I’d dropped my bicycle off at the local bike shop so they could tune it up. Normally, I’d do this myself but lately I’ve just been too busy. After work, I pick up my bike and head home.
I love this ride. It’s my favorite part of the day. It’s only about three miles, but most of that distance is spent winding through some of the more secluded parts of the campus, across a river, and through the back, largely wild, acres of a huge park. It’s both beautiful and peaceful.
The peace is punctuated by The Hill. The Hill is steep, and runs arrow-straight for a hundred yards before turning to duck through a tunnel under some railroad tracks. I despise The Hill when I’m going to work, but forgive it on my way home.
I’ve ridden down The Hill every day for a couple of years, and have a pattern. From a certain vantage point, I can see when the path and tunnel are clear. When they are, I charge down the hill in top gear, as fast as I can, and shoot through that tunnel. It’s a fantastic rush. When I’m not tired and the path is clear and dry, I can hit 60MPH before I have to start slowing for the turn.
Today, I’ve only made it to 45. It’d been raining the day before and the path is slick with wet leaves, shredded by passing bicycle traffic. It’s better not to push these things.
The wind roars in my ears as I watch the speedometer, keeping my speed in check, and wait to pass the big tree that marks where I should start braking.
I apply the brakes full-force, as usual. Suddenly, I can’t steer. My wheels have locked, sliding over the carpet of leaf sludge.
The bike shop. I forgot. They fixed my brakes.
Time politely slows down, buying me the opportunity to think. OK. I should lay the bike down, so my body will lose speed sliding before it hits the wall.
I release the brakes and begin to lean the bike over. My tires suddenly find traction. Hey, I think I can make the tunnel after all! I turn toward it. The open mouth is approaching fast, but its aim isn’t quite right.
There is a moment just after you realize that you no longer have control, but before the full consequences of that fact set in, that I love. At that moment I feel alive, electric.
The wall comes to greet me, and I hear the click of the edge of my helmet kissing the masonry.
Just like in the movies, vision slowly returns to focus and reveals a frightened-looking woman hovering over me. Oh shit, something bad has happened.
“Are you OK??”
Sitting up, I spot the twisted remains of my bike. Right.
“Mister? Are you OK? You want me to call an ambulance?”
Not much blood. That’s good. And I don’t feel any pain. That’s good.
“ARE YOU OK?” the woman yells.
I can’t help but laugh. What the hell does it look like, lady?
“Yeth, fine, thankth. I meand do do thad,” I slur. Hmm, my mouth isn’t working right. Maybe that’s why she didn’t laugh at my joke. Some mad dentist seems to have shot my face full of an obscene amount of Novocaine. I can’t feel a thing.
“Id doethn’t hurd a bid” I tell her, gathering my wreckage.
I begin the long walk home. Wish I had a bike.