Sunday, November 21, 2010


This is the first year that I have spent the bulk of my work days in Portland rather than an hour away in Salem. This is the first year that I have made a concerted effort to bike to and from work on my Portland days, the first fall that I prepared for rain and darkness with rain pants and lots of blinky lights. Day after cloudy day I get on the bike and pedal to work. (This is actually pretty easy - it is downhill almost the whole way, and not so far that I get to work sweaty or out of breath.)

With the time change, I have been conscious of the lights on my bike. This summer I got a new front (white) light, bigger and brighter than my old one. Unfortunately, it was slipping and tipping down as I rode. I took it off to fix it, and (predictably) forgot it at home on Thursday.

Heading out of the office that night I realized I did not have my front light. After briefly considering whether I should ride without a front light or call Chris for help, I realized that I had my old light in my saddle bag. "Lucky," I thought. "I'm stupid, but lucky."

I strapped on the light and hit the (dark, wet) road. On the ride home I thought about this switch to bike commuting and felt pretty good. I didn't mind the cold or the rain. With my gloves and rain pants, I felt protected. A few blocks from home I pedaled quickly through a busy intersection. Heading into the next (much smaller) intersection I looked left to see a car zooming toward me. In the couple of seconds I had to assess the situation, I saw that the car was going to hit me and considered how I could keep that from happening. I couldn't. Fortunately, the driver (who had gunned his engine in order to get across the intersection before the car trailing me blocked his path) slammed on his brakes. Instead of flying over the car's hood as I'd feared, I felt the front of the car tap my bike. Yes, TAP. I felt the contact, but I was not heart and neither was my bike.

Moving out of the intersection, I looked over my shoulder to see the driver stop and roll down his window.

"Are you okay?" he asked?

"I'm not hurt." I offered. "That was really scary." I wracked my brain for what to say to him to express how scared I was, how angry. But there was nothing to say - I wasn't hurt and I could not really force him to get out of his car and kiss my shaking feet. So I got back on my bike and pedaled away. I biked to work on Friday with the sense that if I didn't fear could keep me from getting on my bike for a long time.

A recent study indicates that accidents and injuries are fairly common for bicyclists. One in five regular bike commuters in Portland reported being injured in an accident. I understand that this is a risk of biking, but until now I had been lucky enough not to experience it myself. I am still lucky; I was shaken up but not injured.

Another example of my charmed life, I suppose, but also a reminder to be more careful and not ever think that because I have never had a close call before that I won't again.

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