November 18, 2011

Traffic Kills

This week has been exciting from the saddle - it's been a few weeks since the fall edition of Daylight Savings time adjustments but I think it either took a week or so for sunset to "catch up", or I've been working later hours.  Maybe both.  Either way, the days are definitely shorter.  Reflective stuff is on, lights are on AM and PM, and the guard is up - as most motorists begin to assume that bicycles on the road are no longer something their commute will contain.  Combined with the first couple of sub-freezing commutes in the early AM hours and some amazing pre-dawn skies from the clarity that comes with very cold upper air, I've been finding it strangely easier to rise early and take to the bike before traffic takes hold.  The brisk air has finally laid months of allergy suffering to rest, and aside from the usual watery eyes it hasn't been too bad.  My old layering routine came back to me pretty quickly, so I've been balanced on the line of nicely-warm but not-too-sweaty upon arrival.  Good commutes lately.

The annual "are you still riding?", and "what's the worst you'll ride in?" conversations around the "awffee" maker (a combination of "awful" and "coffee" used to describe the hot brown water that is sometimes mistakenly called coffee at my workplace) has led to some interesting and engaging discussions on the state of traffic, finding good routes, and "maybe I'll try it in the spring..."  I hope they do, really... despite the harrowing subject of the state of traffic, I honestly think a lot of people would really enjoy riding to work if they only tried.  Yes, I'm a bit mad about cycling - but I don't think one has to be nuts to have an appreciation for the difference in one's day when it starts from a saddle rather than from behind the wheel.  I think the tipping point is somewhere north of $100,000, when your wheel is perhaps trimmed in Italian leather and puts you only a few inches away from a brimming V-12 engine... then, perhaps your step might have more spring than those commuting in your average sedan - but, I don't know... I'm still waiting for a major motoring publication to contact me for that particular road test opportunity.  I'm more than happy to volunteer, gentlemen!

Yes - my motivations are pretty thin.  It's a tough nut to crack for some people, in a world where riding a bicycle immediately draws people to the conclusion that you are somewhat environmentally positioned.  Yeah, I recycle and repurpose whenever I can.  I turn off lights when I leave rooms.  I dig things like solar and wind power, and I don't like environmental waste, over-building, sprawl, strip-malls, consumerism, strip-mining, nor the like....  but I do love ridiculously expensive and often wasteful cars.  No worries, though, loyal readers.  The dangers of me ditching the bike and turning this into an upscale motoring blog are pretty slim, as I apparently missed the boat that came through town after high-school offering easy rides to would-be seven-figure earnings.  With few exceptions, I choose to depart this cubicly-divided work-drome each evening by human-powered two-wheeled methods, and I doubt that would change much with the acquisition of a fine automobile.  I still, after years of the "same old thing", love bicycling to work.  Yea, I talk dirty to it and rub it down with exotic oils, take it to dinner and send it to bed with sweat on its brow, this love of mine for the bike. 

Where was I? 

Late fall and the attendant earlier sunsets have yielded some memorable evening commutes this week -- and I've been spending the majority of that time on the bike trail instead of the streets.  Back to those concerns about the state of traffic, it seems lately that some major arterials are reaching capacity right about the time I intersect them, and overflow traffic is leaking onto my usually quiet sidestreets, with questionable results due to lack of motorist behavior changes that should accompany detouring to the "d" roads.  I either need to modify my departure time from the office, or stick to the trails - and I've been opting for the latter despite the darkness.  At the appropriate speeds my lights are more than adequate, and the reward has been relative solitude and peace.

Without having to play heads-down death-match with rush-hour, I have enjoyed amazing sunset skies with hues so beautiful I struggle to pin them to something as unromantic as a generic color name.  The smells... crunching leaves... small animals scurrying about preparing for the inevitable ...and large animals, too:  dusk-hour basically being "deer-hour" lends one to cycle the trails at a more casual speed in case of encounter, and I have been rewarded each night this week with just that, the most magnificent being a large multi-point buck just last night.  A flash of yellowish-green as my headlight beam caught his eyes -- and a big handful of brakes -- as he jumped from the brush and took to the trail in attempts to get away from my approaching threat without realizing that I'd be following along that same trail by design.  Carefully keeping my distance, the result was a deer and cyclist paceline of sorts, if only for 200 yards or so - around a twist and a bend, the buck pausing when he'd thought he'd distanced me, only to spring forward along the trail again - finally darting left to lose me for good.  That moment, almost in slow motion, of primal magnificence - the surrounding suburban landscape disappeared, there were no traffic sounds, no joggers or other bicycles... just me, following this giant creature through the forest in the darkness, his hoof falls thundering.  With his quorum nearby he could have turned on me to defend his ladies at any moment, and I know of two stories from good friends that have had encounters with deer that did not end as well - but I was afforded this faux chase instead.

... it is in moments like those where that last hill no longer hurts, there is no "work stress", you're not going to or coming from anywhere, and you have no concerns with how far you've come or how far there is to go.  No pain, no fatigue, no need for water or food, you can no longer tell what temperature it is, or isn't... nor the time of day.  Even further, there almost is no bike underneath you...  It's just you, experiencing.
A car at any price, any where, cannot replicate that.  You only get these moments in the saddle, and though they can be few and far between those are the moments that become the explanation when you cannot explain to a non-cyclist why you keep riding. 

Idealistic, yes -- there are times when riding isn't practical, where there truly aren't enough hours in the day to span the distances your day presents -- but, those that know what I know, know.  It's never long before you're back on the bike.  The surface reasons are easy... perhaps it IS environmental, perhaps it's gas savings, perhaps it's fitness -- but a lot of times for me its none of those things which REALLY bring me back to the bike ... it's the stuff I might miss, its the feelings -- the LIFE.  Had I been driving home from work last night that buck wouldn't have even existed to me, and being tucked into a steel box I wouldn't have existed as a human being to those around me... moving about in the darkness blinded by each others headlights, we aren't people anymore... we're "traffic".  Instead, back on the trail in the dark, that buck saw me and reacted, and I saw him and reacted -- and in that perfection of reactions, we were both confirmed as very much alive.

1 comment:

Ginger said...

I had a ride with a deer along a trail the other day, just as you described. She would run a little and look back and see I was still coming then run a little more. You can certainly see why they're called white tale.

I'm finding it hard to commute now because it's dark when I go in and dark when I leave work. I have the trail to ride but with hurricane damage to the trail from Irene still being repaired, I have a particularly hairy part of road as a detour and I haven't figured out how to overcome that.

Bought some heavy duty lights the other day that should help, but I'm having a hard time taking the drive knowing that the little bit of time I'm on the road is going to be in complete darkness.

Gotta figure this out because my drive commute goes right by a mall and the traffic is already ferocious!