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How Borrowing a Book Might Have Saved My Life or a Treatise on the Danger of Empty Intersections December 4, 2014

Filed under: Bicycling — acgheen @ 12:00 am
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I confess that I do my best to be a careful and conscientious cyclist. I know and obey the laws… and I do my best to keep an eye open for those who don’t. I know where the dangerous intersections are and at what points I’m safer using the crosswalk than the road or vice versa. I always look in every conceivable direction before crossing a busy road (even when I have the clear right of way). And I obey the laws for motorists whenever I encounter situations in which the motorists may be unaware that there are separate laws which govern legal cycling.

On this particular evening, however, I was being extra vigilant. A friend of mine had loaned me a rather valuable book and had charged me with its protection and preservation. (Including a directive that I was not to spit in it… something I wouldn’t have thought of on my own.) Despite the humor involved, I viewed the charge as a serious one and had carefully wrapped the volume an over-sized beach towel and nestled it into my backpack alongside another, similarly protected work. I also determined that I should work extra hard to ensure that if I were in a wreck of some sort, the book would be preserved.

Realizing the unlikeliness of any scenario in which I was sent sprawling across the pavement while my backpack and its contents remained unharmed, it became imperative for me to keep my ears open and my eyes on the road. I made it quickly and safely through downtown without incidence and was feeling pretty good as I approached the empty crossroads.

The particular intersections was used sparingly even at the height of traffic and was usually quite empty at this hour. My light was green and there was no car in sight, so I headed across.

I was about a quarter of the way into the road when an old car appeared over the crest of the nearby hill. In a split second, I recognized that its speed was significantly over the posted limit… and that stopping for the red light was the last thing on the driver’s mind. Gripping my brakes, I halted my bike mid-lane and watched as the vehicle sped through the intersection.

To be honest, it didn’t feel like a close call, despite the fact that it might have looked that way to an observer. I saw the vehicle coming and I reacted appropriately. I didn’t even have to slam on the brakes. What I did wonder, however was whether I’d have seen the vehicle in time had I not been trying to protect my friend’s book.

While I’d like to think that I would have been riding safely with or without the volume, I’ll never be quite sure. What I do know is that I will never view an empty intersection as a danger-free zone again. Cars can come out of anywhere and it pays to be vigilant!


How My Kidneys Became Justification for Cycling November 20, 2014

Filed under: Bicycling — acgheen @ 12:00 am
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I didn’t realize there was a problem. My back ached and that was all. It didn’t feel like a muscle problem, but the pain was not too intense. No reason for alarm.

It wasn’t until after dinner several evenings after the pain first appeared that I began to grow concerned. The sensation had grown from occasional sharp stabs to a persistent fire. I tried a bit of Aspercreme, but to no avail. Curled up on the floor wondering when (or if) I would be able to stand upright again, I made the decision that it was time to see a doctor.

As it turns out, that was exactly what I’d needed to do… about three weeks earlier. In retrospect, I had noticed a few minor symptoms of the infection. But since I wasn’t in discomfort, I wasn’t looking for an explanation. By the time I got to the doctor’s office the problem had become one of “epic” proportions. (In fact, the nurse even commented on my unusually high tolerance for pain.)

Lying on my back, with an IV plugged into my arm (a very weird sensation for an ordinarily healthy person), I began to contemplate the conceivably astronomical proportions of my pending medical bill. (One which turned out to be significantly greater on my new “affordable” health plan than it was on my old insurance.) I was fairly certain that the few hundred dollars stashed in my medical envelope wouldn’t cover the cost. As a Dave Ramsey devotee, I knew I’d have to alter my budget to make up for the shortfall. And the answer came in the form of my bicycle.

Truth be told, I love to ride. It’s a great recreational sport – easy on all of the joints which are suddenly showing their age. I make time for it on weekdays as part of my regular exercise regime and ride with the dream of someday competing in a Century. A few mathematical calculations performed after receiving the coverage statement from my insurance company, however, quickly proved that riding could be much more. In fact, if I were to use my bike as my primary form of transport for just two months, the money saved on gas would be sufficient to make up the gap between the money in my medical savings and the clinic’s bill.

I was only a few weeks into my new “ride everywhere” financial scheme when two things became apparent. The first was that I could actually get everywhere I needed to go in the same or, on some occasions, less time than it took me to drive. This was due in large part to the fact that cyclists in my State are not bound to the same laws as motorists. (There is always more than one safe, legal way through a red light!) The result, of course, was that I actually gained some free time each day by combining my workout with my commutes.

The second was that I was actually getting much more exercise by riding everywhere than I had when I had set aside specific hours for my rides. (On some days, my workout time was actually quadruple what it would have been otherwise.) In fact, it wasn’t long before my cycling had improved to such a degree that I hardly noticed that I was ascending “THE REALLY BIG HILL” until I was just a few feet from the top!
So here I am, with the medical bill fully paid, and I’m still riding just about everywhere. My only regret is that my kidneys had to be the ones to tell me that this was a good idea! But I can guarantee, I won’t need to be told twice!



The Biggest Obstacle Isn’t Found On the Road May 16, 2013

Filed under: Bicycling — acgheen @ 12:00 am
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The morning was nearly perfect.  The temperature was in the eighties and the humidity was high, but the air was still and the cloud cover sufficient to keep the sun out of my eyes.  As I rolled my bike out of the garage, I noted that my tire pressure was a little low, but quickly determined that it was sufficient for one more outing.

Despite my apparent fearlessness as a child, I had long since adopted a more mature policy of simply avoiding anything that might even vaguely resemble a road hazard.  I tried to keep my pressure in range and enjoy a smooth ride, but I felt good this morning and maybe I’d have the opportunity to make use of the lower pressure (as well as the slightly more sophisticated shock system which had come with my bike).  Today, I would ride without fear and take the obstacles I met head-on.  I would be indestructible.

It wasn’t long before I had the opportunity for which I had hoped.  I was on a downhill stretch in a new neighborhood and gathering speed at a reasonable clip when I noticed that someone had placed a rather large speed bump inconveniently near the bottom… and that a gremlin had covered the entire bump in river rock.  I tapped the brakes, but knew that I wasn’t going to be able to shave off enough speed to “ease over” the obstacle as I normally did.  I was going to have to take it head-on, full bore… fearlessly.

Rising off my seat, I shifted my center of gravity forward, tucked my head down… and flew.  Right up and over the bump as though it were no more difficult than tying my shoes.  It was a moment of sheer freedom.

As I touched down, I glanced behind at my riding partner who had been able to take the bump at a more moderate speed and smiled.  I felt myself sit up a bit straighter in my seat, pleased with the knowledge that not only had I taken the obstacle with the finesse of a pro, but that someone had actually seen me do it.

We encountered our next hazard when the path we were following turned from pavement to a mixture of sand and gravel.  I could have turned back, but I was feeling fantastic and was up for more.  Standing up on my pedals and maintaining my speed, I made full use of my handlebars to guide my bike upright down the trail.  No problem here.  I had seen these rocks before and I had conquered them.

After a nice loop of a sandy trail, we headed back into town where I encountered my third big obstacle of the day.  This one turned out to be a human on a busy road.  The driver was going about 35 mph and I knew that I could sprint an easy 20 and be across the road in time without his ever even having to tap the brakes.  I took off like a shot, made it across, and had begun to pedal my way down the road when the driver hit his accelerator and paced me while blowing his horn.  I have to admit that this unsettled me and, for the next few minutes, I fumed while griping to my riding partner about discourteous drivers.

I admit that my mind was still focused on my prior encounter with the motor vehicle as we pulled up to the crosswalk and I reached for the button and did the unthinkable.  After a day of fabulous, fearless riding, I dropped my bike breaking my water bottle cage and skinning my knee, bruising my leg in five distinct places and slitting my thumb.  It wasn’t until I managed to release myself from my rather unusual pedal straps and regained control of my gripped my handlebars that I noticed the last of these injuries.  I looked down for a moment, watching as blood dripped down my grip and onto my leg.

I think I’ll leave the blood on my handlebars for a while – a reminder that the biggest threat to my safety on the road isn’t an obstacle in front of my bike, but the ones that exist within my own mind.  Next time, I’ll ride safer: not just fearless, but focused.


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