Carl-Magnus, our then six-year-old son, and I sit in his bed in the boy’s room in the apartment in Åby north of Norrköping. Outside the wind is blowing cold and the snow is gathering on the window sill. He has crawled up in my knee and we are browsing the pictures in my phone. There are pictures of our red cat Felix, on relatives, family and friends and much more.
Suddenly he screams NO and throws away the phone and turns crying into the pillow. On the carpet on the floor among the LEGO I see the phone. The picture in front is the one of my crashed red singlespeed bike.
My name is Magnus Lagher and in the fall of 2010 I was hit by a driver when I cycled to the job. An accident that almost cost me life and that totally changed my family’s life. In this program I will tell you how the love of the bike near killed me but at the same time how it takes me forward …
I grew up in a six-storey house in the district of Haga in Norrköping in the 1970s. Mother, dad and little brother in a small two-room apartment. My Dad was a cyclist and was cycling all year round to work but also various races. With the 70’s oil crises, the bike again became the main means of transport on our streets and the bicycle workshop shelves gaped empty on spare parts.
The sport of cycling was big and as a child I longed for news from the continent’s mythical bike races. So it may not be strange that as often as we children played fotball on the gravel field behind the houses like Franz Beckenbauer, Johan Cruijff or Benny Wendt, we scared the pensioners when we buzzed around on our bikes like Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Bernt Johansson.
I remember how on the way to the tobacco shop I hoped that the magazine Buster would be adorned by the Fåglumbröderna or some other idol. Of course I still remember some of my first bikes; the wispy orange Crescent Bambinon, the blue bike with an almost car-like gear lever and of course my silvery Motobecane with cotton-wrapped handle bar..
It was also on that one that I made my first bike race, but above all it was that one who got to take me on the make believe paths in Giro d’Italia and rain-wet Olympic streets in Montreal but also on adventures to the Himmelstalunds forest. It is a small forest area just half-kilometer away from the childhood’s neighborhood, which at the same time felt on the other side of the world when we had to take the bike tunnel under the buzy road to get there.
There, under the trees’ protection, we were able to play cowboys and Indians and build huts. My French steel tube bike with Sun Tour gears and Weinmann brakes became, just like Huckleberry Finn’s raft, an escape tool. For Mark Twain’s literary figure Huck and and his friend Jim, from captivity and slavery. For me from an upbringing characterized by alcohol abuse.
But over time, however, curiosity grew out of the nearby forest and further out into the surroundings. Towards Kolmården’s dark forests, the expanses of Östgötaslätten and later into the country.
Friday, September 16, 2010 was a normal Friday. The night before, my wife and I had been shopping for the weekend and packed the car so that we could immediately go down to our falu red 18th century village. There in the forests of southern Östergötland, literally where the road ended, without electricity and running water, we could unwind and recharge the batteries and just be, chop wood and solve the cross word puzzles in the sound of the wood stove’s still crackling, while the son played in the forest outside.
Around in the forests there was also a large network of small gravel roads that I used to explore on the bike. Sometimes together with Carolina and now that the son would soon be 6 years old, I was looking forward to taking him on longer trips in the forest.
This year had meant a bit of a comeback to me. During the winter I had undergone a major back operation and the spring had been filled with rehab training. But all the wear and tear with physiotherapy and exercise had paid off. I was back at my work as a museum technician and after a period of discontent I had found myself working on my workplace.
Perhaps more importantly, I was back in the saddle! From the first time when I could barely lift the leg over the frame until August, really only a few weeks earlier, when I had, along with a number of fantastic people cycled the 1250 kilometers between Lund and Stockholm as group leader in the Ride of Hope, a bike charity race.
In this context, sharing my knowledge on and beside the bike was inspiring and developing and I also got the opportunity to ride a few miles along with everyone’s our Silver-Emma, two time olympic silver medalist Emma Johansson.
I had also resumed the job as a spinning instructor and began to look at new bike challenges. New races and competitions but also trying to take revenge on myself and Birkebeinerritt. This is close to 90 kilometers long Norwegian mountain bike race from Rena to Lillehammer which I had cycled in the autumn before and where I missed the silver pin with only 7 seconds. 7 seconds, less than it takes to reach for the water bottle for a sip.
I was back on the bike, back in work. It was with anticipation that I saw the future.
2010 was a fantastic bike year and I actually felt stronger than ever.
The first thing I remember is the panic feeling of not being able to move. Not my legs or arms. I couldn’t even turn my head. It and the pain. A paralyzing, total pain throughout the body. And the sound!
A loud pulsating, throbbing sound! It was like the worst nightmare. An evil nightmare where I lay bound on a burning nail mat at the same time as a long, far away away shouting that I would lie still. You must lie still.
I didn’t know where I was. Not what happened. I didn’t understand anything there and then. Other than that I have to get away …
What I´m about to tell now is what I have been told to me. I remember nothing myself. None of the short bike ride. None of the morning. Nothing of the night before …..
I have gone down to the basement where my candy red bike stood after saying good bye to the family. As a project during the long rehab months after the surgery earlier in the year, I had built in my eyes, the perfect commuter bike. Thin steel tubes, a little fatter tires, steel mud guards, Nitto bar, Brooks saddle, shellaced cotton wrap, stronglight cranks. Yes, I was very pleased with my creation.
I have been told that I only 300 meters away from home in a downhill slope met a motorist. A motorist who suddenly just in front of me swung over to a parking lot on my side of the road and thus drove straight into me. I have flown over the car and landed on the asphalt a few meters away with my head first.
A second’s inattention from a third party sometimes came to change my and my family’s life basically.
Reportedly, I have tried to get up before the unconsciousness grabbed me. I will think of the words ”Put me back on my bike” as though somewhat incorrectly attributed to the professional cyclist Tom Simpson on his last bike ride up Mont Ventoux.
It was on the 13th stage of the 1967 Tour de France that the British rider took his last pedal stroke and, although the differences between my accident and Tom’s deaths are many, I am well aware that my fate could well have been the same. Several are the doctors who said that it was thanks to my physics I survived the accident this clear September morning.
Anyway, I was transported to the Vrinnevi Hospital in Norrköping with an ambulance, and it was there, in the MRI camera that I now woke up.
Two fractures in the neck, a vertebral compression in the back, broken right arm and left buttock. Bleeding in the heart sac and in the abdominal cavity. Sensation loss in the arms and left leg. A swollen, scratched face, blue eyes.
And a very powerful concussion.
I came to spend almost two weeks in the hospital before I was sent home with plaster and neck collar. Little did we know then that it was only now that the challenge would begin
The autumn and winter of 2010-11 was cold and snowy and if it wasn’t for the recurrent medical checks, I didn’t leave home for almost four months. Then rehab training began again. But what the year before was physiotherapy and training to be able to ride a bike and run like before. It now became physiotherapy to be able to turn my head. Physiotherapy to go without orthosis and crutch. Actually, it was physiotherapy to be able to live …
Winter became spring and even though the plaster was long gone and the neck collar as well, the crutch was stuffed in the umbrella bin and the wounds on the face were healed, it was something that did not match. I forgot things, was annoyed and I didn’t really recognize myself. I will return to this …
In the event of an accident such as mine, so many more than the one injured is affected. Of course I think of my family, my wife and son. For Carolina and me, this became a reminder of life’s fragility, but it also raised the question of whether you dared to love someone, aware of how easy it can be pulled from one.
The fact that the son was affected was also clear. Not just the reaction in the boy’s room where the sight of dad’s crashed bike, made him start crying. I have found some diary entries I wrote during my time at the hospital, and can read that when Carl-Magnus visits me for the first time, he walks with frightened eyes along the walls of the room and does not want to reach the bed. Almost as if it were a stranger lying there.
I’m not the same person as before the accident. There is a lot left. But much has changed. I’m not the same patient dad who easily built LEGO on the floor. I am not the same Magnus as Carolina once fell in love with. In many ways, it is the two that a Friday morning was three hundred meters from my traffic accident, those who suffered the most.
And ironically, they are still affected. It is their wound scabs that are picked up and continue bleeding every time I forget something. Every time I lose the thread and do not understand. Every time when the headache colors my mood black. That injustice is difficult to reconcile with.
More than once, the idea has struck me that, from my family’s point of view, it might have been easier if I didn’t survive the accident. It is on the family I think when the mood is as darkest.
The Highwaymen – Always on my mind 2:49
The forgetfulness and difficulty of concentrating I felt the time after returning from the hospital would be explained. I was at the time enrolled at the pain clinic at the University Hospital in Linköping. During that time, I had many conversations with a psychologist.
A psychologist who referred me to the brain injury team at the hospital.
There it turned out that the concussion I got resulted in what you call an acquired brain injury. A traumatic brain injury. At the contact with the ground, the brain has bounced around inside the skull bone and has therefore been subjected to wear and tear and pressure.
I have quite visually explained to me that if you see the brain as a city at night, neon lights and lights in all windows, then a stroke, a brain bleeding or tumor is similar to that thousands of lights in one or more blocks go out. The violence that my brain was subjected to meant that as many lights went out but a little everywhere in the brain. Some lamps here and some in the little town of the head.
So I have besides my physical pain in the back and neck; impaired muscle strength and sensation, including short and work memory problems. I am stimuli-sensitive and suffer from brain fatigue. A fatigue that you can’t rest from.
I do not tell you this to get your compassion, but you should get an increased understanding of how my and my family’s everyday life looks.
For how do you deal with intimacy in a world of pain? How do you explain to your child that you forgot both one and the other? How do you talk about the shame you feel about the relief on Monday mornings when the wife goes to work and the son goes to school and you get your home for yourself?
During these years I have come to know many other brain injury patients. Something that most, perhaps everyone says, is how difficult it is to live with an invisible handicap. How many could change the brain damage to an amputation or the like. I agree. It was much easier with plaster, wound and neck collar, than without. You, who look so fine.
From family, friends and acquaintances, have I often been asked when I return? The answer is simple. I don’t, I won’t be back! It took a while to realize and accept. I’m heading for a partly new Magnus. A little macabre for some, but we ”celebrate” the accident day a bit like a second birthday. We want to take power over that day’s meaning.
I do not regret that I took the bike this fateful morning. To wish that it never happened is to say that all the work I and the family have done has not had any value. The 50-60000 tablets I had eaten were in vain. I do not regret this bike ride, or anyone else for that matter. The only bike ride I regret is the one I don´t make.
We have sold our cottage. Much has been forced to adapt to my needs. Our social life has been limited.
As a family we have come a long way. And hopefully, even if it is by no means safe, we still have a long way to go. But it will require work and to speak bicycle language, it is our Passo dello Stelvio, or L’Angliru, an HC climb, an uphill climb beyond categories … A bit like Albert Einstein said; ”Life is like cycling, to keep balance, you have to continue.” All the time balancing on a narrow serpentine road with the depth of an arm away.
It is difficult, in words or actions, to express the gratitude I know to my family. For the sacrifice they made, how they can stand back …
Chris Cornell – Nothing compares to U 5:03
Why then do I continue to cycle? Why am I even more involved after the accident? A very human reaction after an accident like this could be to never want to ride a bike again. To but the bike so far into the garage in hope to forget it.
I am not saying that anyone with a similar background who chooses to do so is wrong. But for me it was never an option. As little as a musician would be expected to stop playing let me stop cycling. In fact, I feel more motivated than ever to work for cycling in all the ways. I want everyone to have the opportunity to experience the world from the saddle.
I think there are two reasons or maybe catalysts for that.
I have always cycled and tried to get more people to dare to put the car in favor of the bike. I have written citizen proposals and submitters to the local newspaper. I got my then colleagues to participate in the municipal cycling challenges and even got the department to take cycling department meetings.
But there in the apartment on the third floor. Alone with the cat. In a person that I did not really recognize, the bike longing came back to me. A longing that faced a gnawing feeling, a bit like a sharp stone in your shoe on a walk. Something that was scraping.
It was this with the helmet. The bicycle helmet, this plastic piece which, besides the electric bike, acts as the largest water divider in conversations between cyclists. Electric bike as a smart tool or a privileged cheat? The helmet as obvious or doubtful protection? You had a helmet? I do not know how many times I was asked that question. In any case, many times more than anyone marked out that it was an inattentive driver in a 700 pound tin can that ran into me.
Somewhere there with the cat safely spinning in my lap, I went from self-assured helmet advocate to taking a somewhat more critical approach. Not just against the helmet, but against motoring as the norm and guideline.
How is it that car as a norm have taken such iron grip on us as motorists that ”I did not see the cyclist” is an acceptable excuse for many accidents / incidents between motorists and cyclists? Perhaps, or let me say this, if we, like the Netherlands and Denmark, had had strict liability / strict responsibility on the part of the motorist to stand as responsible unless the cyclist was absolutely proved to be responsible. Then things would probably have looked a lot different?
How is it that the car as a norm has taken such iron grip on us as good parents that we drive our children to school, for the reason that there are so many cars outside the same school? Without even seeing that we contribute to the very situation we want to avoid. Altough we know that short activity in the morning, like a walk or bike ride to the school, is for concentration and school results more important than breakfast, a fact we ignore.
How is it that the car as a norm has taken such iron grip on society that we economically benefit single travelers before car pool, large company cars for those who already have a good position, that car infrastructure is usually built first, with walking and cycling paths as a patch on the wounds in second hand, even though we know that every meter in a car is a loss to society?
How is it that the car as a norm and the fossil industry have taken such iron grip on society that we put economic gain before our eco-sphere’s survival? 30% of the CO2 emissions in the country come from road traffic. IEven NASA has determined that road traffic is the main cause of the warming of the atmosphere now and in the near future. Our air is plagued by cheating corporate giants without much anger from society? Shouldn’t car dependency be questioned and fought as like other addictions such as gambling and drug addiction?
At the same time, I also received a request from a good friend if I didn’t want to blog bike culture for the Swedish edition of Outside Magazine. They wanted to have a little different bike coverage, a little curiosity. A little more wool sweaters and mustaches and less lycra and shaved legs. A little interesting is that I also got the question if I would write guest chronicles in the local newspaper’s motor pages of all places.
I accepted after some time. Maybe this would be a way to keep in touch with the bicycle world, even if I could no longer ride a bike? Because there during the winter months there was doubt whether I could ever ride again. We had long since rejected the bicycle trip to the spring that had been naively planned by the hospital bed.
So my personal bike longing grew into something more. A longing to change. With the word as forum. Perhaps sometimes driven by frustration and anger? But how else could I see myself in the mirror? How could I see my son in the eyes? If I didn’t try to influence …
A few years went by and the worst fears come to shame when I got up on the bike again. Though in a completely different way than before. The body ached and the bike stem pointed according to Velominati’s rules inappropriately up to the sky. Everything to relieve my back and neck. In additionI am forced to take medication to keep the heart rhythm in check. But I was back on the bike.
At the same time, I have for some time had an idea of a bike flee market and I contacted my old employer Arbetets museum to see if it is possible to borrow a venue from them. This arrangement grows and we, the museum, the Norrköping municipality and I one launches a Bicycle Day.
But blogging and writing, starting petitions and making events and is taking a toll on my strengths and I feel alone in my fight. About the same time I get an inquiry if I was interested in taking over the baton for the cycling advocacy Norrköping circuit, and together with a handful of other cycling friends we succeed in blowing life in here.
In the years that have passed, I think that the bicycle advocacy of Östergötland, which we are now called, has come a long way, even though there is much that remains. We have provided referral responses, kept bike courses, opened a bicycle kitchen in Norrköping and of course cycled a lot.
I started with how important the bike was to me as a child to explore and experience the nature around me. I know we have a huge challenge ahead of us when it comes to getting more young people and young adults to embrace nature and outdoor life. Research shows that Swedish children and young people think the forest is terrifying and boring. To top it all, there is nothing to buy there!
So this consumption desire, perhaps along with cell phone anxiety beyond the safe wifi zone and the range of the telephone masts, is what we have to contend with. For why should we safeguard nature if we do not care enough about it to be in it? However, I know at the same time that there is hope. For many years, he has been a leader in Friluftsfrämjande’s youth activities and sees how young people appreciate the places where we roam.
But there is, like the issue of exercise and sports, a big difference between those who spend a Saturday in the forest and those sitting in the traffic queue outside the Mall of Scandinavia. As with so much in today’s society, it is polarized. Many are active and exercise a lot and many are out, but many move too little and many never experience our world beyond the city limits.
As a leader in Friluftsfrämjandet, it has been obvious to use the bike on our meetings. Not as training and competition, but as a means of transportation. In the same way as the young Magnus took the bike to the Himmelstalund Forest, we have taken our bikes every time, in order to explore and experience the surroundings in a nature-friendly and nature-friendly way.
Have often thought about how many of us live. There in the office’s air-conditioned environment, alone behind the wheel of our SUV. We do not see the first lonely silos in the spring, or feel the scent from the onion field in the summer. So letting young people get on a human-friendly scale is to let them experience more.
It is a bit like the circle is closed here in the cycling tours of nature experiences. That was where it once started, and although I occasionally competed on the bike, I really got to constantly focus not to like a two-wheeled Ferdinand literally stop and smell the flowers during the race.
This is where I now collect energy. Gets opportunity to reflect. Being alone on deserted forest roads, slowly rolling forward, that is, though still to some extent, painful, so at least a way to keep your feet on the ground.
Although I lie down in the sleeping bag, I perceive a change in the forest. The evening bird’s quiet bird song has silenced and been replaced by a total silence. That special silence that exists only after a snowfall. When I turn around, pulling down the zipper on the sleeping bag and looking out of the windshield, I see how a 10 cm innocent white snow cover has settled on the bicycle saddle, on the trees and on the ground. Apart from the center of the fireplace, where a white strip of smoke still rises against the sky, it is also covered with snow.
Many are the evenings I spent at the campfire’s hot crackling, then crawl into the sleeping bag in one of the many windshields waiting for us in the forests around the country.
For every two weeks, all year round, in the sun, come rain or snow, I seek the peace and quiet. I have found a perfect combination for me of the healing power of nature and the forest and the feeling of childhood’s curious adventure.
In fact, I feel a bit like the young Bilbo Baggins who with the thief contract in one hand and with little wild gaze rushing through Hobsala to catch the dwarfs, every time I take the bike out on an overnight trip.
I will think of a trip I made in September last year, when I rode to the cycling World Championships in Bergen, Norway. On my way there through Sweden, I was met by a total incomprehension when I met wondering looks at telling what I was doing. Once in Norway, the reaction was: ”Well but it must be a really fun trip?”
Is it the car standard that lights up even? Was it in line with every Amazon and SAAB V4 that left Torslanda and Trollhättan as the Swedish lost the exploration pleasure?
Many adults have a longing for a more active outdoor life, but money, time and ignorance hinder us. And sure if we set the bar too high with Mt Everest expeditions and around the world trips can it easily be so? If we put the performance before the experience as well. But why make it so difficult? Why build up too big obstacles for ourselves?
In recent years, I have held lectures on the subject of cycling and nature experiences at fairs and other contexts in order to get more people to venture out and show that it doesn’t have to be difficult, complicated or for that matter dangerous.
We can call it adventure cycling, bikepacking even though I have recently been stuck for the term wandering. Wandering it sounds good just like Swedish? I think it was the relatively low hurdle that made 5-6 cycling wandering novices to join me last June on an overnight trip to a city-close nature reserve outside Norrköping.
With the sleeping bag in the bike baskets and the rest strapped to the package holder, they followed me on rarely busy gravel roads and simple trails.
My moment here in front of the microphone is beginning to end. I hope you got an insight into my world. I hope I inspired one of you to dare to give you out in our fantastic surroundings. That you see how adventures and experiences do not have to be tantamount to time-consuming and long-distance expeditions. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank Tomas and Anders at the Cycle Radio for this confidence.
And of course you are also listeners. Hope we will be visible from the saddle shortly.