He didn’t see it coming, that early morning in July when his bike was carrying him down the Rock Island Trail until it wasn’t -- and he was sprawled, wondering why he couldn’t bend what remained of his knee.
Just as he didn’t see it coming a few days ago, when he discovered what his friends were up to.
“I like to do things for myself, and I’m not good at asking for help,” said Colin Grant Egger. “But things change in an instant.”
Or two instants, like on that morning: The first, when someone decided to shove a signpost through the guardrails and across the trail bridge over Garfield Street.
And the second, when Egger -- lights on, pedaling downtown at 4:45 a.m. to open the Coffee House -- slammed into the steel.
He’d crashed before. On snow and ice and singletrack at Wilderness Park. But it’s different when you know you’re crashing. You can brace for it. Or at least acknowledge it.
No time for either July 2.
“At one point, I was rocking along, and the next thing I knew I couldn’t move my knee and I was on my back and … and it was a very surreal experience.”
His bike hit the signpost first, just below the handlebars, and stopped.
Egger didn’t, and his left knee hit the signpost next.
The impact severed his patellar tendon, which connects shin to kneecap. And it shattered his kneecap into multiple pieces, pushing the upper portion into his thigh.
Egger didn’t know that at the time. He didn’t know what had happened. He couldn’t see the signpost lodged between the railings behind him.
But he knew it could have been worse: He could have pitched into the guardrails. He could have landed more than 10 feet below, on Garfield Street.
He was able to call 911, sad to see his phone’s screensaver -- a picture of Grays and Torreys peaks, the Colorado mountains he and his sister planned to climb the next week.
Paramedics took him to a hospital. A police officer wrote it up as a medical emergency; she couldn’t determine where the signpost came from or who put it there.
Then came the hard part for the 36-year-old biker and backpacker. Weeks of immobility, bed rest and Netflix after surgeons reattached the tendon to what was left of his kneecap.
“I couldn’t bend my knee for six weeks after the surgery. I was pretty much bed-ridden.”
Once he was on crutches, he’d hobble to the kitchen, make his meal, put it in a box on the floor.
“And I’d just kind of shuffle it back into my bedroom. It was kind of sad, but it worked.”
And then came the hardest part for him. Being dependent.
“I learned a lot about being able to ask for help. It’s not a thing I do very well.”
He was collecting hospital and physical therapy bills. Other bills were stacking up, too, because he needed three months off from the Coffee House and his seasonal job at Cycle Works. He had to borrow money.
He returned to work at the coffee shop earlier this month after weeks of therapy, learning how to bend his leg, how to walk on it.
His physical therapist has seen a few other knees as badly damaged as Egger’s, but never a patient so determined.
“You can tell as a therapist when people do their stuff at home,” Chad Wemhoff said. “Colin was doing his homework.”
Enough that Wemhoff recently gave his patient permission to get back on his bike.
“My PT guru said it was OK,” Egger said, “as long as I didn’t wreck.”
A few days ago, he stumbled onto a Facebook post for the Moose’s Tooth and Cycle Works Outdoor Clothing Fashion Show. Then he saw this: Proceeds to benefit Colin Egger, “a great friend of the outdoor and cycling community.”
Nobody had told him.
“They know I’d probably try to gratefully decline. My friends are awesome, but I’m not one to seek the limelight.”
They also knew he could use the money. So they’re going to give all of the $5 cover charges they collect to Egger.
“You can’t do much if you’re out for months,” said Chris Jonak, Colin’s roommate and one of the Cycle Works employees organizing the show.
“Hopefully you have a lot of money saved up -- or you have friends and family.”
Reach Peter Salter at 402-473-7254 or firstname.lastname@example.org.