Saturday, November 20, 2010

Adventure ride #3: a roller coaster of emotions

So much for regular adventure rides! With the rowing and racing and everything, today was my first long bike ride in a while!

Phil and I were without our best riding buddy and, since Phil is off to a gig tonight, we decided it would be best to keep our adventure ride local, and hunted around for a new route near Cambridge. This 100k loop looked perfect.

After a patchy start (crossing the dam, turning right on SH3...) we found ourselves on the most marvellous riding road ever created. A smooth, single lane country road. I think we saw 3 cars in 20km- literally. It was bliss! A few ks in, I noticed some "tourist arrows" (indicating which side of the road to drive on.... maybe I should call them "Kiwi driver arrows"??) and wondered why- then turned my head and realised we were riding past Hobbiton. It certainly looked like something out of a NZ Tourism guide- horses with their foals, lambs in paddocks full of flowers. The first 40ks or so were sheer perfection.

We knew the route, but we didn't really know where we were. We'd turned left onto a very slightly busier road, and ridden along for a few ks, when I noticed a bunch of odd black marks on the road, and I saw that Phil had stopped ahead.

I soon realised why. We didn't know we were heading to it, but we were there.

There were bunches of flowers tied to the fence, and a Swiss flag waving. It was an image I knew well from news reports over the past horrible week (but when I tried to find one to post, I couldn't, and the hunt became too distressing). We stopped and shared a moment of sadness. And then our curiosity got the better of us, and we looked back. And saw the corner, and started reconstructing things in our heads. We knew what had happened, but we could really SEE it now. It's a sharpish corner on a fairly quiet two lane road. There's a single yellow line on the right hand side. You can see why someone would be tempted to cut it, but it's also blindingly obvious that that would be a ridiculously bad idea. Because even if there wasn't a pack of f**king cyclists on the other side, there could be a car, which could be carrying a family of 5, or a pregnant woman, or a ridiculous sweet old couple on their way home from a picnic.

*Rant Begins*

And as we sat there, feeling blue, and torn between staying and paying our respects, and getting the holy fuck out of there, a black car screeched round the bend, cut the corner, sailed into the right lane, and didn't get back to the left until he'd nearly passed us. I was livid, and my goal of being friendly and smiley to even the worst of the motorists was out the window. I was SERIOUSLY pissed off. This accident has been all over the news, and people familiar with the area would have known right where it was, and would have seen the memorial themselves. And then, as we saddled up to move on our merry way, another car came lurching round. It too cut the corner. Slowing down and sticking to the left is overrated, it seems.

I'd like to think profound sadness and real anger would be enough emotion for one ride, but I was wrong. A few ks on we were riding up a hill on a narrowish road- not really enough room for traffic to move both ways. The sort of road where you really need to be mindful. We didn't make a hell of a lot of difference. I was scrunched up to the left and Phil was around 50-100m ahead of me (...ok, I have no idea. He was a wee way up though). A white car was coming down the road, and I could hear a truck rumbling away behind me. The road was straight at this point. All of a sudden, I heard a whooosh, and a crash of brakes, and my heart leapt right out of my chest. I felt the truck stop behind me, and I accelerated like a mad thing, my heart pounding and my eyes prickling. The white car went by, then the truck eased past me.* He went carefully and slowly past Phil, and he was gone. I was still shaking when I got to Phil- shaking, crying, and pissed.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to realise that when you're driving on country roads, you need to look ahead. If you can't see ahead, you need to slow down. This isn't about cyclist protection, or the great cyclist/motorist "debate" the media insists on stirring up every time a person on a bike DIES. It's simple road safety. It's COMMON SENSE. I could have been or a horse, or a pedestrian, or some cows, or a tractor, or just a car driving at a sensible speed around the corner.

*Rant over*

But despite the anger, sadness and fear, the overwhelming feeling ending today's ride is gratitude. I always try to make sure I'm courteous to other road users. If someone passes me respectfully, I give them a wave. If someone is held up momentarily as a I ride past an intersection, I say "cheers." But today I aimed extra hard for a 100% courtesy rating- I was waving and thumbs-upping my little hands off (...and yes, keeping well and truly to the left while doing so...) And of the two hundred odd motorists I met today, a good 180 were great. Another 15 or so were super awesome, and only about 5 were cocks. We felt we were given more respect and more room than usual by a number of motorists, and we are VERY grateful for the respect and concern they showed us. We showed our respect, and I hope they could see how much we appreciated it.

(...then we rode another 50ks or so until we got home. The End.)

*No doubt the story will be re-told on yourviews one day. In that version, Phil and I will be riding two abreast, probably taking up the whole road. The truck will give me a polite toot and ask to go past, and I'll turn around, wiggle my bum in the air and shout "f**k YOU!!!!!!" (I'm good at multitasking while I climb, you see). Then instead of bursting into tears, I'll stop, throw a leppin gel and "roundly abuse" the poor guy. I won't be wearing any hi-vis gear, and it will be a busy high-speed road, instead of a virtually deserted country road.

** I am not a member of the Morrinsville Wheelers, and I did not know Mark Ferguson, Kaye Wolfe or Willie Muller. I am beyond thankful that I have not been involved in a cycle, car, or anything else crash. My thoughts and best wishes and prayers are with their friends and families.


Anonymous said...

It's been a truly devastating week. It really brought it home when I heard a guy on the radio say that he was training for IMNZ and he does ALL his riding on the windtrainer now, because road riding is just not worth the risk.

What a shame you didn't get any rego numbers - or at least report what you saw on that bend. If there's a 'systemic' problem with the bend (I know, people should just use common sense and slow down), then maybe LTSA should know about it.

What a rough, emotion-riddled day for you. :-(

Pip said...

Oh Kate, how horrible! I was certainly very conscious of all the fatalities during our ride today. We even had one woman drive past screaming at us as we rode back round Eastbourne. Unbelievable.

When I was getting ready in the Freyberg carpark this morning I (and the two guys next to me getting into their wetsuits) watched a group of all-night revellers carry their beer to a car, get in and drive off. It was only as I realised the car smelt like a brewery that it occurred to me that I should have got the numberplate. The two guys were thinking the same thing. With all the cyclists out on the road this morning we just had to hope for the best. Unfortunately we can only do so much to protect ourselves.

Kate said...

A few sportzhubbers have said similar things- but I know the minute I put the bike away, the same f**kwit will kill me in my car.

Would have loved plates- people going too fast. But might see whether we can tell NZTA/Council and maybe get some speed guides/signs up.

Britt said...

I keep reading about the cyclists in NZ and it is so so awful. We have cycling problems here, but the city is trying to make more room for cyclists on the road (which instills hate in some drivers, but generally just gets the word out that these are regular people exercising or commuting to work etc.) I think you're doing everything you can do - be visible, follow road rules, be courteous. I wish drivers could do the same!

Stay safe, Kate!

Lisa (bakebikeblog) said...

Oh my - what a sad sad story - it gives me shivers just thinking about it :(

Theresa @ActiveEggplant said...

Wow - what a sad story! Glad to hear you made it safely through the ride though! I always get scared riding on the roads here - too many drivers just don't pay attention or are too impatient to "worry" about cyclists/runners/slower cars. I hope they do something to fix the problem at that turn down there - whether it's posting speed limit signs, or even re-routing the road.

Rachel said...

I'm glad you guys are okay! That's tragic about the cyclist that died. It happens all the time. I feel like I'm taking my life in my hands every time I go out on the road. On the other hand, I refuse to live my life in fear. You do the best you can, I guess. Ride safe and drive safe!