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Bike Rides 111
A Story Finally Comes Full Circle
One and a half years ago I experienced one of the worst bike crashes
of my career. It’s the crash I remember most, and pain is
probably the main ingredient in the formulation of that memory.
I didn’t bounce into a bed of rocks, pounce on a patch of
ice or careen over a car hood although I’ve met these misfortunes
in a lifetime of riding and remember them all for the same reason:
The most memorable accident occurred at
what should be, and usually is, the safest medium for cycling
in any given community, the bike trail. The trail is really the
only place a cyclist can let his or her guard down anymore. That’s
what made this crash so unique, my guard was way down.
Unlike all the other accidents in the past,
I never saw this one coming. There was no time, not even a lifesaving
split second like I’ve depended on in the past to separate
myself from the bike and control the crash. Nope, not this time.
Riding at night I was partially blinded
by street lights on the horizon and slightly distracted by a rolling
conversation with my neighbor Hank. I completely forgot about
a five-foot-high, 4x4 post set deep in the ground, right in the
middle of the trail at the heart of Todd Park.
The obstacle was one of many (up to fourteen,
I believe) such poles placed throughout Austin where road meets
trail designed to discourage motor traffic from entering the bike
trail (and a mind so deviant would never consider driving around
the posts either). I’ve had close calls with these maintenance-man
made menaces before.
Hank and I were traveling northwest from
the bridge at the creek crossing toward the historic Big Pavilion,
our pre-determined destination for a rest. We temporally suspended
our conversation as I shifted gears, accelerating ahead of Hank
in anticipation of the upcoming ascent to the road.
Just at the peak of my burst I met the
pole head on; Hank tried to yell a courtesy warning, “Post!”
But it was too late.
My left hand and knee got smashed between
the bike and the thick stud as we connected in a bone bruising
collision. The post was not harmed. My Raleigh went from 15 mph
to zero in a hundredth of a second. I was immediately cleared
for take-off and then flew over the earth’s sphere like
United Airlines before gravity brought me crashing down again
to an asphalt landing strip. I tucked and rolled my body in a
manner that at least spared me a head injury and maybe a helicopter
I stayed facedown long enough for the shock
to kick in and numb things before rolling over and looking up
at Hank who remained silent and appeared traumatized by witnessing
the horrific collision and subsequent body launching. I knew it
must have been bad because he uncharacteristically waited for
me to make the first joke before he eventually joined in the conversation.
Soon we were re-living the scene over and over while the memory
was still fresh in our minds.
“That was the worst crash I’ve
ever seen!” Hank exclaimed.
“That was the worst crash I’ve
ever had!” I added, “Those posts have got to go.”
And we went on like that for awhile.
I missed a couple days of work, staying
home popping pain pills like Skittles and melting sacks of ice
over my swollen, bruised hand.
Once my hand was moving again I nobly reached
for my notebook and painfully authored a lengthy, detailed letter
of concern to the City Engineer questioning the rationale behind
having posts sticking straight up in the middle of the trail.
Surprisingly, the correspondence only went
back and forth a couple of times before the city astutely agreed
to remove all such posts throughout the trail before winter.
Even more surprisingly, only two weeks
later I got a text from Hank back in Austin while I was traveling
for work verifying: “ALL posts on the bike trails in Austin
have been removed.”
I didn’t write this column to embarrass
or criticize the city, and I’m not suing. In fact I would
like to commend the city for taking swift action and axing the
unsafe obstacles, sparing someone else a similar fate. That was
my goal. I’ll never forget that collision for one reason
and one reason only: Pain.
Fast forward to last summer. I was reminded
of the previous season’s pole crash again as I hopped into
the chair at the local barbershop.
“What are you up to this weekend?”
the barber inquired, spraying my hair down with funny smelling
“Oh, you know, the usual, wine, women
and song,” I mused at first. “Actually my neighbor
Hank and I are planning a midnight ride down the Shooting Star
Trail,” I added more seriously, as he began snipping away.
“It should be a good night for that warm and no wind.”
“Hey, your buddy Jon Erichson (the
Austin City Engineer whom I can’t say I’ve actually
ever met) was just in here and he’s doing the same thing;
maybe your paths will cross on the trail.” The unwitting
barber (the same barber I’ve had for over 30 years) suggested
while straightening my bangs as he recalled my story about the
posts and their prompt removal.
“If I see him I’ll hug him.”
I said chuckling as he chopped away.
“That might surprise him a little.”
The barber laughed, tightening up my sideburns.
“Not as surprised as I was by the
city when they promptly delivered on a big promise to a small
potato like me, and ahead of schedule,” I replied sincerely,
checking my look in the mirror on the way out. “See you
in a month,” I shouted over the clanking of the cowbell
hanging on the door and I was off with a new look and attitude
which is exactly how a good barber and a cool breeze should make
Later that day while reflecting on this
conversation and preparing for the weekend excursion the idea
came to pack the sidewalk chalk I’d stored some time ago
in the basement along for the ride.
“Sidewalk chalk, what’s that
for?” Hank inquired as we loaded the bikes and supplies
into my blue Subaru. “And why do you have sidewalk chalk
in your house? You don’t even have a kid,” he teased,
closing the car door.
“You always gotta be that nosey?”
I said laughing. “Focus on the mission Hank; we’ve
got us a thank-you note to write.” I declared adding a lame
southern drawl for no particular reason other than to be annoying,
as I turned the car key.
“Okay Tex,” Hank replied, “I
just hope you know how to spell his name.” as we sped off.
“Name?” I said, “Heck
I’ve got his middle initial too. You think I was a communications
major for nothing, welder boy?” I asked as I accelerated
through the first three gears of the snappy little turbo before
finishing the sentence, forcing Hank back in his seat with G-force.
“Always define your target clearly when delivering a message,
it’s the first rule I learned in college.” I went
“Okay, shut-up and let’s do
this thing!” Hank replied, donning his safety glasses and
sticking his head out of the moon roof until his face got warped
from the speed and he had to come back inside for air.
As usual, we parked in Adams and rode the
13 miles to Leroy. Near Lake Louise State Park, via bike-light
and using very large, colorful but inconsistent font over the
course of about 50, feet we etched out the following:
“Jon W. Erickson
Thank You for Removing the Posts.”
We sprawled the message in reverse and
up the trail in a manner which made it most readable from a moving
I added a peace sign with the leftover
chalk. I think Hank added a lame smiley face his six-year-old
could have drawn better and our objective was complete.
But the mission, we decided, would only
come full circle if the intended recipient of the gracious message
had ever actually seen it.
Lots of scenarios passed through our minds;
perhaps he’d send us an email or call us. Maybe he’d
turn it over to the police, somehow feeling threatened by our
wily intelligence work in having pinpointed his location that
weekend without even knowing him.
Maybe he’s too grown up to concern
himself with silly little messages scrawled in sidewalk chalk
by middle-aged, adolescent men. Either way we were left wondering
in the days that followed, but never did hear anything and we
began to feel perhaps the mission had failed.
“Clankity clank.” went the
cowbell over the barbershop door as I re-entered exactly four
weeks after I’d last passed through.
“How’s it going?” I inquired,
hanging my coat up as usual before sliding into the chair.
“Guess who was in here this week,”
my barber asked, completely ignoring my courteous inquiry while
sporting a mile wide smile in the mirror back at me.
“Hmm,” I replied after thinking
for a moment “We must be on the same haircut schedule.”
I surmised, unable to contain my smug little snickers.
“Jon W. Erichson,” He declared,
with a heavy emphasis on the middle initial, like a real communications
“Aha! The story finally comes full
circle.” I declared victoriously as he began spraying my
hair down with funny smelling water.
Thank you, Jon W. Erichson.
Traffic Tip: It’s
too late for winter to start now!
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