I’m fine. My Mom told me once when I phoned her to pick me up early after a fire at the gym that you should always open these sorts of stories with that so: I’m fine.
I was trying to get
a headstart a sort of on time-ish start on Christmas shopping and took a bit of a tumble off my bike. I was moving to change lanes to go around a large parked truck and my wheel got caught in the streetcar tracks and I went into a skid and ended up on the pavement.
I credit a generally clumsy nature and several years of gymnastics training when I was younger for my being a good faller. Seriously, the art of getting your hands underneath you and twisting to avoid major organ and bone damage is underappreciated by many, but is a valuable skill. However, I don’t have quite as much practice with falling while a 40 pound bike limits your ability to move. I am taking that as the explanation of how I must have contorted myself to end up with a scraped pinky, swollen thumb and small bruise on my knee on my left side, but two cuts on my face on the right side. That and about four layers of winter padding protecting my rib cage. Although how I ended up scraping my pinky through thick mittens will remain forever a mystery.
I’m sure that most folks would tell you that if you fall off your bike on a major city street and all you lose is a couple chunks of skin and some patellar capillary integrity, you should count yourself pretty lucky. And I do. You know, thank goodness there were no cars coming behind me. Thank goodness I wasn’t going that fast. It could certainly have been worse. So I do feel very lucky. But there is another feeling that people don’t seem to talk about quite as much. Not directly. Not as loudly. The other thing you feel is this: incredibly stupid.
I’ve listened to friends and family who have been in car accidents tell their stories over and over. A friend took a turn onto a gravel road too fast and the car spun out, causing her to warn everyone she saw for the next while about slowing down on gravel. My Mom went into a ditch after hitting a patch of black ice and she swore over and over she “should have known” it was there even though it is the nature of black ice to be invisible. A friend got rear-ended in a lineup of stopped cars on a bridge by someone who just plain wasn’t paying attention and caused a domino effect of three or four cars being jolted into the car in front of them. They all got charged with following too close and the nature of this law and the inattentive driver were subjects for many discussions that followed. I never really understood the tendency to relive these terrible moments repeatedly. Until now.
I wish there was someone or something I could blame. I’ve tried pretty hard to find one, replaying everything that I remember. It’s not just a cliché that “it happened so fast”. Everything before the accident, the warning signs you saw or should have seen, the ways you could have been more prepared, those are all burned into your brain, but the moment from when my tire went into the track until I ended up on the ground is pretty unclear.
I wonder if this is why tensions run so high on the road sometimes, especially after accidents and near-misses. Of course people react to the danger and potential damage, too, but if you’ve been in an “accident” like this that was avoidable, but you’re confused about what exactly happened and you felt stupid, you want someone or something to blame. I know the dangers! I’m a good cyclist! I’ve been riding over three years here accident-free! It can’t possibly have been my fault. And so if there had been a moving car around, or an illegal parking job or a poorly maintained road, I am certain I would be hurling many insults at all of them.
I tried being angry at the truck for being so wide (the width of an entire lane? Really?). And I tried being angry at the streetcar track with its need to be all tire-sized (what is with vehicles that move large numbers of people efficiently requiring wheels?). But in the end there’s only my own stupid, idiotic self to blame. I know those streetcar tracks are a death trap. I know they have to be crossed at an angle. Add to this the fact that I probably shouldn’t have been out in the first place since I’m sick (good news: I bought the Christmas presents before crashing and they survived intact. The art of falling well, I tell ya) and I seem even stupider. I saw the truck in plenty of time and checked the lane was clear. And yet I still ended up on the pavement. I just somehow didn’t get the wheel turned quite enough. Or something I guess. I’m still not sure. It happened so fast.
I jumped up after the crash. A fellow cyclist happened to be travelling the other way and asked me if I was okay. I assured her I was, but in the way you sort of do when you’re in shock and embarrassed and just want to hustle off the road. Not sure if she was experienced in such things, but she crossed the road and asked again if I was okay. I peeled off my left mitt since it felt like my fingers might be broken, but there were just the cuts and I told her again it was fine, muttered about the “stupid streetcar tracks” and made some excuse about not being used to riding downtown. She told me about crossing at an angle and I said I knew that but I guess I just hadn’t managed it. She asked again if I was okay (why so awesome #bikeTO?) and said I had dirt on my face, although it turned out there were cuts underneath that. Assuring me that it was totally normal to be shaken up from the scare, she eventually rode off.
I got on my bike and realized the chain had fallen off. I fixed that and then realized I’d lost my mirror. So I went back and grabbed that off the road, remounted and discovered the cockpit was completely crooked.
I must have yanked really hard on the handlebars when I got stuck in the tracks and twisted it, but whatever strength I’d called on when trying desperately to get out of the skid along the tracks was no longer with me and I couldn’t straighten it up without tools. I actually tried to ride it in a “get back on that horse” attempt at courage, but holding the handlebars crooked to go straight goes against everything in your brain and I gave up after a block, figuring there was no need to compound stupidity with more stupidity by doing something unnecessarily dangerous. I did the walk of shame onto the subway, and was reminded of how long it’s going to take to get places now as we waited for quite some time at Bloor. In fact, we waited long enough that my face began to thaw and the cuts there started to sting. But eventually I made it home and for that I’m grateful.
Cyclists in Toronto are very aware that if they get in an accident on the road, it’s their fault. The mayor, back in the days he was still a councillor, made that very clear to them. And yet even in cases like this when it’s true, it’s completely unhelpful. One could say the same about many car accidents I’m sure, but I’m not aware of any politicans who do as a general statement. We are all responsible for our own safety and need to be aware of the risks any time we choose to get on the road, of course. We should ride and drive responsibly for our own sake. But we should also do it for everyone else out there. Because if you spend any number of hours on the road, at some point, you will mess up. You will do something stupid, something you should know better about, even if only momentarily. And that moment of stupid could be trouble. Or maybe, like me, you get lucky.
Please ride and drive safely as things turn colder and slipperier. Your extra attention could compensate for someone else’s momentary lapse. Help make the world luckier.