Every summer something comes along to make life more interesting on the bike, the run or in the pool. I even had a sense yesterday things were not quite right in the universe with me. There are days when the bike feels like a blunt instrument in my hands.
AS I rode out from the Geneva train station where I’d left the car for my wife to use coming home from her commute, I rode north past my former house in Geneva thinking about how much goddamned time has passed in my life.
That’s probably not the best use of mind while tooling along on the bike at 18-20 mph. But I’ve gotten to know the dangers of absentmindedness. My crash into a downed tree several years ago was the product of riding with my head down thinking about a book cover I was designing. The trail should have been safe, but a tree had blown down during a storm the night before. I looked up to see the obstacle too late to avoid a crash. So I turned slightly to ‘save face’ in a literal fashion, and slammed into a thick branch with my back. It bent the iPhone in my kit pocket and caused a bruise and scar tissue that lasted two years.
Last night I was aware that my brain was drifting quite a bit. Then I noticed that my front tire was rubbing on a brake pad making the climb up Dean Street a bit difficult. So I stopped, and as I was fixing the wheel I flipped the bike over to make sure that I did it right. But when it was finished, the lever was still sticking out at a 90 degree angle from the wheel. I said “F it” and rolled on.
Not thirty seconds later a white truck pulled off the road in front of me. I looked at the truck with its tail lights on. So I knew it was there. Then it moved a bit and somehow I assumed it would be leaving. Don’t ask why. I told you there was something wrong with me and the universe last night.
When I looked up, the truck was right there in the parking lane with the guy sitting in the driver’s seat. I avoided colliding with the rear bumper and gave the wheel a shunt to the side of the truck. That sent me skidding across the handlebars a bit, which are wrapped in grippy tape. That explains the stripedy rash on my arm. And not much else was hurt. No dinged knees. No bang of the head. Nothing much happened.
But I had yelled “What the fuck?” So the driver obviously heard that as well as the thud of my something-or-other striking the back of his truck bumper. He clambered out to check on me and was dumbfounded how anything like that might happen. “This was my fault dude,” I told him. “Not yours.”
There was no shortage of irony in my mind having rammed into the back end of a stolid pickup truck. More than once on the open roads, trucks like those have buzzed too close while hogging the road, or roared their engines in a furious attempt to express some sort of hate for a cyclist. But this time, the guy in the truck was apologetic for something he did not even cause.
Perhaps he did not expect to hear that I was not somehow pissed. And maybe it was so strange to see me extricating limbs from my bike that he did not know what to say. “I was parked here to pick up my daughter from the sitter,” he stammered.
I replied most sincerely, “Seriously. Not your fault. I just wasn’t paying attention.”
A woman had pulled her vehicle over to the curb upon seeing me run smack into the back of the truck. “Do you want me to call 9-1-1?” she asked.
“Nope! No need,” I told her. Then I popped my cleats back in my pedals and rode gave her a short wave, and a smile. There were miles to cover. I was all okay.
The rest of the ride was mercifully uneventful. In fact it was downright lovely. I took a turn up a section of road called the Burr Road Rollers and recorded my second best time on Strava for the segment. Then I turned west all the way to a road called Meredith, The sun was hidden by some popcorn clouds, but its late afternoon rays could not be contained. As I approached the intersection of Beith and Meredith, I was reminded of that scene in the movie Castaway in which the character played by Tom Hanks comes to a lonely junction of roads somewhere out in the fields of Texas. He stands there and looks both ways. After what he’d been through as a castaway on an ocean island and living through the jolt of returning to modern life, life felt strange. He’d reconciled to his lost wife and realized that the life she’d found was right and proper given the circumstance of his supposed death. It was a new life he had to consider. And in that moment, there was a feeling of both loss and liberation.
Riding south I passed a high school in the cornfields where I’d been a top runner before my dad moved us to another nearby town. That had been a jolt for a fifteen-year-old trying to make a place in the world. And yet looking back perhaps it was all for the better. The party scene at that little school might have consumed me.
Approaching home at 7:30 in the evening, I looked down to see that the chronometer on my watch showed 2:30, a good solid ride. Forget the sting on my arm from the rash crash two hours before. Shit like that’s going to happen if you spend enough time on a bike. That’s how I look at it. It was my annual brush with disaster.
After all, a close friend broke his thumb in a slow-moving crash this past year, so I consider myself lucky not to have snapped a collarbone or busted my sacrum like another friend had done years ago. These stolen moments don’t always turn out so benign.
It’s just a wake up call that the universe is watching. Not over me. Just watching. I’m a great source of casual entertainment for the universe. I can hear it laughing every time I run into something or fall over. Life’s a joke if you look at it right.