Friday, July 01, 2016

A bike commuter's worst nightmare

The scene: A couple of weeks ago. I'm riding my bike home from work. It's a gloriously sunny, not-too-hot-not-too-cool late afternoon and I'm cruising westward along the Springbank Park bike path. I'm taking the long way home, a lazy Thames burbling quietly below the gentle riverbank to my right, a thickly wooded uphill to my left, and a deep green canopy of forested perfection overhead.

I'm moving at around 25 km/h - fast enough to pass the occasional dogwalker or hand-holding couple, but slow enough that I can enjoy the view and feel the perfectly efficient meshing of pedals and gears through the balls of my feet. This is why I became a cyclist, and why I prefer 2 wheels to 4 when I'm deciding how to get to work in the morning.

The path isn't terribly crowded. In fact, as I roll idly along, I wonder why, given the perfect weather, there aren't more people on it. But just as soon as that thought pops into my head, it pops out. Their loss, I figure. Besides, I rather enjoy being mostly alone out here.

Up ahead, I see something to the left side of the two-lane path that catches my attention. A tiny shadow, some jerky movement. I can't quite make it out just yet, but I figure it's a squirrel or some other critter. No biggie: Between the Canadian geese, chipmunks, seagulls and black squirrels, among others, this showpiece of a park is delightfully overrun with wildlife. It's another reason to slow down and enjoy the experience instead of powering through at max speed like I might have once done.

I ease back on the pedals to bleed off speed and position myself to safely pass the approaching whatever-it-is. As the energy bleeds off and the distance shrinks, I can just make it out. A chipmunk. Standing in the middle of the oncoming lane - basically my 11-o'clock - with its head pointing right. As rodents are likely to do, it's jerking this way and that, somewhat unsure of what to do next.

I feather the brakes to further chop my speed. I'm down under 15 km/h by now - barely making steerage - and he's skittering from left to right as I initiate a drift to the right. Whatever's going through his (her? I can never tell) pea-sized brain, he (we'll call him a he, because I'm going to assume a female chipmunk would have a better sense of where she's headed) can't seem to decide on a direction. You'd think the relatively slow approach of a relatively large pink machine with 170 pounds of helmet-wearing Canadian geek-journalist-digital-guy on it would be enough to prompt an immediate excursion in the opposite direction. If this is what you think, you'd be wrong.

After watching this directionally-challenged rodent feint toward either side of the path for what seems like an eternity, I'm rapidly running out of space, time and options. I'm now dangerously close to the woodsy right-hand edge of the path, [this close] to falling off the asphalt. My handlebars catch the overhanging branches and flip them into my forearms and elbows like playing cards in a little kid's trike. I have nowhere else to go.

I hold my breath, hoping he breaks left. He does not. At the last possible millisecond, he dives under my front tire. I feel the sickening lurch as rubber meets rodent. The front end of the bike hops up and over, and I imagine that's the feel of his spine breaking, resonating up the frame and into my fingers at the tips of the handlebars. I say a word that I wouldn't be able to say on-air. It might have been more than one such word, come to think of it.

I coast for a second, ticked with myself that I couldn't avoid crushing this misguided little guy, trying to keep myself on the straight-and-narrow as I edge myself back into the middle of the lane and get back on the pedals.

Just in case, I throw a look over my right shoulder, only to be greeted by another moving shadow. I catch one last sight of my very much alive would-be-victim's little form running into the bushes and down the bank toward the water. Whatever happened in that split-second under my front tire, he clearly managed to survive and escape. It's a bicycle commuting miracle. Or something like it.

Tough little guy, I think to myself as I say a silent prayer and continue on my way.


Kalei's Best Friend said...

It takes courage, bravery, and most of all chutzpah ... I see what bicyclists go thru...and from this post, it seems bikers have to think more and second guess... I've only encountered a few bikers who assume but, they don';t outweigh (no pun intended) the actions of drivers.

Anonymous said...

Good thing you both were ok after the encounter. Sometimes when we bike on the trails, we tend to forget that we are sharing it with little creatures.

Tom said...

You were bicycle ambushed by Chip and Dale. They ere trying to topple you because all cyclists are nuts! Glad you were able to escape safely.