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A rare moment of fear

February 22, 2010

Saturday didn’t turn up a good ride. I finished with a mud stain up my back and a sweat-soaked jersey, but was unsatisfied and, strangely, spooked. I had been riding in an area where a couple on a tandem was killed a few months ago. As I fought my way through ruts full of water on narrow roads, I couldn’t shake the memory of attending their memorial service and watching their orphaned daughter walking up and down the row of 300 cyclists standing silently outside a church. The couple had been traveling on a very wide shoulder , but even that can’t negate the effects of a distracted truck driver going 70 mph.

Being frightened while cycling has never been an option for me. As I crossed the country by bike in 2008, I learned that to fear while riding would signal an immediate and paralyzing end to my trip. We chose carefully, but couldn’t always ride on the safest, smoothest, quietest roads. Fear would have had a chilling effect. We took the chance of riding smart and constructed mental blocks that allowed us to keep pedaling even as trucks tested the boundaries of our personal space.

The trip affected all of the participants differently. One year after we dipped our front tires in the Atlantic Ocean, I was riding more than ever. The strongest, fastest member of the group had not mounted his bike once. The experience of regular near-misses and the demand that we remain hyper-vigilant day after day had scared him so much that he no longer felt comfortable cycling.

I’m pleased to report that my friend is riding again. But bike safety has been in the local news lately, including highly-publicized lists of automobile-bicycle accidents, and I find myself nixing potential routes because of blind curves, a lack of a shoulder and low-cycle traffic that leaves drivers untrained.

And then there was Saturday, where I just couldn’t handle the stress. In an attempt to redeem the ride, I took advantage of the smooth, empty school parking lot I had parked in to do some sprint intervals and practice cornering at high speeds. It was a good way to work out the nervous energy and, in some way, to settle my fear back down to a more manageable level.

So far, I am very pleased with my new compact camera, a Canon S90.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. February 22, 2010 8:32 pm

    You have articulated some of my concerns very well. I bought a Trek 7.5 FX Livestrong bike specifically for riding on rails to trails. I wanted to be able to veg out, listen to my iPod, and get a bunch of miles without constantly looking over my shoulder. Unfortunately, these trails are only slightly more interesting than riding a trainer, and nothing like riding a great road on a race bike.

    I’ve always dreamed that if I hit the lottery, one of the first things I do is hire a bike mechanic, buy a Suburu and have my personal support vehicle for rides! :)

  2. February 23, 2010 3:19 am

    Funny timing, you writing this particular article as I sit at home, nursing the cracked ribs I received in a bike accident last week. (And of course I’ve blogged all about it.)

    I’ve been thinking about fear and bike riding recently. I had the most horrible week last week on my bike but it’s not enough to stop me from riding – although I won’t be swinging my leg over the cross bar any time soon. It’s the cost of what we love to do. We have to ride defensively every time we get out there on our bikes, especially if we live in a city. We shouldn’t have to but if we didn’t, we’d ended up being squashed flat.

    And it is traumatic, it is tiring, it is depressing. But are we going to let it stop us? I’m certainly not. And I know you won’t. Besides, if you stopped who could I live vicariously through?

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