specific way in order to make that dream come true.
Paddy: And it wasn't just a, a dream of making the Olympic team. You were going to Sochi, to, to
Jen: To win. The dream was never just to be an attendee. It was not to be a participant. It was to win a gold medal.
Paddy: But first, she had to earn a spot on Team USA. At a qualifying event at Breckenridge in December 2013, Jenn completed a conservative first run; she landed all her tricks clean but needed to up the ante to secure a podium finish, making it one step closer to being named an Olympian. Jen knew she needed the big points of a 900, an off axis two and a half rotation aerial, the same trick that led her to knock herself out and dislocate her shoulder a few years earlier when she'd tried it at Winter XGames in France.
Jen: I'm like, okay, like I can battle through this. I can push through. I know my body is hurting, but I'm gonna do this 900. I'm gonna make finals. I'm gonna be one step closer to qualifying for the Olympic team. And I dropped in. And I did my 900. I brought it around to my feet and I just landed a little bit backseat. So I felt a little. Weirdness in my left knee. I crashed obviously, and then I, I stood up and I managed to kind of ski down to the bottom. People came over and they're like, are you okay? Are you gonna do another run? What's going on?
And I just sat there. I remember thinking like, this is it, like my career's done, the Olympic run is done. And that's that. I gotta figure out what's next.
Paddy: Jen tore the ACL in her left knee. The Olympic dream was over.
Jen: My body was like, Jen, like I can't, I can't do this anymore.
I'm beat up. Like I have nothing left to give. But my mind and my ego and my pride and this part of me that, that knows like what I was physically capable of had I not had all of those injuries throughout my career was like, you can't quit now. We're so close. We finally have the opportunity. Like this is everything that you've worked for for your entire career.
And in that moment I remember feeling relief. I was like, the fight is done. You don't have to try anymore. You're hurt.
I think the devastation for me came later. It came from, throwing a, a going away party for my teammates as they were getting ready to go to Sochi. It came from sitting in my bed after knee surgery at three in the morning watching the Olympics from my laptop.
It came years later after knowing like that door is truly closed and for the rest of your life, people are gonna ask you if you went to the Olympics and despite having numerous world championship medals and having won every other event that was out there, you don't get to say yes.
And that's hard.
In the moment it really was just like relief, like, okay, you can breathe. And, for at least this short period of time. You don't need to, you don't need to fight.
Paddy: Jen says the silver-lining was that she could start to do all the "normal life stuff" a non-pro skier chasing a dream got to do. She could go to the family wedding. She could hang out with friends. She could even start to date again. But she put a little too much hurry up in that last pursuit.
Jen: I became a little bit too focused on just trying to fill the hole really quickly. You know, it was like, Jen, you don't have to pass a guy walking a dog on a trail and ask yourself, Hmm, maybe I could date him and he'll become my husband. Like I was just in this weird place of just, I just wanted to be beyond it.
I think cuz there was so much rawness and pain with reconciling that my dream wasn't coming through. That I just wanted to be on the other side. I wanted to be in the after immediately where everything was figured out.
Paddy: To help get herself into a different headspace, Jen planned a weeks-long solo mountain biking trip. She loaded up her car with her camping gear and her bike. She hit Sedona, went to Bryce Canyon, rode and partied in Vegas, then ended up in Moab.
On the famous Porcupine Rim trail, Jen stopped to fix an issue with one of her pedals. When she got back to riding she was stuck behind two oddly dressed dudes.
Jen: One of them had bright orange brand new pants and like brand new shoes that he clearly bought in the bike shop that day.
One of 'em, was wearing, Wrestling shorts and a really tight camo shirt.
Paddy: What do you mean wrestling shorts?
Jen: like, like fighting shorts, like MMA shorts. Like, like, like
Paddy: Like the tap out shorts or
Jen H: Yeah. Like kind of like tap out shorts, but like a slightly toned down version of them.
Not that any of this matters, and I sound so judgy that I'm like admitting this, but these are the, you know, stream of consciousness thoughts that were going through my head.
So. We get to this one point on this trail, it's called the Snotch. And it is a steep, rocky steppy s-turn. It was like so beyond my skill level that I'm like, I'm gonna, I'm walking this.
And these two guys were like, I don't know how anyone would ride this.
We exchanged a few words about how crazy this section was and then kind of carried on our way and fighter short guy was in front of me and orange shorts guy was behind me.
And we just kind of kept like leapfrogging.
Paddy: The leapfrogging and the chatting continued for the rest of the ride. And it turned out that Jen and Fighter Shorts Guy had a lot in common; they had the same breed of dog. They were both from New England, both skiers. Suffice to say, they hit it off. And then Jen learned that this was his first time to Moab.
Jen: I just was like, you gotta do this and you gotta do that. And I ended up just being tour guide for the rest of the weekend. We rode Captain Ahab the next day. I think that night I took them up to hike Arches. We went out to Delicate Arch at Sunset. And it was so interesting cuz I was like, in this state where I'm not looking to meet anyone. I don't want anything to do with anyone. I'm just getting to know myself
Paddy: Jen and Fighter Shorts Guy decided to ride another famous Moab trail, Slick Rock, at night. So, they waited for nightfall. Together. Lying on sandstone bluffs as the sun fell and painted the desert sky orange and pink. Totally not romantic at all.
Jen: We watch the sunset, and I'm laying there like, oh my God, I hope this guy doesn't try to make out with me. Like, I'm not, I'm not looking for that. Like I'm just here to ride bikes.
He didn't try to make out with me. I was like, wow, okay. Points for not trying to make out with me.
Paddy: The no-smooching moment passed, and they got to riding. And at a very steep section Jen fell, felt her freshly repaired left knee buckle, and began to swear in fear and frustration. Fighter Shorts Guy was unfazed.
Jen: He just like picks the bike up and walks to the top of, of the hill. And I was. Oh my God. He didn't try to baby me. He just took my bike, did a helpful thing. Let me figure my shit out.
And I like stand up and eventually get myself together. And I walk up, I get the bike and we keep riding. So he's got like even more bonus points now.
Paddy: It was midnight by the time the ride was over. And Jen was too tired to set up camp. So Fighter Shorts Guy, whose actual name was Chris, invited her to crash in his hotel room with Orange Shorts Guy.
Jen: We go back to the room and I'm like, laying on the foot of the bed and, and I'm like, ‘can I just sleep on the foot of your bed like a dog?’
And Chris is like, ‘you can share my bed. Just don't touch me.’
Right. Sounds good. Okay. I'll share your bed, but I won't touch you. It's even more bonus points.
But that, that is what led up to the first moment that we kissed. We did eventually kiss. We only kissed.
Paddy: In the bed after he was like, don't touch me. You were like, well, I'm definitely gonna touch you now.
Jen H: Exactly. No, he started it.
I actually, I don't know who fully started it. Our feet touched, I don't know who made the feet touch.
Paddy: Oh, a little toe on toe action. What about orange shorts, guy? Is he in the bed next to you guys? Oh my God. This is, this is the best.
Paddy (narration): The next morning, Jen headed home to Utah and Chris drove home to California. But they kept talking. Jen visited Chris a month later. Two months after that he moved to Utah. A year later, they were engaged. And then they started a business together, you've probably heard of it: Escapod, those super rad rugged teardrop trailers. And then they had a child.
In other words, Jen got all those things she had wanted when her ski career abruptly ended.
Jen: We have a three-year-old son. Escapod started taking off we're coming up on the seven year mark this June. We operate out of 20,000 square feet in Coleville, Utah. We employ 55 people. We've brought new employment opportunities to a small rural town. And we work a lot.
Paddy: Yeah.
Jen H: Our biking lifestyle is a little bit slowed down. But, hopefully we're on our way back, to more biking adventures in the future
Paddy: Ok, so, here's the thing:, if you live and play in the outdoors, you might get hurt. But an accident, even a gnarly one, doesn't have to be the big bad terrible thing that derails your whole life. Maybe it can teach you how to navigate even harder times. Or maybe it shows you that your friends really do know how to take care of you. Or maybe it pushes you to be the best version of yourself. Maybe all of that.
I'm not naive enough to believe that every crash has a silver lining and a phoenix rising lesson. But occasionally, it's the hard left turn that makes everything go right.
Jen: Sometimes I'm like, this isn't what I signed up for. And I think telling this story does make me say, you know what, maybe it's not what you signed up for, but maybe it is exactly what you want.
Maybe it is exactly what you need and is gonna bring some incredible, unforeseen gift to you if you're able to just weather the storm a little longer, and see where that learning curve takes you.
I think all of us would just benefit from on a daily basis just reminding ourselves that the things that we have were once things that we wanted. And to take a moment to appreciate that, and to celebrate yourself.
Michael: This episode was produced by Paddy O'connell, whose most recent accident occurred when he was styling his mustache. Don’t worry. He'll be fine.
The episode was edited by me, Michael Roberts. Our music is by Robbie Carver.
If you have an accident story, we'd love to hear about it. Send us an email or a voice memo at
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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, and have since expanded our show to offer a range of story formats, including reports from our correspondents in the field and interviews with the biggest figures in sports, adventure, and the outdoors.