Hey Mom! Hey Dad! Grab your barf bags because this is gonna be a good one!
When I was a little girl, I got lost in a department store. In the harrowing minutes it took to be reunited with my mom, I remember thinking to myself that tonight I would still be asleep in my safe, cozy bed. During scary experiences since then, that thought has always brought me comfort. The concept of being unable to take my bodily well-being for granted has never occurred to me. I’m sure you know where this is going.
In the past two days, for the very first time in my life, I have experienced fear. Not the fear of being lost in a department store, nor the stomach-dropping sensation of realizing it’s a minute past your submission deadline, nor the dread of locking and unlocking your phone every few minutes anticipating bad news. This was sheer terror that blocked out every conscious thought, total panic that invaded every cell in my body and left survival instinct alone to dictate my actions and reactions. Let us recount the adventures! And since any engineer worth their La Croix fuels their development with cold hard data, let us order them by my heart rate!
1. Leaving the Allegheny Mountains. Following a murderous trek up— I had to walk it because attempting to make it up on wheels set off an asthma attack — came a treacherous dive down. Having just begun our ride it was still early morning, and the fog was so thick that I couldn’t see more than a few feet in front of me. Which also meant that drivers behind me would have a hard time spotting a cyclist on the shoulder. As we began to glide down, I gripped both of my brakes as hard as I could and was horrified to discover that the speed of my bike was completely out of my control. I’d have been able to get a better grip on the handles if I switched positions, but at that velocity I didn’t dare trying anything that might upset my balance. I have no idea how long this lasted; it could have been on the order of seconds but it felt like an eternity. After some period of time, my hands and arms began to burn viciously, and I tried releasing them for just a moment to relax my muscles a bit. Big mistake. When I moved to get a handle on the brakes again I realized that my hands were simply not taking orders from my brain; they were completely locked and it was a few moments before I was able to clench them back around the brakes. By this time the fog had begun to clear and I got my first view of where I was barreling toward at what Strava tells me was 28.6 miles an hour. A quiet road lining a soft field full of cows would have been great. Or perhaps a marshmallow factory, or maybe a dumping ground for defective mattresses. Instead, it was a multi-way intersection full of debris and populated with massive trucks. With my own screeches mingling with the screaming of my brakes, I took a turn off course to avoid them. At this point I had wrenched my foot free of the pedal clips and begun dragging it along the ground as I aimed for the grass on the shoulder, having figured that a good landing was simply not going to happen. The only thing stopping me from bailing was the knowledge that if I fell and skidded at this speed, my best case scenario was a nasty road rash. I don’t know what happened next. Somehow I came to a stop, still in my saddle. Suffice to say, we walked most of the short remaining distance to the next meeting point.
2. These Trucks are Trying to Kill Me I don’t know how fast I was going, but I do remember having locked my legs into place and stopped pedaling. It was fast enough that if an obstacle came at me in short notice I would not have been likely able to avoid it, and even a small upset to my balance would send me careening to the side. This was precisely the kind of moment when you really, really don’t want an 18 wheeler to pull up beside you for a while. Murphy’s Law said screw you, and I found myself bracing my weight as tightly as I could while I flashed down the narrow shoulder, praying I wouldn’t drift an inch to the side where the pavement gave way to grass. The moment he finally pulled in front of me was a sigh of relief unlike one I’d ever heaved before.
3. The Worst Stoplight Ever First, a brief word about bike shoes. They’re built with clips to lock into specially made pedals, boosting each revolution’s efficiency by about 30%. Getting your foot in is often annoying, and releasing it requires a twist of the ankle performed just right. They’re incredibly useful but also incredibly annoying, and getting in and out of them tends to slow me down. For this reason, stoplights are kind of like a fun game of Russian Roulette on wheels. Pull your foot out too early and find the light green when you get there, and you’ve either got to snap your foot back in while you’re rolling or try to stop and get back into position near a moving intersection. Fail to do so in time, and you’re either running a red light or locked into a stationary bike crashing toward the pavement elbows and knees first. I’ve had plenty of falls with the clips and like to be abundantly cautious even if it costs me some extra time, so usually I win this game. On this occasion I lost: the light turned green but to my surprise the group stopped to wait for me to catch up. I was moving just a bit too quickly to stop and free my foot at the same time, and down I went — to the left. I saw the truck coming up next to me jerk to the side, brakes screeching. At the same time, my teammate screamed for me to watch out while I scrambled to my feet. It missed my head by about a foot.
So that’s the story for today, folks. Wear your helmets. And when the nice people you meet along the way offer to pray for you during your trip… let them.