Thursday, July 25, 2013

Losing it

Monday night, what was otherwise a pretty good, though not outstanding road ride, turned into a total disappointment. Coming down the long, straight, crevasse-riddled upper section of Birch Road on Anchorage’s mid-Hillside, I heard something behind me.

Maybe a quarter-mile back was a white Ford F150, horn blaring.
Not the “Beep-beep. Hey, biker, I’m coming along so get out of my way.”
No, I’ve heard this one before. It’s the, “How dare you ride this road in my presence," and I’m going to let you know, and make you feel damned unwelcome son.
These characters aren’t all that common, but spend some time on a road bike, and you will encounter them.

This section of Birch Road sucks.
It has some pretty scary cracks, and a few holes. For much of it, the best line is actually tight to the yellow line, not tight to the fog line.
The good thing is that the road is low traffic, really straight, and I usually hit it downhill, so I’m cruising.

Perhaps the infuriating part to a selection of drivers though, is that it has a bike path next to it.
Among certain groups, this breeds the idea that there is no reason for bikes to be on the road.

The thing about the Birch Road bike path, is that it is even scarier than the road. The path sorely needs to be completely ripped up and repaved, as roots and long winters have left it in terrible shape.
Even if it was immaculate though, it’s the kind of bike path that makes me nervous. It’s set back from the road, so you’re out of sight and out of mind from drivers, yet it crosses dozens of driveways and side streets where the right-of-way is unclear.
Lastly, it’s also pretty well used by slower travelers.
Suffice to say, it's not the kind of place you want a road-biker going somewhere in the mid-30 MPH range.

So, the horn cuts out, and I scoot over to the side, and wait for the onslaught.
A second or two later, sure enough, the truck comes by, adorned with all the classic, energy drink, motor-head, etc. decals; passenger window open; and the shirtless, teen-aged to early-20-something kid screaming about using the sidewalk.

That’s where I messed up.

I almost never react to this kind of behavior, but something snapped.
It could have been the low blood sugar at the end of a good ride, it could have been that I had time to think about it, but I really think it was just the kid.
It was the fact that this punk and I probably have nothing in common, never will, and I knew it.

So I started firing back.

Up out of the saddle, I mashed the pedals and pulled up to his window before he could pull away, and started screaming my own lines right back.

I think it took him by surprise for a second, but in the end, it gave him what he wanted.
He hit the brakes, and the hollering continued.

Finally, he saw the light at the bottom of the hill was green and hit the gas.
Too late for him though, he spent too much time in our “discussion” and still caught the red.

Another car passed between us before I got to the light, and I found myself feeling suddenly relieved.
I hid behind it the car, while d-bag thumped the base in his truck, and probably re-adjusted his ball cap to make sure he still fit his stereotypical image preset.

I was happy not to have another screaming match, though simultaneously annoyed I didn’t have the courage to just ride up next to him (he was making a left, I was going straight).
But as the light turned green, and the kid went one way and I continued straight, I suddenly felt the adrenaline turn to disappointment.

All I did was give that kid one more reason to hate bikes, more than he clearly already does. If anything, he was just as likely to do this to someone else. Heck, I ride that road a ton, maybe he drives it a lot, it could be me, and he could be more brazen next time.

I actually had about 15 seconds to roll up next to him, and do something at that light, but what?

As I soft pedaled the rest of the way home, I found myself wishing I had been the better person by apologizing for yelling.

I almost never snap like this at drivers.
Most of the time I smile and wave like an idiot, hoping they think I misinterpreted their gestures and hollering as support. It’s the ultimate buzz kill I’d think, and at the very least wouldn’t satisfy future behavior of this type.

Why this kid was so concerned about my presence on the road is pretty ridiculous given the context of the situation though, and I think that got under my skin. Visibility was so good he had time to honk at me from way back, and if he was in any hurry, he sure got side tracked screwing with me.

It was just so obvious he hated bikers.

I know, in the short-term, rolling up to him and apologizing for snapping would have almost certainly yielded more yelling and screaming from him, but, at least I could have rode off feeling like I hadn't really given him anything.

And maybe it’s optimism, but at some point, that kid will chill out - be it in 10 minutes, when the energy drink fades, or 10 years - and if that little experience were to stick with him, and he gains anything toward becoming a man, he might realize how dumb he was in that moment, and regret it like I did.

Wednesday evening, temps were I the high-70s across Anchorage, and winds were laying down, so instead of riding  one of the usual loops after work, I headed out on the Seward Highway and rode about 70 miles round trip to Girdwood and back. Maybe half of the ride is on a bike path, well away from the cars, and the other half generally has a wide shoulder. Jerk count: 0

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