I’ve been stewing on this for awhile and I’ll make a video on it eventually, but I had an incident today and I want to write about it before I cool off. It started with someone tweeting me this:
The headline implies that the cyclist made a mistake and crashed, but the reality if you read the article (I’m not linking it because fuck their clicks) is that a cyclist was hit from behind by a truck.
I also keep thinking about this story that Peter Flax shared recently, about a driver who killed a cyclist, went home with the bicycle dragging under his car, and was caught while trying to destroy the evidence. His plea deal was less than a year in jail (not prison). (Flax also wrote his own obituary a few years ago, which I’m trying to not plagiarize here but I think our feelings are similar so please forgive if there’s any overlap.)
Over the years I’ve seen headlines about cyclists who “Fell under a bus” or the usual “suddenly darted into traffic.” Anyone who’s ridden a bicycle on a street would roll their eyes, but the thought was fresh today when I had the closest call of my life. I was descending Big Tujunga Canyon in Sunland, California. It’s a fast, twisty descent, the shoulder goes in and out, speed limit 35, so I usually take the lane and go about the speed limit (or a little higher).
That time of day put me against traffic, so I honestly don’t think I was passed or caught any cars on my side of the road at all. My earphones were out of battery so I was just enjoying the breeze when I rounded a bend and then A WHITE SCION WAS COMING DIRECTLY AT ME AT VERY HIGH SPEED. It was a double yellow (no passing) stretch of road and a blind corner and he chose to pass anyway. I’m sure I was going over 30 and he must have been doing 70, but it felt like we were both going 1000 mph, yet also standing still. I’ve had more than my share of life-flashing near-death experiences when I was racing, and I know that the image of that car on the wrong side of the road will be seared in my memory and keep me from sleeping tonight.
I’m fortunate that there was a pullout there rather than a rock wall or a cliff, and I can’t imagine what would have happened if it was a car on my side of the road instead of me–wait, actually I can imagine it: several people in cars would be dead. What did happen was I steered into the sand, missing the car by inches (possibly inch) and slid to an ungraceful crash/stop. Had I not been a professional racer with years of experience, a high-end bike with disc brakes and good reflexes, I wouldn’t have been so lucky. The Scion of course continued to speed off, but at least one car did honk–I assume in fear or solidarity with me.
In races it’s normal to dodge a crash or jump over someone’s arm or slide around a wet corner and nearly dump it, but you clear your head and keep going. I was trained to remain focused on a race after just about anything, but I had to stop this time to gather myself. I took a photo and ate a Clif bar and then got back on the bike. A few minutes later I saw a dead squirrel in the road and thought about how close I was to looking damn similar.
Of course, the squirrel did dart into traffic and he’ll get no mention in the local paper, but if I’d shared his fate I expect that would be the headline for me. I’ve made peace with the fact that this probably is how I’ll die someday and I’m choosing to still do it, but I’d like to set the record straight here. When I die on my bicycle, I didn’t do anything erratic and I didn’t make a mistake. I’m an expert at bike riding, I did it for a living among the best in the world for years, and in my retirement I ride cautiously because I had enough broken bones when it was my job. When I die it’s because of some asshole not paying attention, speeding, texting, or both, on roads where there’s no infrastructure or room for error, and most likely there won’t be much of a punishment. I’m dead, so at least they can get the story right. Thanks for reading now, and sharing later.