Haunted

8 Feb

You’ve seen them. Those white bikes tethered to the road.

I remember the first one I ever saw. It was chained to DuPoint Circle in Washington, DC. I thought it was part of an avant garde art installation. Later, when I drove past Arlington National Cemetery, a few hippocampal neurons rearranged themselves in order to develop a new implicit “memory” for me.

Oh. Crap. That white bike I saw wasn’t art. It was a memorial. Someone died there. On their bike. Damn. That sucks.

And after a brief reflective sigh, I promptly forgot about that bike.

That was in 2008 — before I started riding. For the next year or so, if I had occasion to glimpse a white memorial bike I would reflexively think: “Damn. That sucks as I whizzed by in my car, feeling oddly smug because I “understood” what that bike meant.

Yeah, I’m hip like that. I know what your white bike means. I’m on to you. I feel you. We koo like dat. Word.

When I started riding in 2010, the occasions upon which I glimpsed such bikes seemed to increase exponentially [awareness breeds more awareness] and I moved from reflexively, fleetingly thinking “Damn, that sucks” to more actively thinking about the REAL meaning of the white bikes. In so doing, I learned that:

  • The official term for these memorials is “Ghost Bike;”
  • There are organizations devoted to creating, placing, and maintaining these Ghosts; and
  • In 2011 at least 80 SoCal cyclists became “Ghosts” as a result of vehicular collisions.

That 2011 SoCal bike fatality statistic does not include solo wrecks (like mine, which thankfully did not rise to the “fatality” level) or other types of bike-based fatalities (like shootings). Still, having 80+ Ghost Bikes join the SoCal cycling scene in 2011 was more than enough to give me pause as I embarked upon the 2012 cycling season. I continued to ride, yes, but I brought a heightened level of caution to my cycling and greater awareness to my driving…

Of course, MY caution and awareness could not mitigate against the wonton disregard exhibited by the bus driver who plowed into me and just kept going, leaving a totaled vehicle (my bike) and a broken body (me) in his/her wake. But, as this blog previously explained, that 2012 wreck did not squelch my passion. Onward I rode and we all got to celebrate the fact that I enjoyed a 100% incident-free 2013.

But was it “incident free”?

No. Not really.

Although I suffered no new blows to my body nor increased medical expenditures, I endured plenty of trauma. Like Cole Sear, I saw dead people. Everywhere.

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According to the intrepid, devoted, impressively emotionally resilient Ted Rogers at Biking in LA, there were ~88 SoCal bicycling fatalities in 2013 and the City of Los Angeles experienced a 360% increase in cycling deaths as compared to 2012.

Fuck, dude. That’s a lot of Ghosts.

And this time I knew one of the GhostsMilt Olin. Worse, my (ex)Coach was almost certainly the last person to see Milt alive (a whole ‘nother level of spooky, which I won’t develop in this blog). The fact that (ex)Coach (who remains a major mentor to me) was in such close proximity to Milt (who mentored me when I was a baby lawyer) immediately prior to Milt being turned into a Ghost….

Yeah.

Fuck, dude. That’s all kinds of super messed up.

<sigh>

I haven’t visited Milt’s Ghost Bike yet, mainly because I am already so deeply haunted by it/him/the entire concept of getting killed while going out for a lovely ride in a “protected” lane because some self-absorbed driver can’t be bothered to PAY ATTENTION to the road…

<DEEP BREATH>

Nearly every time I’m on the road, I have a “near miss.” Truth be told, the exhilaration that comes from managing to survive each ride is actually part of what fuels my cycling addiction. Crazy? Maybe. But I have a working hypothesis that this actually might be a very good/healthy thing from a biological/evolutionary perspective. This post isn’t the right place to expound upon that theory, though.

This post is about my fear — a fear that increasingly gnaws on me.

My 2014 mileage is dramatically down. When I see a Ghost Bike now it’s like I’m seeing the future and my own ghost bike. That is not-at-all-cool. I feel all torn up inside because I think How can something as awesomely powerful, simple and beautiful as riding my bike have its greatest drawback be complex, ugly DEATH from a careless, insensitive stranger? And, yes, ABSOLUTELY, this Ghost Bike/I-See-Dead-People paranoia is part of what drove me to adopt George — although the full-and-actual reason I decided to transition (temporarily?) to mountain biking is much more nuanced and (likely) will be explored in a future blog post.

In the meantime, when paranoia prickles my skin and activates my sixth sense I increasingly find myself getting pissed off at you.

Yes, YOU, reader.

Why? Because unless you are a someone who occasionally takes to the road on two wheels, then I am 99.7% certain that you are not really aware of me or the other members of my cycling family.

I know, because before I started riding I was just like you: I wasn’t aware. Before I started riding real bikes, I didn’t even see Ghost Bikes and I certainly didn’t appreciate either of them (Ghost Bikes or real riders).

I was ignorant, but you don’t have to be.

I want to keep riding. It makes me happy. It makes me healthy. I should not have to sacrifice my happiness, health, or life because a driver deems me to be inconvenient or irrelevant.

Please know these things about me and my follow cyclists:

  • We are not just some obstacle to get around or trivialize.
  • We are living, breathing persons who love and are loved.
  • We don’t want to make you late for work.
  • We are at your mercy on the road.

Please be aware.

Please look out for us.

Please remember these things before you take the wheel so that no one has to later remember us like this:

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4 Responses to “Haunted”

  1. Cheryl February 8, 2014 at 6:37 pm #

    Another great blog post. Nothing makes me see red more than drivers expressing a desire to injure or kill bicyclists because we “don’t belong on the road.” There are too many ghost bikes out there and sadly too few repercussions for drivers who kill a cyclist or pedestrian. I love the vulnerable user law being advocated for in WI (http://theactivepursuit.com/assembly-panel-endorses-vulnerable-user-law-in-wisconsin/) – but I would love even more to not need such a law.

  2. formerbiker February 28, 2014 at 12:11 am #

    Your reasoning is the exact reason I stopped biking. I am incredibly observant and cautious driving with bikes on the road as a result, but I refuse to take that risk myself any longer. I’ve seen friends get doored. I’ve been party to more close calls than I remember. You absolutely cannot trust that most drivers in a densely populated area will be that observant. The velocities are not nearly the same, but it is rather akin to riding a motorcycle; the question is not if, but rather how long, until you wind up in an accident yourself.

    As a sidenote, I feel it is important to point out that this is a two-way street. I’ve been recklessly passed on the right while signaling a right turn more times than I can remember.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. What’s This?? | BikeFriendlyAtl - February 12, 2014

    […] https://justadventures.org/2014/02/08/haunted/ […]

  2. Are You F*cking Kidding Me?! | JustAdventures - August 28, 2014

    […] killed my friend. You killed a person who actually had power and clout within the legal system and even that […]

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