Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Unexpected Endings

One of the things that helps keeps me riding outside all winter is the Tuesday Night Taco Ride. Each Tuesday Night around 6PM, we meet outside the Over the Bar Café (OTB) on Carson St in the Southside and cruise the rail trails in and round the City of Pittsburgh. The rides are random and last anywhere from 40 minutes to well over an hour. It just depends on the weather, trail conditions, and most importantly the temperatures. After the ride, we all head in to the OTB and enjoy their weekly special, $1 beef and chicken tacos and $1.85 PBR pounders.
Not even in the same category as our sponsor, but we are 80 miles from the Apothecary Ale House and Morgantown Brewing, and beer is always welcome after a long ride!

And as the temperatures topped out in the low 50’s yesterday, that’s where I was headed. Now normally I would pack the bike the night before and take it to work with me but I just ran out of time and figured I would get up a little early and do it in the morning. But when the alarm went off, that plan went out the window too and I decided to opt for a few more minutes of sleep and take a chance on being able to get home in time to throw things together , and catch them before they rolled out. But as luck would have it, my afternoon schedule was suddenly extremely light yesterday and my boss actually told me to take off early since I had been logging so many hours since the start of the year. So I was out the door and headed home by 345 and climbing the steps to my apartment by 420. I was home with plenty of time to spare, so I leisurely set about putting my things together, and a little after 5 I was on the bike and headed to the Southside.  The plan was to head down Noblestown into the west end then take Carson St.  As it was “that time of day”, I knew I would be riding the sidewalks to avoid the heavy traffic of rush hour until I got to the Rail Trail entrance by the incline at the back entrance to station square.
22.4 to 0.7 mph.... I guess thats explains my injuries. And I might have left my GPS running on the drive home

But then it happened. Just as I was making the right hand turn from Noblestown onto Main St in the West End, I was met with a red light 1 block away on Main St at Wabash. I started to brake and then the light turned green so I released the brakes and started pedaling to head down Main St. I had my head up and was looking down the road, hoping that a few more of the redlights would soon be green when all of a sudden, my attention was drawn back to the intersection I was just about to enter.  A silver van was stopped at the previously red light and was starting to accelerate away from its position and started turning left directly infront of me. I again grabbed the brakes with everything I had but knew instantaneously that the inevitable was about to happen. KAPOW! I hit the van in the passenger side rear door and for a split second things went like a million miles an hour. I don’t recall all the details in entirety, but as soon as I hit the ground, I recall craning my neck to see if I could see the license plate on the van.  I could see it clearly, even reading it to myself several times but knowing that I had no chance in hell to remember it. I knew my phone was in my right rear jersey pocket but it was under my windbreaker and I knew I would never get it out in time to take a picture if the vehicle fled. I recall hearing voices and some shrieking in the background, but my focus remained on the van that had now stopped on Wabash St. I started to relax when I saw the van start to move and again I read the plate hoping that I would be able to commit at least part of it to memory.  But fortunately, he was only moving the van out of the lane of traffic and he pulled to the curb to stop. I felt relief when I saw the backup lights flash briefly as the transmission went from drive, through neutral, then reverse and found its home in park.  It was a strange feeling that came over me when I realized I wasn’t the victim of a hit and run.  That feeling of being pissed off and ready for a battle quickly gave way to a feeling of relief and wanting to handle things rationally.
Put the beat down on this old van

(People always joke about your life flashing before your eyes during an accident or traumatic event like this.  But for me, how I was going to react to the situation played out several times as my body was making contact with the van and the pavement.  My initial reaction was to be pissed off and scream and let the guy know how mad I was. I thought about all the BS I was going to have to go through to get my bike fixed and how that was going to be complicated by not having homeowner’s insurance.  But as I saw the vehicle stopped, I knew instantly how I was going to react to the situation, and that was in a calm and collected way.  I knew in that split second that overreacting and being irrational, as good as that might make me feel at the time, wasn’t going to help me in the long run, so I kept my cool and took the reserved approach.)

At this point I finally let the my guard down a little and layed back in the street. And as soon as I was laying there on the cold pavement, I thought “this is the dumbest thing I’ve ever done” because motorists don’t care about you when you are riding your bike, and they damn sure won’t care about a pedestrian lying in the street. I unclipped… yes, I was still clipped in on one pedal; crawled out from under the bike and rolled/crawled to the nearest corner. I sat there for what seemed like several minutes but in reality was probably only a second or two. I started noticing people coming to my aid. First, there was a lady who asked if I needed an ambulance and I told her no, but asked her to get the information off the van incase it left. And before she could go, there was a kid standing beside me who was apologizing for not seeing me and blah blah blah. With that I heard someone hollering and identifying himself as a police officer and he was on his cell phone already, notifying dispatch. Somewhere in this time frame I noticed a familiar face in the crowd. Barb Clawson just happened to be getting gyros and was parked on Wabash. She was just getting ready to pull out to head up to Steubenville Pike when she saw the events unfold in her side view mirror. Without recognizing who I was, she made a bee line to the intersection to come to “some cyclists” aid.  Little did she know it was me, her safety manager for over 4 years at First Student.  She also happened to be the driver of the van that Amber was the monitor on for about 3 years. Coming from a small town, I am used to those types of coincidences, however, being in a suburb of Pittsburgh, those types of coincidences simply amaze me.

As I was reconfirming to the officer that I didn’t need medical attention, I heard the siren of a fire truck and saw it turning off Steubensville Pike onto Wabash.  I thought to myself “too late”, and watched them turn the truck sideways in the intersection, effectively blocking traffic in all directions. 3 firemen got out and started asking me a few questions  and asking me to demonstrate my range on motion, etc.  I guess I gave them answers that they were happy with and soon they were getting back into the fire truck and left the scene.  Officer Lloyd finished getting the information that he needed and provided me with the accident report number that he would be filing on my behalf.  As the first responders were all leaving, I finally had a chance to talk to the kid who was driving the van. He was shaking uncontrollably and was extremely remorseful. He was so upset that I found myself offering HIM words of encouragement.  The last thing I said to him was to be careful, “because Im not the only cyclist out here today and you’re obviously not in your right mind right now.”  Barb offered to take me home, so she helped me walk my bike up the street to her van and she drove me home. I went to med express and got an xray on my right thumb just to be sure it wasn’t broken.   It was swollen and throbbing with pain at times, but the doctors confirmed my speculation that everything was intact, and it was just sprained/bruised.
The swelling did not go down after 4 hours, so should I still seek medical attention?

When I finally got home a little after 8PM last night, and had a few minutes to reflect on the events that had just been happening in a whirlwind mode, I realized 2 important lessons.  The first lesson was that  you have to remain flexible with life. It’s a “when life hands you lemons… make lemonade” kind of approach. Sure, I would have been well within my right to be angry and bitter and out for revenge but I found the silver lining in the situation almost immediately, even as I was trying to figure out what parts worked on me and what might need looked at.  You know the whole n+1 theory of bike ownership and I think that with a with a couple of favors from some friends, I have the means to add another bike to the stable.  The second lesson I learned was that it takes far more effort and coordination to scoop sherbet than I ever realized. Unable to grip the scoop properly with my right hand I tried going lefty but ran into issues because: A) Isuck at any level of dexterity with my left hand and B) I still couldn’t grip the tub properly with my right hand because of the pain in my wrist. So in support of life lesson #1, I made lemonade out of the situation and took the whole tub of sherbet to the tub and soaked and crushed the contents of an almost full ½ gallon.
And I put a beating on a tub of raspberry sherbet!

I’ll be off the bike for about a week I suspect, but I am already looking forward to next Tuesday and the Final Taco Ride of the year. I’m going to make up for my missed tacos and go for the record by ordering 20 tacos.  If you want to join us, show up to the OTB on Carson St around 6pm.  You’ll be able to recognize me, I will be the one riding the brand new Cannondale. J  Be safe and wear your helmets!