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Auburn cyclist credits helmet in surviving bone-crunching canyon fall

Rex Maynard’s helmet battered and cracked instead of his skull
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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AUBURN CA - It’s about the most valuable few dollars Rex Maynard ever spent.

A thin layer of solid plastic bolstered by a plastic-foam cushion and strapped snugly on his head, the bike helmet shielded the Auburn resident’s cranium from the skull-crunching hits he was taking as he tumbled and rolled out of control down a steep, boulder-studded embankment in the Auburn State Recreation Area.

The helmet took the blows and Maynard was able to stand up after his 70-foot fall Aug. 20 and call out for help. He ended up with a dozen cracked bones throughout his body and is now walking – and riding – proof that helmets save lives.

Maynard has put in an estimated 10,000 miles of riding since starting to mountain bike in the area 16 years ago. A two-time Western States 100 endurance run finisher, he was riding a narrow, rocky part of the Clementine Trail below the Foresthill Bridge near Auburn when he tried to plant his foot as his bike slowed. Instead, he lost his balance and fell with his bike into the North Fork American River canyon.

“Lucky to be alive” may be a cliché to some but it’s a reality that Maynard has now painfully lived.

“I could have been killed of sustained brain or spinal cord damage,” Maynard said Monday.

Maynard calculates that he’s mountain biked over the same stretch of trail 500 times without incident. But a simple miss on a footfall sent him over the side.

“With mountain bikes, it’s not ‘if’ or ‘when,’” Maynard said. “It’s ‘how hard.’”

Riding with another cyclist boosted his chances of survival and recovery. Jon Hartman didn’t see the fall but heard Maynard’s calls for help and scrambled down to where he was. The two soon discovered that his injuries prevented Maynard from being helped by Hartman out of the canyon.

Maynard said he always cycles with a helmet and he always brings along a cell phone. He phoned his wife, Becky Morris, a nurse, and she contacted emergency personnel.

A California Highway Patrol helicopter was used to airlift Maynard – now strapped into a backboard – out of the canyon. He spent five days in hospital in Roseville and Sacramento with a list of injuries that included four cracked ribs, four cracked vertebrae, a cracked sternum and two cracked neck bones.

For weeks, Maynard wore a brace on his neck and an arm sling, for yet another broken bone.

The helmet came home, as did the bicycle, which Maynard disengaged from early on during his plunge into the canyon. It was scratched but still rideable.

On the helmet, though, are small indentations and cracks in the plastic – as well as pieces of foam broken as they bashed against rocks.

Maynard said he’s just resumed riding again and plans to return to the canyon to bike once more.

And the 68-year-old retired Pacific Gas & Electric Co. lineman said he’ll be wearing a helmet, as he always has, and hoping other cyclists are doing the same.

“Once in a while I see people riding the same trail with no helmet,” Maynard said. “I absolutely wouldn’t be riding without one.”

The Auburn State Recreation Area that Maynard was riding in is a haven for mountain bikers and Supervising Ranger Scott Liske said that he can’t recall anyone recently not wearing a helmet when riding there.

“Some people are even wearing helmets that are a cross between ones worn by cyclists and ones worn by motorcycle riders,” Liske said. “They protect the jaw and the face.”

Liske said that he scooped up Maynard’s helmet after the crash in the canyon and observed a large dent on the top of it, as well as other damage.

“It saved his life,” Liske said. “I’ve seen several serious accidents with road or mountain bikes when they’ve hit their heads. The helmet has made a difference. It’s the best thing you can do to protect your head from injury.”