Just Give Me A Sign

Just Give Me A Sign

My son’s been riding to school, so this morning I rolled out with him figuring I’d squeeze in a few miles before my day began in earnest.

As I rode, I kept telling myself I’d turn around soon, yet at each turn-around point I kept telling myself I’d keep going just a little bit farther. Then after about an hour and a half I rode by a church, and the sign in front of it said the following:

ENJOY!

LIFE IS GOOD

This was the most sensible and agreeable sentiment I’d heard in a good long time, and I took it as a sign from above that I should do just that. Here I was worrying about starting my day, when in fact it was already well underway. Of course it’s easy to make decisions like this when you’re a semi-professional bike blogger, so you could just say I was being a bum, but I prefer to frame it as a matter of being in profound spiritual alignment.

I continued on, stopping briefly to consider my good fortune, to appreciate the foliage, and also to urinate:

Eventually I started making my way back home, and since the roads are fairly busy during the week (apparently there are people out there who have to work, poor bastards) I decided I’d take the boring-but-car-free rail-trail, which is a straight shot pretty much right to my back door. After several uneventful miles, I came across a sign which said something like:

RENOVATIONS UNDERWAY

TRAILWAY CLOSED M-F

I was not surprised to see the sign. In fact, I’d been ignoring similar signs for many months, and on the occasions when I encountered active renovations the work crews simply waved me on by. So I ignored it once again. Anyway, how serious could they be with just those little paper signs?

A few miles later I passed a worker in a truck. I figured if he stopped me I’d turn around, but he seemed wholly indifferent to me, and I took his lack of interest as a tacit acknowledgment that it was fine for me to proceed. So I did, and continued to ride happily along…until I got to the giant asphalt paving machine.

At this point the trail is flanked by highways on either side, and I was several miles from the nearest exit. So I stepped off the trail and looked hopefully at the worker on the huge contraption, which was at that moment vomiting asphalt onto the path. I braced myself for a dressing-down as the machine rumbled past me, but instead the worker simply looked at me. The freshly-laid asphalt was sizzling, and the heat it was radiating felt quite pleasant in the crisp autumn air.

“Can I keep going?,” I asked.

“Sure,” he replied agreeably. “You’re just gonna have to walk in the mud until you pass the second roller.”

That was fine with me. Yes, I was wearing road shoes, but it wasn’t particularly muddy, and I could see the two rollers just up ahead:

So I walked until I got to the second roller, at which point I asked the operator if I could get back on the path.

“Give it about 40 more feet,” he replied, and after roughly that many paces I looked back, at which point he signaled that I could continue riding. My tires made a soft peeling sound on the new road surface and it occurred to me that I was officially the first person to ride this new section of trail. And that, I figured, was that…

…until I got to a barrier that really meant business:

At this point, in order to exit the trail, I’d not only have to backtrack considerably, but also go past the paving crew again. On the other hand, what were the odds the state or the county or whoever was responsible for all this would lavish so much attention on a bike path that they’d have two crews working at once? So, awkwardly, I hoisted both my bike and myself up, over, and around the split post fence.

It wasn’t too long before I encountered the next crew, a two-man team tearing up huge sections of old asphalt with a backhoe, and one that was quite irritated to make my acquaintance. They told me to turn around, to which I replied that the other crew had told me to come this way, which wasn’t quite true since they hadn’t so much as told me to keep going as they had simply not prohibited me from doing so. I further explained that I just wanted to get off the trail, and asked if there was anyone else working past this point. By now they were simply ignoring me while wearing looks of disgust, for which I could not blame them. After a few more moments I told them I was going to keep going, hoping that if yet another crew were dynamiting up ahead they’d at least try to stop me. However, they continued to ignore me, and so I walked past the active backhoe, willing the operator to refrain from dropping a chunk of asphalt on me.

Fortunately there was no dynamite, and eventually I undid the twisted wire securing the final barrier of the day, thereby gaining my freedom:

Some other path users were contemplating doing what I had done, and I advised them sagely to turn around instead.

Incredibly, there was still more excitement in store for me when I crossed this intersection, where the roadway crosses the rail-trail:

The road parallel to the trail is a parkway were people drive at high speed, so the upshot is that they whip around that corner and right into the crosswalk.

As I rolled into the intersection, a driver was rounding the turn. Now, of course I know that, while the driver is supposed to yield to me, whether or not they actually do is effectively a coin toss. It’s a tricky business riding a bike, because in certain situations forfeiting your right of way can actually be dangerous, yet obviously expecting motorists to yield to you when they very well may not is also dangerous. So in these situation you often have to proceed, while at the same time keeping a close eye on the driver and being prepared to stop or take some other type of evasive action should they fail to stop, which is what I did here.

Well, the driver did stop for me, but in such a way it was clear he or she (I didn’t see which) hadn’t originally been planning to do so. So I continued across, at which point the passenger (who bore a striking resemblance to that toad from yesterday’s post) rolled down her window and called out, “I realize you have the right of way, but you also have to look!”

I found this assertion utterly astonishing. She was yelling at me for being…right? And of course I had been looking–in fact the importance of this had been very much on my mind all day long, ever since rolling out with my son that morning. We had been talking about the shitshow of an intersection he has to negotiate, and I explained that the most important thing to learn when riding in the street is to recognize and anticipate the things motorists will do in addition to what they’re supposed to do. So I informed her that I had indeed been looking, to which she replied, “No you weren’t!,” at which point I’m sorry to admit I called her a fucking idiot as they drove off.

In any case, at around this time, an older man left his own car and approached me. He looked like my boss at the hardware store I worked in when I was a teenager, an irascible and rage-prone man who had given up any pretense of civility 30 years prior to my employment. I figured he was going to join in–“You fuckin’ bikers don’t pay attention!,” or something like that–but how wrong I was.

“Did she just yell at you when you had the right of way?!?,” he spat.

“Yes.”

“What the fuck!?! And you’re on a bike? I wish I had my little pistol on me, I’d’a given it to you, then you could’a fuckin’ shot her. She’d’a been quiet after that.”

I agreed that she probably would have been, though I didn’t bother to mention that a lot of that would probably depend on how and where I shot her.

The last few miles of the ride were fairly uneventful, though I did come across a gentleman whose rear wheel had eaten his derailleur. (This was the second such rider in as many weeks for me.) I tried to help him extricate it, but he became very uncomfortable, citing how “delicate” the part was. Clearly he did not comprehend he was in the presence of a bicycle expert, or that, given the mangled state of the derailleur, its delicateness was no longer relevant. However, he was understandably frustrated by the situation, and so I figured it was best to leave him be. Hopefully his day only got better from there.

In all, it was a great ride, despite–or perhaps because of–the fact that I experienced close to the full range of human emotions. But by far the most remarkable thing about it was how stunningly accurate both those signs were. How often does that happen?

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