Cheating Death

No, nothing serious. But lately, I do feel at the end of my rides as though I have cheated death. Each time.

It’s a combination of things, really. For instance, on Saturday’s ride with my wife. Out on the shoulder of a four-lane divided highway, there’s a spot where a bridge crosses another road. At this point, the shoulder is pretty cruddy, with lots of gravel and debris. I usually move just into the traffic lane until I’m over the bridge, then go back onto the shoulder.

But Saturday, a pickup decided he wasn’t going to let me into his lane. I heard him come up behind me. I held my line. He passed within a foot of me. Another similar incident, where the car wasn’t quite as close, happened later on the same ride. I chalked it up to a typical day on the bike.

On Sunday’s club ride, we were out on Fitzhugh Road again, and I was sticking close to my friend Penny, who is coming back from surgery. Fitzhugh is our “roller” route, and is challenging for fit riders — let alone someone who’s just building her endurance. I seemed to be constantly shouting, “Car back!” as traffic was heavier than it often is. The cars are better than they used to be at slowing and following behind us until the way ahead is clear on the two-lane, shoulderless road. Two cars tucked in behind Penny as she labored up a hill, waiting until the road ahead was safe to pass. But a third vehicle, a Hummer, wasn’t about to wait. It braked hard behind the other two cars, with a short squeal of its brakes. As soon as the way cleared, and the cars were able to move around Penny, the Hummer gunned it, squealed its tires again, and passed her — again leaving no more than a foot of space between it and her. The experience rattled her, sine Fitzhugh’s roller are tough enough without having to contend with impatient drivers.

On the return trip, I rode with Rob, a strong rider new to our Sunday outings. “I almost bought it on the way out,” he said. “I hit one of those damp patches on a curve, and my rear wheel wanted to break away. I just got it under control.”

A sheriff’s patrol car raced by in the oncoming lane, lights flashing. Minutes later, it was followed by a fire truck, this time with siren blaring. The guy next to me muttered, “Hope that’s not one of our people back there.”

The thought was still with us when we heard sirens again. This time, a county paramedic unit roared by. Up ahead, we pulled into the parking lot of a convenience store. A state trooper was parked in his squad car. Judy, one of our other riders, chatted with the trooper through his car window.

“It’s okay,” she said, pulling away from the squad. “A guy fell off a ladder.”

“Good,” said my friend David, when we told him about it after he caught up to us a few minutes later.

It was a sentiment we all shared. We weren’t glad some local was hurt — we were glad it wasn’t one of our cycling group.

Cycling is a great pastime. Like many others, I chafe when I’m kept from getting out on the road for several days. But it seems to me that riding the roads is getting dicier. I don’t cycle with the verve I once did — rather, I am super careful of both road conditions and motorists. I still love riding, but I want to make sure I don’t realize my mortality any sooner than necessary.




  1. Cliff says

    I know your feelings. I posted a comment once before about why I stopped riding.
    You are lucky, you have a club to ride with, my local club doesn’t think that red lights , stop signs etc are directed to them, I feel safer riding by myself than I do with them. Unfortunately at this point in my life I am not sure I want to spend the energy necessary on getting better if I got seriously hurt again.
    I miss riding but the gamble was not worth it.

  2. says

    I wonder what the rate of serious injuries is in cycling relative to comporable activities. The perceived risk may be higher than it actually is. That’s not to say any brush with disaster is not significant. It reminds me of the military term, Low Intensity Conflict. When a bullet whizzes by your head, it’s a VERY intense moment, regardless of what you call the conflict!

    I found one site that states 650 people died and 51,000 were “injured” nationally in 2009 out of an estimated 85 million cyclists. That is a 0.06% chance of getting injured for that year and an infantesimally small chance of being killed.

    Most studies also point to the fact that accidents decrease when more cyclists take to the road. The challenge is to convince much larger numbers of people to ride and thus improve everybody’s safety.

  3. Barbara says

    In the past I’ve steered clear of the club rides given their proclivity to not follow the rules of the road. I would prefer to be more social and join in some of these club rides but don’t like not following the basic rules of the road and that overrides my need to be social.
    I have long maintained that the way we as cyclists communicate respect to drivers is by following the same rules they do. But recently I seem to only be with fighting for my right to the roads when out there alone. Something needs to change.

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