And I thought there were no bad days on the bike…
Sunday, May 24th, 2009, was an odd day for me, made dramatic by emotional ups and downs, and existential challenges.
If you’d like to hear about it, read on. For the record, I’m OK, but still in a bit of shock, so bear with me, and excuse the length of this story.
The day started out great - pleasant and warm spring weather, with light breezes, clear skies, and temperatures in the mid-80’s. My daughter Gloria was visiting - she’s my eldest (of two), and is leaving in 9 days for a 27-month commitment to the Peace Corps, in Cameroon, Africa. I’m very proud of her, and know she’ll do well and be fine, but I can’t help being emotional about her impending departure.
To take advantage of the beautiful weather, and get in some outdoor fun, Gloria, her roommate Amanda, and Amanda’s boyfriend and I, drove up to Whiskeytown Falls, for a 3.6 mile hike and picnic to the 220 foot high falls. On the hike in, we saw lots of wildflowers (Pacific dogwood, mountain lily, and California mountain lilac). We also enjoyed watching western fence lizards engaged in spring mating rituals. And, of course, the sun-splashed waterfalls, still powerful with late spring runoff.
After a couple of hours of hiking, chatting, and picnicking, Gloria’s friends headed back home to Davis, and Gloria drove down to Anderson to visit with her mom.
I decided to jump on my commuter/errand bike, and take a leisurely spin across town to the local health food store.
At about 4:45 PM I was riding south on Hilltop Drive, in the 100 block, at about 18 mph. The bike lane, though present, is a bit narrow in that section. So I glanced back, and saw a red Honda Civic coming up from behind, in the right lane, about 70 feet back. Nothing out of the ordinary.
But as I looked forward, my front wheel suddenly hit something that nearly pitched me over the bars. I hung on and didn't go down, but the impact launched the bike sharply left, out of control, straight out into the right-hand lane of Hilltop, and what I assumed was the path of the Civic. For one or two seconds (which seemed like a long time at the time), I fully expected to become a big Honda hood ornament.
Thankfully, there were no sounds of squealing tires or crunching metal (or other things I'd rather not think about).
Somehow…whether by skill, or by luck, or a fortuitous lane change, or my overworked guardian angel, the Civic passed harmlessly by in the left lane, as I regained control of the bike about 2/3 of the way across the right lane. To the Civic driver, I waved a plaintive "Thanks for not running over me!", and "Sorry about that!", and pulled over to the side of the road to assess the situation.
Emotionally, in the space of just two or three seconds, I had distinctly transitioned from:
- to certain I was going to be hit by a car,
- to relieved that I wasn't,
- to WTF Just Happened!!??
After catching my breath and taking care of a minor bike-related issue, I rode back up the road to see what it was that had knocked me off my line. Even approaching it slowly, the slumpy pothole was difficult to see until you were close to it. It was about 6-7" across, 4-5" deep, in dense shade due to overhanging trees, with an indistinct edge, and smack in the middle of the narrow bike lane.
To document the hazard, I parked my bike to the right of the bike lane, took out my cell phone, and snapped a few photos of the hole. I then called my own voicemail, and started to leave a message to myself describing what had happened, and the location of the pothole.
At the same time I was dealing with the mundane, “what, where, and when” of what had just happened, I was also thinking about the existential gravity of the encounter, and replaying the near miss in my head. Especially those one or two seconds when I was sure I was about to be hit by the Civic. Oddly, during those seconds I didn’t feel particularly panicked or scared. There might simply not have been enough time for that, but I remembered being pretty calm, even as I was fighting to get the bike under control. For a split second I even was aware of the bigger picture and that, “This might be it.” As is often said, it all seemed to happen in slow motion.
Getting back to the task at hand on the side of the road, I was finishing up the voicemail message to myself, when I suddenly felt a very sharp impact, on my upper back, just below the helmet, between my shoulder blades.
WTF???!!!! Something had hit me square in the back, and hard. As I spun around to my left, I saw a tan-colored older pickup pass by in the near lane, with the passenger window rolled down. That's when I also saw the full plastic water bottle, still spinning in the road a few feet away from me. The morons in the pickup (unseen and unheard), had hit me with a full water bottle, at about 40 mph!!!
Now, I don’t know about you, but dealing with the emotional swing from:
- Shocked and relieved at the narrowly avoided accident…
- To pisstified and enraged at being assaulted by %$#@! rednecks…
- in less than 2 seconds…
was not how I had planned to spend my Sunday afternoon!
With blood boiling, I jumped back on the bike, gave the finger, and gave chase. But it's nearly impossible to keep up with cars on that stretch of Hilltop, and the pickup was soon out of sight (though I spent some time looking for ‘em).
After getting over the double shock, I continued on to the health food store, bought my groceries and headed home via the Cypress Bridge. It was fortunate that nobody tried to mess with me while riding home, because I was in no mood to be trifled with, and was looking for any excuse to unload on somebody.
Definitely not one of my better days….
So now, after a couple of beers, a short night's sleep, and this writing exercise, I’m starting to come down from the adrenaline, and find myself hoping that all of us can enjoy a quiet, pleasant, and safe Memorial Day.
Given the day, and the men and women it's meant to honor, my troubles from yesterday don't amount to much, but it was bike-related and unusual, and I felt compared to write and share.
Be careful out there everybody…and watch out for those freakin' stealth potholes!
Copyright ©2009, by SSP