There have only been two times in my life when I knew I was going to die. You know the moment. When you close your eyes tight, turn your head slightly to the left, and don’t even bother with flinching. One of those times I blame on a sternwheeler ship and the other on a particularly evil bicycle. Today, I need to warn you about bicycles.
I was just trying to cross a single lane of traffic. I was cruising down the bike lane in Eugene, Oregon when the road split to the right. I didn’t want to go to the right. My home was straight ahead. I stopped and waited patiently for a break in the right-splitting traffic. My window of opportunity came and I cranked on my pedals as hard as I could. About 4 feet later, in the very center of the busy lane of traffic, it happened. My bike instantly and inexplicably disassembled itself right there.
There I lie. A puddle of confused chains, legs, spokes, arms, cables, and disbelief. I glanced up and saw the Grim Kenworth coming for me. It was too big, too fast, and too close. I just closed my eyes and turned my head slightly to the left.
The screeching, swerving, and braking tires snapped me out of death-prep as I realized the driver had somehow miraculously avoided me. Turns out my bicycle had decided it would be funny to see what would happen if it kicked its rear tire off in a situation like that. Now we know. Not cool bicycle. Not cool.
But my suspicions about the underlying nature of bicycles had begun years earlier. In fact, it was only a few months after learning to balance on two wheels that I found myself pathetically chasing my older brothers and their friends down a dirt road on the Coelsch’s farm. Through their dust I saw them drop into a dry creek bed flowing with sagebrush off to the left. Naturally, thinking nothing of it, I dropped in after them. Almost instantly my world began spinning out of control until it stopped as quickly as it began. I couldn’t see my bicycle anywhere. All I could see was dirt and sagebrush. I was tightly lodged deep inside the belly of a co-conspiring sagebrush monster. Its prickly tentacles wrapped around me so tight I couldn’t move as it clearly enjoyed trying to wring as many tears and screams as he could from my eyes and throat until my brothers found me a half hour (weeks?) later. When I’d take a breath between screams, off in the distance behind me, I’m pretty sure I could hear my bicycle laughing.
That shook me up. I debated abandoning bikes for good. But my own naive nature was overpowered by the seductive and unpredictable influence of my bicycle once again. Bicycles as a species are truly master manipulators. They give you just enough painless fun to keep you hooked, only to patiently wait for the timing to be just right to jab you with one of their evil little games when you’re least expecting it. My bike waited several years after heartlessly leaving me for dead in the sagebrush before it executed its next mockery.
By this point I had gotten pretty good at riding bicycles. I loved the freedom and mobility bicycles provided. I loved the wind in my hair and on my face. I could crisscross town, meet up with friends, jump off curbs. Oh yeah…curbs! Have you ever jumped a bike off a curb? Of course you have. It’s only a few inches. It’s no big deal, right? Plus, it feels great when you learn to land smoothly with both the front and back tires hitting the pavement at the same time, doesn’t it? On one lazy summer afternoon, I absent-mindedly approached a curb at an unordinarily ordinary speed and jumped off it. My bike was only in the air a few inches off the ground for a split second when…
Did I mention bicycles are evil? This conniving little beast must have been planning this for years!
Again…I was caught completely off guard. There I was, laying in the gutter on Concord Street in another puddle of steel tubing, handlebars, tires, and pedals. But this time, there was nothing more than a single brake cable connecting the front half of my bike with the back half.
A curb!?! A little measly curb!
I think that stunt went a little further than my bicycle planned. The only good thing that came out of it, was that my first little evil bike was dispatched to the junk yard so quickly, it never got a chance to pass on its agenda to his shiny, new, innocent replacement. Thank goodness!
My new bike was a rare, precious, gentle soul—as far as bicycles go. We quickly became best friends. We went everywhere together. It defended me against rabid Dobermans, faithfully accompanied me to school, Little League games and my first jobs. A big part of me wishes I had never outgrown that bike. It even made me wonder if my early suspicions about the unbecoming nature of bicycles had been made misplaced. Sadly, I would soon realize, I had been right all along.
The most wicked and criminally natured bicycle of all was a smoky charcoal colored K2 mountain bike I bought from my oldest brother. I had enjoyed years of blessed coexistence with the bike of my youth. I had let my guard down. I had forgotten what they were really like. And my new bike didn’t waste any time showing me what he was made of.
I had graduated from high school and my brother Matt and I were living in The Dalles, Oregon with my oldest brother Eric and his family. Matt and I both worked at Eric’s Dairy Queen downtown and would often race each other to work on our bikes. One time, my wicked new bike actually convinced me I could pass my brother while leaning around the first hairpin curve on Jefferson Street. Jefferson street has an insanely steep, curvy, two-block stretch that often gets shutdown during the winter due to icy treachery. As I arched around that first steep curve, I hit a patch of gravel and instantly slid off course. Miraculously, I kept my wheels under me and managed to just sort of skip and bounce along the guardrail on the left-hand side of the road. As soon as I regained confidence I would stay on my wheels, I glanced over my shoulder and rejoiced at the impressive gains I made on my brother.
BAM! Whoosh! I was airborne.
First I went up. Then I went forward. And then…I just…well…flew. No pain. Just gliding through the air. The view was incredible. Wind rushing through my hair. Although I didn’t remember doing so, I was even somehow clever enough to leave my shoes back with my bike a split second before engaging in unaided human flight. I thought I was really flying since the distance between my pterodactyl-like form and the ground beneath me, remained relatively constant for what seemed like a VERY long time!
Turns out when you enter a free-fall at a similar angle to a steep drop or cliff-ish hillside, it has the tendency of producing a sensation of supermanning horizontally as opposed to free falling vertically. Eventually I landed. Then I rolled. When I stopped, I’m pretty sure I heard that distant, but familiar chuckle. I have no doubt my evil bicycle knew exactly where that tiny piece of unmovable steel was that protruded from the guardrail at just the right spot to plunge my front brake caliper as deeply into the spokes of my wheel as it did. Cunning little twerp.
And after Jefferson Street, things quickly went from terrible to ridiculous. To this day, I don’t know which force was stronger at play; my raging pride attempting to show my devious bike who the boss really was, or my bike’s slippery, manipulative attempt to lure me into a battle he knew I had no chance of winning. I was doomed from the start really. Coming off of years of completely uncharacteristic kindness at the hands of a bicycle, I was in no place to go up against this grizzled ex-con of a bicycle. I never should have fallen into his trap. I’m pretty sure he was even in cahoots with the wind that day. It effortlessly pushed my brother Matt and I out of The Dalles and up the Columbia Gorge with such ease and speed, I should have recognized it as the sign it was.
We had decided to ride our heavy, steel mountain bikes from The Dalles to Walla Walla (155 miles) in one day. My bicycle didn’t even bother waiting till until his stunt was complete before he started snickering at me this time. I’m guessing he even looked at the weather forecast. We didn’t. It soared past 100 degrees Fahrenheit and we didn’t bring sunscreen.
We made it to Arlington with ease. We were doing it! We were actually going to make it! By the time we made it to Umatilla though, we were flopping fully clothed into the Columbia River every few miles in order to simply stay alive in the heat. By the time the sun started going down and we were climbing the long hill before Touchet, my brother was yelling and swearing at me. My bike laughed out loud at this point. He knew it was impossible. We were untrained, unprepared.
We stopped at a pay phone in Touchet. I dialed my sister’s number in Walla Walla to come get us. It was too much. We just couldn’t go any further. The bicycle would just win this one.
Then, for some reason, I hung up the phone.
I got back on my bike. Matt got back on his. We didn’t say a word. We just started pedaling. We made it to Walla Walla that night. Even though we couldn’t sleep for days due to bodies covered in sunburn blisters and muscles screaming with pain—evil lost that day.
I’ve always loved bicycles. But love isn’t always a good thing. Some people love explosives. Others love meth. Some of us are simply destined to love evil things. Me… I love bicycles. And bicycles are evil.
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