Sunday, July 17, 2016

Death on the Trail

In back of my mind the possibility of a horrific death is always present.  Whether it would be a car out of nowhere hitting me like a child kicking a ball or catastrophic wheel failure at high speed.  I've been close a few times.  Once I went full aero on a downhill after spinning out and exceeding 40 mph only to look up and find a bike drifting in front of me.  Or the time I drifted off the road onto a driveway and over corrected myself at 30 mph and hitting hard and busting my right clavicle in two spots.  Felt like I was hit by a truck.  There are stretches of road and trail that I ride and look at the shoulder and think that death would be painful and quick if I suddenly departed the pave and went into the ditch.  The Chichaqua trail is one of those with deadly shoulders or a steep drops instead of shoulders.

It was quite a shock to learn that someone died on Clive's Greenbelt Trail.  I was preparing to leave work when Eric Crabb shared the news story of a bicyclist found dead on the trail I take twice a day Monday through Friday.  Eric looks out after me.  Details at the time were lacking except that the police closed the trail.  I took the Jordan Creek Trail home that day but returned the Greenbelt the next morning.

I've been riding that trail since I moved to the Des Moines metro back in 1992.  It has always been a curvy path wandering on the shore of Walnut Creek and covered with a wonderful canopy of trees, bushes and shrubs.  I always likened it to skiing with many switch backs.  One needs to pay attention to where they are going and look ahead of the curves.  Keith from Bike World remarked over a decade ago that he would like to average 20 mph on it someday.  Me, I prefer to do 14 or less on that trail.  Too many curves and too many people for speed.  Relax and enjoy it.  Absorb nature.

In the past few years the City of Clive has made improvements to the trail.  Some sections have been repaved and few of the curves have been eliminated.  Winter grooming has vastly improved.  The citizens of Clive and surrounding metro have increased their use of the trail greatly over the years.  The connection to the raccoon River Valley Trail has made the Greenbelt very important for those desiring a long ride or to bike across the state or nation.   Despite the increase in it's popularity and the increase of bicyclists there have been few incidents.

Here is the approach to the bridge that Adam missed.

So when I read about a biker killed on the trail I thought that it would have been at a great curve.  I was wrong.  Adam grant Pritchard, 35, from Torquay, Devon, UK, was over here visiting family.  He was biking with his 12 year old sister when he for unknown reasons veered off the trail and dropped 8 feet onto a rocky section of Walnut Creek next to a wooden bridge.  He was discovered face down in the creek with his bike nearby.  Police say that nobody else was involved.  His sister made it home and returned in search of him only to find the police investigating the scene.  She rolled across the bridge he missed by mere feet.

I found the place of the incident marked by broken police tape and pink spray paint.  I've ridden over that section daily.  It is not at a curve.  In fact, he should have been veering the opposite direction to make the bridge. It probably is one of the straighter sections of the trail.   Flowers have been placed on the rocks where he was found.

On the bank of the creek is a wooden fence.  There is about a 10' open section between the end of the fence and the bridge.  The last fence post looks like a middle post with holes cut out for an additional section of fence.  I remember seeing wooden fences like this one that broke under the weight of trees and limbs that feel on them during the winter and storms.  I do not recall if this fence extended all the way to the bridge and had its last section destroyed by a tree.

Was there another section of fence here?  The post has the slots for two more planks.
The end post of the fence.  Almost all fences of this type have end posts like this one.  No slots.

I do not know if that missing section would have made a difference anyway.  The fence is not tall.  He may have hit it and been launch into Walnut Creek.  Or he may have bounce backward onto the trail and possibly hit by another bike or group of bikes.  How does one test this?  There are many sections of the trail that are unprotected from the creek by fencing.  Many of these are at curvy parts of the trail.  I'd hate to see a wall constructed to "save us" from falling off the trail.

Would this fence really make a difference?  This is a small frame bike bike.  The fence would stop it but at speed the rider would be launched off the bicycle.

Since this incident Clive has done a lot of work on the trail.  Trees, brush and plants have been cut back along the Greenbelt to improve visibility.  Lines and warnings have been painted and repainted on the trail.  Whether this was planned before Adam's untimely death or made in a response to it is unknown to me.  I appreciate the work.  I do not think it would have saved him, however.

Remain calm and watch your speed.  Be courteous of other trail users.

RIP Adam

The view from above.  8' below the trail.  Large rocks placed here to protect the bank from erosion from the capricious flooding and high water of  Walnut Creek.  Flowers marking the place of Adam's crash.


  1. Strange enough, the guy that died was here from England to spend a month with his father who works for a friend. He brought is bike over was excited to do RAGBRAI... Dying while biking has some pros to it, dying young exclueded... Peace Che'... Rubber side down/safe travels

  2. That's so sad. I feel bad for his family.