As the car’s front bumper hit my rear wheel, the sound of it wasn’t heard but absorbed. The front wheel popped out, and the tire ripped off as the violence of energy went from car to bike and human being. I came down on a naked fork going roughly 25 miles per hour.
And so this is how it happens. This is how you die.
My brain is on fire and the slivers of seconds are bending and stretching. I look over my left shoulder and see the car passing above. The time is long still, and the pitch of a terrified nervous system mutes the rest of the world into nothing. My right hip and calf help bring me to a slow, grinding stop on the side of Monarch Road outside of Boulder, Colorado.
I rest my head on the asphalt and close my eyes. Awareness is smoke, there and gone.
“WHAT THE F—K! REALLY?” my friend Kevin is yelling. I’ve never heard him yell.
I see feet coming toward me and hear a woman screaming. I do not move because I am either afraid or unable; there is no distinction in my body between them.
“I HIT YOU I HIT YOU,” she is screaming, running closer. Her eyes are leaking, and she covers her mouth with her hands. She gasps for air as the panic wrings her lungs out.
I ask if someone can get her to sit down. I stood up not 30 seconds later, able to walk and think.
Kevin says I laid there in a fetal position, a broken and bent bike next to me, for five to 10 minutes. Life stops and slows down and speeds up in the same seconds at the raging confluence of fear, panic, and gratitude.
People are everywhere, and the traffic of presence is jammed in my head. Cars stopped; a deputy from the sheriff’s office arrived; a firefighter was pressing my wrist and along my vertebrae; I watched the road rash on my lower right leg, at first blush the only real injury, begin to weep. The general consensus was that I was on some nine-lives stuff, flanked by angels, lucky beyond reason. I never even heard the car before it hit me. The driver wrote her speed down on the police report as “35?”
We were all thankful and happy under the circumstances; I had been obliterated from behind at a decent clip speed and was standing up, talking. We were happy as we could be, given the fact that I could be dead.
Until the Colorado Highway Patrol showed up.
Walking toward me as I sat on the side of the road shivering under a heavy coat, one of them asked, without any precursor, if we were riding two across. If we were riding in the middle of the road.
Imagine for a moment what agenda it must take to approach a man, who has just seen his very short 32 years roll before him on old movie film, a question like that.
No, and no. Maybe if we were two across in the middle of the road, someone would have seen me and not ran into me square from behind. And even if I was, I have a right to be on the road — as a rider, driver, runner — and not be struck from behind, ever.
I was given a ticket for something amounting to failing to move over when being overtaken. I asked the officer to tell me why it was he though I was riding in the middle of the road. He responded that he wasn’t going to explain himself. That I could hire a re-creationist if I wanted. That he wasn’t going to explain himself, again. And for a second time that I could hire a re-creationist if I wanted.
In the clarity of hindsight, I wish I would have said, flatly, “No, I don’t want to. I want you to do the right thing, not be a cyclist-hating cop; that’s what I really want.” Imagine being cited for failing to move over while driving on an empty two-lane country road after being hit from behind. Would that ever happen? Why is a human being on a bike, with nothing but fabric and Styrofoam between him and the cars and the road, seemingly less protected by the law than the driver of an F-350?
The ticket was for $24. It is meaningless in the galaxy of points on driving records and dollars. And yet it is profoundly upsetting. The driver, who was profoundly apologetic and upset, was given a much stiffer ticket.
It was a bullshit day all around. And for the second time in several months, VeloNews’ technical editor Caley Fretz came and picked a battered version of myself up and drove me home.
After I stopped skidding and as I lay on the pavement with the side of my head on the ground, I noticed an incredible stillness. The calm of a stop after the velocity of a crash is remarkable; everything has happened, then a deep nothing.
I am still here. I can move my toes and fingers. I am not dead. I am fine.
That was December 2. I’ve ridden some since then. I hear the cars behind me and try not to think about them as sharks below, but fear is a constant light rain, rusting out belief and trust. I only allowed myself to think about the magnitude of what happened recently, and it was more a reckoning than self-discourse.
You can die riding your bike on a sunny afternoon on a lonely, arrow-straight road just outside of town. The thing you love can kill you. And it still might.
But you don’t stop, because you aren’t dead or defeated. And one day the sound of cars won’t feel how it does now, and existence on the road will go back to the buzzing symphony of hubs clicking and voices floating.
But until then, it sounds like madness. I’m just trying not to hear it.