midlifedude

Man at midlife making second half matter

Archive for the category “bicycling”

Helmetless in Beach Town, USA

There’s something about being at a beach resort that makes people think they can ride a bike safely without wearing a helmet. Unfortunately, they’re wrong.

Drivers at the beach get distracted by cell phones, crying kids and scenic gazing, like anywhere else. Drivers at the beach drink and drive, at any time of day, like anywhere else. And cyclists at the beach make mistakes, bad decisions or errors in judgement, like anywhere else. And accidents happen. And if you’re on a bike and in an accident, your chances of survival and preventing a brain injury are greater if you’re wearing a helmet, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

I’m a helmet-wearing cyclist, and have enjoyed frequently cycling the backroads, downtowns and main beach highway along the Delaware coast during my summer working in Bethany Beach. But I’ve been amazed at how few cyclists wear helmets; I would Bike_NoHelmetestimate 1 of 10 or fewer wear the most basic protective equipment. It seems the only cyclists who wear helmets are the ones who are serious about cycling and engage in the sport as a regular form of exercise. Nearly everyone else on bikes, who ride as an efficient and convenient form of transportation where car-parking is at a premium, goes helmetless.

Sometimes I even see kids wearing bike helmets, which is smart and great, while the parents go helmetless, which is stupid and irresponsible. If you’re going to have your kids wear helmets, set the example yourself! Parenting 101.

In my short time in Bethany Beach, two cyclists have died in accidents within a week of each other. In one case, the cyclist was not wearing a helmet.

In the second incident, the cyclist was reported to have been wearing a helmet, but made an error in judgement while traveling on a high-speed beach highway. Delaware Police report an increase in bicycle- and pedestrian-related accidents this year.

So many cyclists ride helmetless on the congested, multi-traffic signal, six-lane commercial artery outside of Rehoboth Beach, where drivers often are harried just like in any urban or suburban traffic-clogged environment, or are looking for a shopping or dining destination and may be oblivious to cyclists. Last summer a cyclist was killed on this Route 1 beach commercial strip.

It’s common sense to wear a bike helmet, just like wearing a seat belt. I’ve noticed the casual, carefree lifestyle at the beach seems to lure people into a false sense of security and safety.

What’s Wrong with People and Why are Cyclists Targets of Their Stupidity

I went for an bike ride last evening on a usual route in a semi-rural/wealthy suburban region of my county. The weather was perfect, with the sun beginning to set, and the ride was peaceful – except for the three different motorists who either hurled epithets at me or yelled and waved their arms at me from behind, apparently trying to scare me.

And all I can think is, What the hell is wrong with these people? And why do they love making cyclists the target of their displaced anger or desire to harass or bully? Because that’s what it is.

The worst offender was the man driving in the opposite direction that I was cycling, in the opposite lane. He purposefully slowed down, pointed his arm at me out the window and RoadRageyelled a few indecipherable words followed by a clear, “Faggot!” What inspires such unprovoked anger and hatred, I have no idea.

On my way back on my circuitous route, two times people yelled and screeched at me from behind and stuck arms out the window. One seemed to be a carload of teenagers. This happens often to cyclists, perpetrated by ignorant and disrespectful people who have no concept that cyclists take risks every time they ride the roads, and that being startled by a piercing scream coming from an approaching vehicle can cause a cyclist to swerve and lose balance just enough to wipe out.

I’ve never had the desire to yell at a cyclist from a vehicle. I don’t know where that comes from. We do have a lot of anger problems in our society, and I suppose it has to get displaced somewhere. In my counseling internship, I counseled several people with nearly uncontrollable rage, including one who could be set off by a look or slightest misstep by another. They had no idea why they felt that way, but desperately wanted to get rid of it.

When I get cursed or screeched at while riding a bike, I can feel a little road rage coming on myself. I have the desire to track down the motorist and get in his face (perpetrators are always male) and yell, What the f*** is wrong with you, a**hole! Or at least get the license plate, though I don’t know what I would do with that information. But of course the motorist is long gone before I can do anything. So I just put it in perspective, shake my head, let any feelings of anger dissolve quickly, try to feel compassion for the disturbed motorist and keep on pedaling.

Speaking of road rage, it’s a growing epidemic, an indication of our frantic, largely self-absorbed society. In the last week, right in front of my son’s high school, a man driving erratically during the morning commuting hours pulled out a gun and shot at another motorist, hitting the driver’s side door. I can’t say I would be totally surprised if someday I see a driver pointing a gun at me as I cycle the road, especially someone with explosive anger who believes I have held him up from his destination.

Do any cyclists out there have similar stories of being targeted by angry or just plain stupid motorists attempting to torment you as a lark? I’d love to read them.

Country Roads, Take Me Home

A blizzard is supposed to hit the DMV (District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia) today, January 22. I’ll finally have to put my bike away.

I lost a job in October. Quit, resigned, fired, laid off, mutual parting of the ways – it doesn’t really matter. I was on the unemployment line. But it was for the best. It has allowed me to focus on ramping up my graduate program in counseling and focusing more time and attention on my internship, as I make a midlife transition.

Still, the last few months on the job and its loss was stressful. To cope, I engaged in Cycling Fridays, taking the day off from other activities to travel to Carroll County, Maryland, bordering on Pennsylvania, to ride routes through backroads, rolling hills, farmland and small towns.

I have nostalgia for Carroll County, a largely rural and agricultural county that has been

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Would you buy a used car from this dealer? I could imagine the Bates Motel up the hill.

steadily suburbanizing. I worked there for four years as a reporter for The Baltimore Sun, covering agriculture, small towns and county government. I visited dozens of farmers in picturesque settings, writing stories about droughts, dairy operations, beef cattle, breeding, hog farming, farm wives, spring plantings and soybean production. I always loved the country roads and the scenery.

 

After my job loss, I thought I would make one trek back to my old stomping ground and hang it up for the season. But the weather stayed mild, so I returned for a second Friday. The calendar turned to November, and I thought for sure my Cycling Fridays would be

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Everyone should enjoy the privilege of cycling through “Redneck Paradise”

numbered. But November was often positively summer-like, with temperatures in the 70s, so I continued. December would surely be the end.

 

But December turned out to be a record-warm month for the area, by far: The average temperature was 51.2 degrees, 11.5 degrees warmer than normal, and 5.5 degrees warmer than the previous warmest December. So on Christmas Day, I was back in Carroll County, cycling in my shorts, temperatures in the 60s. It rained that day – hard – but I didn’t care. How can you complain about riding a bike outside in the Northeast on Christmas Day? I had the whole county to myself that day; there wasn’t a soul outside.

All told, I made seven cycling pilgrimages, lifting my spirits through near-weekly rides

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Coolest-looking vehicle I’ve seen for sale along the road.

along creeks, past barns and grazing cows, into valleys, through village outposts that time forgot with names like Pleasant Valley and over hills with panorama views of endless farmland and the Blue Ridge Mountains.

 

I saw a few interesting sights along the way, featured in photos here: The guy with the

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The “F Dallas” Redskins-mobile, a real hard core fan. 

tricked-out, burgundy and gold Washington Redskins car with the gold wheel rims and the “F Dallas” license plate, a reference to the Redskins’ longtime rival; the front yard sign hanging from a tree reading, “Welcome to Redneck Paradise;” and a Used Car lot that could have employed the creepy Norman Bates, proprietor of the Bates Motel in “Psycho.”

 

I’m resigned to the chill and shutdown and difficult mobility of the pending blizzard, but glad that it held off long enough for me to rejuvenate my mind, body and spirit on a bike.

Ridin’ Scared: Whistling Through America’s Most Murderous City Park

Tomorrow my daughter Rebecca will run the Baltimore Marathon for the second time, quite an accomplishment for a 19-year-old, a running career I documented here, along with a video of the most enthusiastic and devoted marathon fan.

But I didn’t tell the story of my offbeat and slightly harebrained adventure in 2014 to see Rebecca finish the race in the heart of Baltimore.

I didn’t want to jam into a light rail train car at 6 a.m. or get stuck trying to maneuver and park my own car among nearly 30,000 runners and their families, so I came up with the idea to ride my bike to the start/finish area at the Orioles and Ravens stadium complex. I studied the Baltimore City map and found what looked like the most scenic and direct route to enter the city from the west, where I live.

My wife Amy and Rebecca urged me not to ride my bike all the way through Baltimore to the city center, concerned about my safety. But as Amy knows all too well, the more she urges me not to do something, the more determined I become to do it (Disclaimer: This particular practice is not recommended for guys as a lesson for improving your marriage.)

I drove to a Park & Ride just outside the city, embarked on my bike, and soon reached the historic 17th century mill village of Dickeyville, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and the adjoining historic mill town of Franklintown. After riding through these pastoral, historic areas with their old stone buildings and lush greenery, I entered Leakin Park. Leakin Park was serene and beautiful, an oasis of nature in the city with streams, trails and mature forest that stretched for miles. I thought I was in the countryside.

But as soon as I emerged from Leakin Park, I entered Baltimore’s West Side slums. I rode several miles through blighted streets dotted with boarded-up and vacant houses and dilapidated urban housing projects, which dominated the landscape until several blocks before the stadiums.

I had no idea about Leakin Park’s reputation until more than a month later when I told my story of urban cycling to my wife’s family at Thanksgiving dinner. “You rode through Leakin Park? What were you thinking!?” was their response.

It was then that I learned that Leakin Park is known as the Deadliest Park in America. It is the setting in the Serial true murder mystery podcast – a spinoff of This American Life radio show – and the site of a search for a dead body in HBO’s The Wire about the cat-and-mouse chase between Baltimore police and drug gangs. Serial features the 1999 murder of high school student Hae Min Lee, whose body was found in Leakin Park. Her ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed, was convicted and is serving a life sentence for the crime.

Leakin Park’s reputation as a Dead Zone is well-deserved. It gained infamy in 1968, when four young boys were found dead in the park. Many believe that Leakin became a preferred dumping ground for bodies because of exactly what I experienced riding through it – it’s on the edge of West Baltimore’s crime-ridden neighborhoods, yet it feels a world away from urban blight.

Dead bodies discovered in Leakin Park have been documented as a research hobby of Ellen Worthing, who created the website Bodies of Leakin Park. Her research found that 67 bodies were discovered in Leakin Park since 1968 – a number that may actually be higher because of a six-year gap in Baltimore Sun library archives.

I was blissfully ignorant on my ride to the 2014 Baltimore Marathon. I was oblivious that Leakin Park was also leakin’ blood, leakin’ menace, leakin’ secrets and leakin’ revenge. I only saw one or two people during my ride through the park. Maybe I was lucky that it was 8:30 a.m. on a Saturday. Mayhem was sleeping in.

I enjoy telling the story now about my brush with death, my whistling journey through the graveyard, a 21st century Ichabod Crane on bike unwittingly fleeing the Headless Horseman. It’s a nice memory and a story that is ripe for great embellishments. But you won’t see me cycling through Leakin Park on Baltimore Marathon Day 2015. Body #68 will be somebody else.

DEAD BODIES IN LEAKIN PARK:

Leakin Park Bodies June 2011 jpg

Solidarity Amid Tragedy: A Ride for Tom

I spent New Year’s Day 2015 attending a funeral of sorts for someone I had never met. It was a moving event, literally and figuratively. Maybe 1,000 or more avid cyclists and casual riders alike gathered in Baltimore at the Episcopal Cathedral of the Incarnation – a starting point with sad significance — and took over the streets in a sea of bikes on a 35 degree day as the sun faded, riding in solidarity to the spot where a cyclist was killed by a drunk and distracted driver.

Tom Palermo, a cyclist, bike frame maker, professional, married father of two young children died Dec. 27 when hit from behind while riding in a bike lane on one of Baltimore’s more bike-friendly streets. The crime has attracted national and even international attention because of its egregious nature and the status of its perpetrator. Tom was run down by the second highest ranking bishop in Maryland’s Episcopal Church hierarchy, who had a flagrant previous arrest for driving under the influence. This time, the bishop drove away from the accident scene with a shattered windshield with a big hole in it from where Tom crashed through it. She returned to the scene later only after cruising by and being noticed by another cyclist who stopped to render aid, and who chased her down. She has been charged with manslaughter, driving with a .22 blood alcohol level (legal limit .08), texting while driving and leaving the scene of an accident.

When I heard news of the accident and the impromptu plan for a New Year’s Day memorial ride for Tom, I felt compelled to be there. If there was ever a case where the saying, “There but for the grace of God go I” applied, it was this one. I imagine all the cyclists felt the same kinship. I had spent half of 2014 campaigning for Maryland state delegate, and used my bike as a campaign tool to go door to door and to advertise. The bike was equipped with a trailer with campaign signs on each side and in back. It did not earn enough votes to win, but it made campaigning more enjoyable and kept me in shape.

However, I was often keenly aware how vulnerable I was – much more so than the one- to three-week long bike trips I’ve taken in my younger days. Most of the roads I traveled had no bike lanes or even shoulders, and traffic that could hit 40-50 mph or more. Drivers often seemed in a rush and distracted, oblivious to me. I was always one driver mistake away from meeting the same fate as Tom.

The Baltimore cyclists rode three or four miles on Jan. 1 to a makeshift memorial with flowers and candles and messages where the accident happened, and solemnly observed a memorial session with Tom’s family and bicycle advocates as a community.  A white “ghost bike” was locked to a pole in Tom’s memory. Many were angry – a homemade memorial featuring a bike wheel and bike seat stood in the road’s median, with the seat inscribed with “I Am Angry.” But this was a time to remember Tom and support his family. Justice would have to be sought later.

The vast majority of the people at the ride had never met Tom, just like me. But there was an unmistakable feeling of connection, of familiarity. Tom was us, Tom was me. He was 10 years younger than me, but in ways similar. He had a boy and a girl, just like me, two years apart, just like me. He loved to ride, just like me. At his memorial, his family talked about how hard it was for Tom to find time to ride in recent times, with a young family, a full time job as a software engineer at Johns Hopkins Hospital and a side business. I could relate to that; when my kids were 6 and 4, free time was at a premium.

On a sunny and relatively mild December Saturday afternoon, Tom had been able to carve out some time for himself and had gone out for a ride, and never came back. It was unbelievably, crushingly, maddeningly sad.

The light amid the darkness was the spontaneous reaction of people to be there, that people cared about what happened and showed it through their actions in what can often be a cold and uncaring world. That it mattered to be there. That all the texting and Twittering and Facebooking could not substitute for being present, for joining a brotherhood and sisterhood with a common avocation to acknowledge one of their own. I had debated whether or not to go – it was cold, I wanted to relax at home on a day off. But when the time came, I knew I would regret inaction, so I went and I’m glad I did. It was among the most moving events I have ever experienced, largely because of its spontaneity. A thousand cyclists claiming their piece of ownership of the streets – if only for an hour – is quite a spectacular sight.

As I have reached well into midlife, I have become more and more aware of mortality. This is nothing unusual. But incidents like Tom’s just serve to remind me – I don’t know when my number is up. Life does feel more precious; it becomes more urgent to strive for fulfillment, meaning and self-actualization. Perhaps there does come a point in everyone’s life when there is no more time to wait for tomorrow or someday. A week or so after Tom’s accident, we heard about ESPN’s Stuart Scott – BOOYAH! – passing away after a long fight with cancer. He was two years younger than me.

I imagine I will often think of Tom when I ride. I have thought about him every day since the memorial ride. And like every other cyclist there that day – I would bet my life on this – I am not going to stop riding the roads. It comes with some risk, but so does life.

I never knew Tom, but I wish I did. I have a feeling I would have liked him. I wish the best for his family.

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