What’s the worst that can happen?
Each time I get on a plane – only a couple of times a year these days – I spend some time before take-off anticipating that it will crash. Sometimes I can induce panic in myself when I am on the Golden Gate Bridge, by anticipating an earthquake – something I now also think about now that I am crossing more frequently under the bay on the BART, having read a rather lurid piece about what might happen in a worst case scenario.
Each time I get on my bike, I spend quite a bit of time anticipating cars hitting me from behind. It has not happened to me, but I know of people it has happened to. Just last weekend I heard that a friend who used to live at Zen Center had ended up in hospital after a bike crash, and that is just a few months after another former resident was hit and severely injured by a car while cycling.
I anticipate people opening car doors on me – I am one of the few riders I know who has not been doored, which is mostly luck, since I have had some very close calls, but also because I ride out from parked cars as much as is possible.
The two times I have been hit by cars were both in London; one turned out of a line of stationary traffic right across me, the other pulled out of a side street as I approached at speed. Living in San Francisco I have had plenty of near misses.
I have also managed to crash my bike without other vehicles being involved: a high-speed frame wobble, gravel on corners, potholes, wet metal drain covers, parts of the bicycle breaking. None of this will deter me from riding as long as I am physically capable.
Last weekend I had a yen to head out to Lucas Valley. With the longer days, I am waking up early, and it was lovely to be out before seven; I saw a heron, baby egrets, and a spotted fawn in the middle of the road. The clear warm skies of the previous days had cooled, allowing in a morning mist and some shifting winds, but north of Mount Tam, it was, as usual, a different story, a perfect seventy degrees by 9:30.
Lucas Valley, mainly west of the big rock where it is narrower, is a place where I worry about cars. My experience is that people go fast and don’t leave much room; being early meant there was little traffic, and most of it was going the other way, heading away from the 101, but it was still not entirely relaxing, even with the sun dappling down through the redwoods.
Before that I had gone over White’s Grade west of Fairfax. Coming down from the top, on the long, smoothly-paved rolling drop down to the golf course, with the wind behind me, that felt like the best that could happen. That is why I keep riding.
The following morning, Memorial Day, the marine layer had settled at a level between the roadway on the bridge and the top of the towers. On Hawk Hill, despite glimpses of blue sky in the distance, nothing could be seen of the bridge. Baby rabbits nibbled grass on the verges. My legs felt tired after the exertions of the previous day, but I kept going and enjoyed the effort. Towards the top of the climb, where it rears up again after a flatter section, I passed someone who seemed to be struggling with the change of gradient, only for him to power past me on the last hundred yards stretch as I began to tire, just to stop my ego from getting any ideas. Rolling back through the still quiet city streets, the fog had disappeared, and another fine day beckoned. Not the best, not the worst. That is also why I keep riding.