Well, I’m back on two wheels today for the first time in a while. Having blundered into a car – if “blundered” is the right word for cycling head first into a parked vehicle at 25 mph – I’ve been nursing myself back to some semblance of normal health.
I’m a cautious rider, and usually overtly conservative. I’m not a racer and I don’t try to test Chance by zooming through stop lights or running stop signs. But I do confess to having found myself seduced by the challenge of a hill climb that joins the town square to the end of my street. Having recently begun using MapMyRide to track mileage, I noticed that one of the bells and whistles incorporated into the app is a sort of comparison of my own route times to those of other MapMyRide users. One fine day the app notified me that my times on the hill were number two and three overall. “Well that’s interesting,” I thought to myself. “I wonder how far off I am from the number one spot?”
Turns out, not that far. And that bit of arcane knowledge is all it took to tap the evil little competitive streak I try to keep hidden deep inside. I’ve found myself racing up that damn hill over the past couple of weeks, trying to pick up the few “necessary” seconds that would allow me to claim the totally meaningless number one spot. I mean, after all, I had easily swooped into the number two position on a freakin’ three-speed! Surely there’d be no problem shaving a few seconds off that time on one of my derailleur-equipped rides, right? The very thought left me with a malicious glint in my eye as I considered how the knowledge would sit among the carbon fiber crowd. No doubt my victory, when it came, would be fleeting, and a Lycra-clad wonder rider would immediately reclaim the throne from me, a lowly steel-bike cyclist. But what the hell.
These were the stupid thought running through my head as I climbed the hill, straining to get every ounce of speed, to keep my revolutions smooth and uninterrupted by – well, by gravity or weight or just plain 55-year-old-ness. Climb that hill I did (though my time was still short of even breaking my own three-speed mark.) And I found my entire being with a laser-like focus only upon “getting there.” I was in the zone.
Unfortunately, this also meant I was not paying adequate attention to – literally – anything else. Which would include the tiny parked Honda on an otherwise wide and empty street.
Topping the hill and hitting a short straight section of road I shifted into a higher gear, lungs busting but enjoying the surge of power. I spun around the corner, onto my street, figuring to put the hammer down for the last half mile. Head down, I was building up steam when everything came to a sudden and absolutely stunning stop. For the flash of but a fraction of a moment, I remember seeing the back of the car. I thank a lifetime of absolute clumsiness, wherein I’ve never managed to walk through a door without somehow striking the jamb with my shoulder: Somehow, that particular muscle memory kicked in and I rolled with the blow just as I struck the car.
And then I was on the ground, blood oozing from my knee. Within seconds, it had swollen to the size of a grapefruit, my wrist appears unscratched but still hurt, and my right deltoid muscle – which took the brunt of the impact – was enormously swollen due to a deep contusion. It will likely remain a rainbow of ugly colors for quite some time. Immediate impressions: Blood streaming down my right leg, me laying there in a state of confusion, a neighborhood lady pulling up in a station wagon looking generally freaked out, my shaky voice of assurance: “No, I’m just fine.”
It may not sound like it, but I got lucky. I’m going to heal up mostly just fine. But despite the aches and pain, despite the sliced up knee (Chicks dig scars, right?), despite a general belief that I’m indestructible, events could have been very different. I could have been hurt very badly.
Maybe I was just so anxious to be riding again after a period of winter stagnation, but I find myself a bit ashamed for having ignored the very reasons I cycle in the first place: Because it’s fun, because I enjoy it, because my brand of cycling is one of the few aspects of life that isn’t a race or a competition.
Spring has arrived. Be careful out there. Wear a skull lid. Pay attention to what you’re doing and where you’re going.
And enjoy the ride.