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Old 05-25-09, 11:56 AM   #1
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Sunday, May 24th...the Good, the Bad, the Ugly, and the Aftermath

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 Good

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.

The Bad

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:
  • shocked,
  • 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.

The Ugly

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….

The Aftermath

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

Last edited by SSP; 05-26-09 at 01:13 AM.
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Old 05-25-09, 12:24 PM   #2
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I'm glad you're O.K. and I hope you get cooled down the rest of the way. If you would have caught the pick-up we may have been reading your obituary. 30# bicycle challenges 3500# truck, talk about ugly!!

You must be so proud of your daughter volunteering to work with the Peace Corp.

On the commute in this morning (04:00 am.) I had a somewhat unsettling experience that proved to be perfectly harmless. Generally I don't encounter any human life forms what-so-ever on my morning commute, so this morning when a car passing on my left slowed to a crawl (15 mph) and the passenger window came down I got just a wee bit nervous. Luckily the kid just calmly said "You should slow down a little" and off they calmly drove. I had gotten excited for no reason, this time. You see, I've had my share of beer bottles launched at me also.
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Old 05-25-09, 12:27 PM   #3
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Good news is, you've lived to fight another day! Well done on conquering the adversity.
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Old 05-25-09, 01:40 PM   #4
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Talk about ups and downs. I was fearing the worst when you started with your daughter's visit and the hiking with her friends. Not to minimize the situation but it was a bit of a down when your bad was hitting a pot hole and narrowly missing a collision with a car. (gee I hope this doesn't come across the wrong way). But yes the ugly was definitely ugly. Shame you didn't get license plate number, you could have gotten someone on assault. My real motivation to write is I narrowly missed a similar pot hole for the same reasons, hole was hard to see with the dense shade. Since my township has perhaps the cheapest road crew in Pennsylvania, I expect to patch the hole myself in near future when I do a few spots at my business.

And I too am glad your okay.
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Old 05-25-09, 03:16 PM   #5
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It's too bad you had a run in with the lower side of life. Glad your OK. It's also good you did not catch those idiots and it is also good that they did not see your one finger salute. You might have gotten the short end of that encounter.
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Old 05-25-09, 05:19 PM   #6
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The moral of the story is that, holes on the road can ruin your day. Glad your OK.
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Old 05-25-09, 07:02 PM   #7
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It is good to hear a good end to a disturbing chain of events. You live to race again.
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Old 05-25-09, 07:27 PM   #8
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Originally Posted by maddmaxx View Post
The moral of the story is that, holes on the road can ruin your day. Glad your OK.
Yeah...I'm involved with a couple of local bike advocacy committees, and I know some of the folks who are in charge of road maintenance.

This afternoon, I went to Lowe's and bought two large cans of "upside-down pavement marking paint", in fluorescent red. My mission now will be to carry that paint in the pannier on my commuter bike, and mark every cycling road hazard I see for the next month or two.

I'll also be reporting them to the appropriate authorities, to hopefully get them fixed.

Today I rode back to the pothole that messed me up yesterday, and it was even worse than I had thought. The damned thing was nearly invisible, but deep enough to easily throw a bike. I'll be marking that one with paint on tomorrow morning's commute, and hopefully get the city to fix it soon.
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Old 05-25-09, 07:36 PM   #9
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Glad you okay both physically and mentally.

Your daughter will be fine. She learned resilence from you!

Not go do some intervals after you've checked the route for potholes!
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Old 05-25-09, 08:03 PM   #10
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Note to self: beware the pothole hidden by shade! I'm glad you're okay... maybe you should stick a white painted wooden dowel (or similar) in the pothole until it gets fixed? As to the pickup, it sucks but I'm just glad not to hear that something awful happened to your family.
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Old 05-25-09, 10:09 PM   #11
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. . . and glad 50+BF can be of service as a venting device. Glad you're OK.
Truth is stranger than reality.
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