Guest Post: Dark Sider
Sharing the road with cars is mostly a losing proposition. It’s hard to share when your vehicle weighs 8 kgs and the other guy’s is 800 kgs. If we have to share we have to let go and that is not easy, as @Kevin Wilkins explains.
Yours in Cycling, Gianni
Anybody who knows me also knows that I have a temper.
Most of the time it’s just a funny thing to talk about over a beer, like, “Remember when you tossed your helmet into the tree and had to spend ten minutes throwing a log at it to knock it down?” Or, “I liked it when that guy cut us off and you squirted him with your water bottle through his window.” Or, “It was hot when you threw your board so hard that the tail just snapped clean off.”
“Yeah,” I say, grinning to hide my embarrassment. “Hot.”
Anybody who knows bikes also knows what it’s like to be intentionally messed with by people driving cars and trucks. I’m not talking about getting cut off accidentally or not being seen and having someone turn in front of you. I’m talking about those obvious and malicious actions that people take toward cyclists””full beers thrown out of vehicles, head-on moves that require evasive action, or swerving, or threatening, or blah, blah, blah.
On average I’d say the accidental stuff happens every other time I ride. And modestly, I’d estimate that the obvious offensive moves happen like once a month. Of course, the more you ride the more this shit happens. Individual results may vary.
As I get older it’s all getting easier to ignore, but the aggressive near misses have always had an accumulative effect. Everyone says so and everyone has their own stories. The moral? There isn’t one. After you get swung on a dozen times it’s hard to hold back the defensive urge to swing back.
About five years ago I was out riding by myself on a notoriously lame stretch of Nebraska Highway 2. Early in the ride, I’d just gotten out past Lincoln’s busy grid and was cruising along on the shoulder minding my own business. That’s when I heard the growl of the newly carved rumble strip””the warning mechanism gouged out of the road to let errant or sleeping motorists know that they are veering off the roadway. In this case it was also a warning to me that a car was coming up quick from behind. I looked back just in time to see what looked to be an out-of-control car swerving onto and off of the shoulder. I moved quickly to my right as far as I could without ditching it and the vehicle sped by me at what must have been 60 mph. I could feet the wind from the car on my hand and knee as it blew by, no further than a foot from mowing me down.
I gave ’em the “you’re number one” sign and tried to ignore the adrenalin being released into my system. “Did that just happen?” I thought. “Did that car just try to run me over?” Before I could answer my own questions I watched dumfounded as the car, now a half a mile up, pulled over onto a gravel road, turned around, and parked it””nose out to the highway.
Waiting for me? Preparing to finish the job they started? Getting ready to drive back out onto the road and knock me into traffic?
I didn’t want to know the answer to those kinds of questions so I decided not to ride past the parked car. I wasn’t going to subject myself to that danger. Instead I slowed down and pulled off the road. That’s when the driver and back seat passenger rolled down their windows and started jeering and laughing at me.
I reached in and punched the driver in the face.
No sooner did I do this then four kids jumped out of the car. I set my bike down, prepared to get my ass kicked, and then everything went black for a few seconds. When I woke up I was on the other side of the vehicle, in the ditch, with a headache and a guy standing over me yelling, “Come on!”
I stood up on shaky legs and dodged his punches, getting in a few of my own until he ran off. Then kid #2 came at me. I held off his attack while assessing the damage to my cheek, my eye, my skull. I fought #2 off only to be approached by #3 who said, “We’re gonna fucking kill you!” as he began swinging at me too. I was in ninja mode by this point, blocked all his punches, and pinned the dude on the ground in time to look up and see #4 throwing my bike into the ravine. As I got up to retrieve it a mini van pulled over and all the boys jumped into their car and sped off. Later the driver of the mini van said that when he pulled up, all four were coming after me, one of them holding a small bat or a steel pipe.
The mini van Samaritan helped me to a farmhouse, called the Sheriff, and eventually drove me back into town, some fifteen miles out of his way. Thanks, again, whoever you were.
The x-rays showed no fractures, but the doctor said it was obvious that I’d been hit with something in the head, not a fist, but some kind of small blunt object.
It was kind of a wake-up call for me. My first son, Miles, was about three at the time. As I stewed over the incident in the following days I kept coming back to him. Not only what it would have been like for him to have a dad who was run down and killed by a car while out riding a bicycle, but what it would have been like to have a dad who was beaten down and possibly fatally injured because he was too angry not to fight back””what it would have been like to have a dad who was a victim of his own temper.
So, for him, I vowed to keep that temper under wraps.
And I thought it was pretty much over after that. I was mellower on the bike in reacting to asshole drivers and in turn my son and my next son and my wife and my entire family would get to continue to have me around … the new non-temperamental me. The best guy in the world.
A few months back, a friend of mine was asking me if I’d had any recent incidents while out on the road. “No,” I told him. “I’ve been trying to let that stuff go. I kind of realized that there was one consistent element in all those events””me. I figure I’m partly to blame, so I’m keeping it mellow.”
But there we were, literally two weeks after that conversation, cruising into to town after a ride, when a speeding car overtook our group in a sharp turn, crossed the double yellow into on-coming traffic, and then at the last minute swerved back into our group of riders, nearly hitting us. Cue adrenal gland.
Sixty seconds later we rolled up behind the guy as he was sitting at a stoplight. The signal turned green and we rolled past him. Stupidly, but hopefully making him more aware of our presence than he was earlier, I swerved a little into the lane in front of his car.
This set him off and he swerved at me from behind. I was able to push off his car with my hand and get away from him, but only with enough time to get out of the way of his second 45-degree swerve into me and my bike. By this time he’d moved me over considerably onto the shoulder and was now swerving at the group of riders I was with. We all avoid getting run over, only to have him swerve once more, stop in front of us, jump out of his car, and start yelling incomprehensibly. Something about how we’re not supposed to be out there on the roads. I didn’t hear anything else he said because I was loudly reciting his license plate number to him over and over. He eventually got in his car and left. I called the cops.
The officer came and met us, questioned us, took our statements, and said he’d go talk to the guy, but there wasn’t much else he could do. It was our word against his. That was fine with us. We just wanted the driver to know that he’d made a bad move, that it could have been potentially fatal, and to feel a bit of shame in having a police cruiser visit his home.
But almost immediately the guilt began to creep back in like it did after that incident five years ago. I could have avoided this latest confrontation so easily. And in my attempt to force some awareness on an obviously insane person, I almost got myself and my friends run over. Not cool. Not cool, at all.
I’ve since apologized to my friends. They all laugh and say not to worry about it, that the driver was out of line no matter what I did. But I still feel bad. I could have messed things up for about five really good guys and their families with my little swing-back. And that would have been a zillion times worse than any near miss””even if that near miss was only a near miss because everyone on bikes had enough skills to get out of the way of the driver’s first manslaughter attempt.
Still … bad temper. I have one. And it’s not called a bad temper because it’s funny or good or interesting. It’s called bad because it’s bad.
Hopefully with a little age and a little judgment I can learn to use my powers for good, because””even if I do say so myself””the force is strong with this one.
Must not turn to the dark side.