bikes, brakes, bruises, and a beautiful evening

I’m glad to be alive at the end of today. I may be fearless about flying a single-seat jet across the largest ocean on the planet, but I’m terrified to ride my bike around the neighborhood.

It started with a short bike ride on a Korean evening lit by another amazing sunset painted in the western sky over Kunsan Airbase. I was tucked in behind “Shooter McGavin”, who was cruising about 22mph while I drafted. Between glances at the beauty in the sky, I saw the car approaching from the right on a side street. I saw him look directly at Shooter, whose arm was up in the universal “stop” signal. I saw Shooter make eye contact with the driver, who slowed and glanced the other way. Then he looked back our way and sped up into the intersection.

Shooter beat me to the brakes by a fraction of a second and together we swerved left in effort to go in front of the car, whose driver was now standing on his own brakes. Next I knew, I’d abandoned the bike and was diving toward the pavement. A number of thoughts went through my mind: “Break your fall with the gloves; stretch out and keep your body off the pavement; road-rash sucks.” I felt my left elbow sliding on the concrete and I cringed, analyzing with a twinge of hope that it felt like the skin was holding up. My left thigh felt the thud of the brunt of my weight (and ended up with the bruise to prove it). A swollen and bruised palm told me later that my right hand had caught the rest of my weight. My 11-year-old-gloves rose to the challenge unscathed.

Shooter couldn’t quite say the same. According to “Slick”, who watched the whole thing from behind us, my back tire slid into him as we swerved. His flight was interrupted by his shoulder and head meeting the front quarter panel and hood of the car, respectively. When the motion stopped, I was lying in front of the car, which had stopped. Shooter was lying in the opposite direction beside the car. Slick had done a flying dismount, assessed that I was mostly okay, and was kneeling beside Shooter waiting for him to move.

My elbow was white where the skin had been transferred to the pavement, but otherwise I was bruised but fine. Shooter (and his bike) fared a bit worse. He lay still on the pavement and inventoried his body parts for some time before slowly rising and trying out their functionability. Eventually we all rode home under the fading brilliance and through crowds of gnats that distracted us from the pain, as did Slick’s attempts at jokes.

I would have liked to be able to ask the driver what on earth he was thinking. He did stick around until we rode away, but little communication beyond rudimentary signs language passed between us, and he looked sufficiently repentant. In stark contrast was the driver who passed me on Highway 70 just at I rolled out of the mountains into the town of Alamogordo back home in New Mexico. He passed me then pulled over onto the shoulder.

After the incident in Korea, I was fighting my fear of riding with cars around anyway, and this is the situation I dread the most. I was going over 30mph with highly ineffective road bike brakes, and now I had to pass between cars going 50mph on the road and the slowly moving, completely unpredictable one on the shoulder. I moved into the road to go around him, should he swerve back onto the road or open his door, or something else I couldn’t guess. I was mumbling something about, “What are you doing, dude?” as I flew by and made the road-rage mistake of glancing at the driver. To my surprise, he gave me the finger while his mouth moved angrily behind the closed window.

He let me pass then pulled back onto the road and passed me again. Once my shock and fear wore off, I wished I’d gotten his license plate but instead just found myself praying for him while I thanked God that I was still alive. The rest of the ride to the transmission shop to pick my car up was lost to shock. That’s too bad, because the ride from my house at 6500 feet is generally far more enjoyable than the ride from town at 4400 feet up to my house!

So today I escaped the highway altogether and pedaled the dirt roads beneath white-trunked aspens glowing in early fall yellow-green. The evening sun made them glow beneath the deep blue sky. It was a beautiful (and wonderfully benign!) autumn evening in the Sacramento Mountains.

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