Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Mean Season—it’s that time of the year…again

Around noon yesterday, I was in the middle of my 50 mile ride when I came the closest I have ever been to getting killed while riding my bike. Other than that, it was a great ride. Wait, am I exaggerating? No, I am not. Ahhh, season’s greetings from the most nerve wracking time of the year for me to be on a bike.

I was riding southbound and uphill a half mile south of May Valley on the Issaquah Hobart Road. There is a very short bridge where the shoulder disappears and the road narrows down. I had been glancing in my mirror, gauging the traffic flow to time it so that I could cover the 25 yards or so without a car near me. I thought I had found my gap, and I was pedaling briskly to get across the bridge.

Traffic was a little heavier than normal, and I did my best to monitor the cars overtaking me. Somehow I missed a car. This guy in a pickup came out of nowhere; until I heard the engine being gunned, I had no idea he was there. I did at least get one part of the timing correct. There was no oncoming traffic and this moron had the entire road at his disposal.

There is absolutely no question that the driver intended on terrorizing me with a close buzz. He accelerated to make sure that I didn’t reach the end of the bridge and have room to bail right into the shoulder. My mirror only enabled me to see just how close he was right before he went by. Had I flinched left, I wouldn’t be writing this right now. I often use the mirror in tight situations to get a little clearance by moving slightly left and “walking” overtaking cars out a little. I then move right as they pass. Since I had no idea this guy was there and there was no shoulder, I was just riding near the right edge of the road. There was no more “right” left when he blew by me at 60mph in a 45mph zone.

He might have missed me by a foot. It gives me the creeps to think about how close his right rear view mirror must have been to my head. I was incensed. I immediately gave him the finger; he returned the salute. I did it again, this time an extended version and more emphatically. I heard his tires screech as he nailed the brakes. The adrenaline was surging and I put my head down and started pedaling hard. As I was getting close, he started to pull away. I gave the “bring that shit to me” motion with my right arm; you know, the “get out of your truck and discuss this like a man” gesture. He stopped.

I motioned again as I slowed to a stop just behind him in the shoulder. His response was to nail it in reverse, doing a burnout. At first it appeared that he intended on finishing the job of killing me. I jumped, he stopped, I motioned again, and he drove away.

At the time, I was pissed in so many ways, not the least that he didn’t get out of the truck. I intended to throttle this guy to within an inch of his life, as he had just figuratively done to me. With the adrenaline that was coursing through my veins, at that moment I felt like I could have kicked ass on Genghis Khan, Braveheart, and the Gladiator simultaneously. In retrospect, I‘m certainly glad he drove away. I had such tunnel vision that I had not even looked to see if there was anyone with him. Surely there must have been; people don’t act this way solo. Do they? Post incident, I had a vision of two dudes emerging from that truck with at least one gun. Putting a gun in the hand of someone like this; well I guess it’s likely that the consequence for me would have been the same as if he had hit me with his truck.

As he drove away, the red mist field of vision faded, and I at least had the presence of mind to point at his license plate, hoping he was smart enough to "get it" as he looked in his mirror. I got my phone out and left a voice memo with the number. Of course I had no idea as to what kind of truck it was. I had been pretty single-minded the whole time all of this was going down.

At this point, a big GMC pickup pulled off the road just ahead of me. A driver named Herb had stopped to make sure I was all right. Herb had seen the whole incident, and told me that from behind it appeared that the driver was aiming for me. I asked Herb if he noticed what kind of pickup truck it was, and he told me it had been a beat-up gold Chevy Luv. Herb and I talked for a few minutes, and he didn’t hesitate to leave his phone number and offer to be a witness if I could get anything done about what had happened.

I ride my bike about 10,000 miles a year and I ride all over. Of the bazillions of cars that have passed me, 99.9999% of the drivers have been courteous. When I talk to other cyclist’s, I get the impression the close pass scare occurs a lot more for them than it does for me, despite the miles I rack up. As a matter of fact, since I have been using a Dinotte 400r unbelievably bright rear light, most of the cars give me a very comfortable berth. The light does something; drivers seem to be subconsciously or consciously giving more room than normal.

I like to think that I am an extremely cautious rider, as well as being a pretty experienced rider. There isn’t a whole lot that I have not dealt with on the bike when it comes to traffic.

By no means am I saying I am a perfect angel on the bike 100% of the time. But I wasn’t doing anything wrong on Friday when I nearly got run over. I had been riding in the shoulder and not impeding traffic in any way. I was dressed in bright yellow and using front and rear super bright lights. I was being courteous and respectful of the car drivers. As usual, I was doing everything in my power to not get hit.

The period between Thanksgiving and Christmas is always the most nerve wracking time of the year for me while riding:

Since the economy nosedived there is a lot less traffic, but the drivers seem to be angry and in even more of a hurry. The Holidays do that to you, I guess. Perhaps many of these people are worried about losing their job and they are in a rush to get to the store and buy presents before they do get the sack.

Now I am really bummed. I just went back through my phone voice memos, and apparently I forgot to save the audio messages I left with the license plate and Herb’s phone number. Damn technology! My last phone auto-saved memos and I guess I just forgot to do it because I was so disturbed.

I had intended to contact the State Patrol as well as the Issaquah Police. I don’t know if the police are empowered to act on something like what happened to me. If would have been great if an officer of the law could knock on this asshole’s door and explain the consequences that would have resulted had he run me over in broad daylight. There were witnesses and I believe their testimony would be unanimous that this driver intended to hit me. The driver sure couldn’t have used a defense common when motorists kill cyclists after striking them from behind. With me wearing super bright yellow, and using the brightest tail light in the business; I don’t think a jury would buy that the driver “never saw him.” My rear light is brighter than a normal auto tail light, and is easily visible from 1.5 miles back in summer daylight.

I don’t know what lesson there is for me to learn from this episode. You can be doing everything right, or as right as you can be while sharing the road with car traffic, and still get killed riding your bicycle. Issaquah Hobart is not a road I go out of my way to ride, but I have ridden it many times with no problem. And make no mistake, I will ride it again.

Seattle is about as good as it gets when it comes to cycling. I shudder to think as to what it’s like to ride in, say, Wichita Falls, Texas.

I know the type of scare I experienced yesterday can occur any day of the year when I get out on my bike. But for me, things are the tensest at this time of the year. Tis’ the joyous season. Be careful out there. I know I will be.

1 comment:

Johny said...


I'm glad you're ok. I experienced a similar adrenaline rush about 5 months ago after a car actually hit my pedals. The saving grace was that the car was only going 15mph faster than I was.

I pressed to local police in Canada to press charges but was unsuccessful. I hope you do press charges. It's a matter of respect for human life. People get behind the wheel of a car, get angry and and loose total respect for someone else's life. That's what is wrong here.