midlifedude

Man at midlife making second half matter

Archive for the category “cycling”

The Good Samaritans

Previously I wrote, What’s Wrong with People and why are Cyclists the Targets of Their Stupidity, a jaded look at a trend in society toward disrespect, rudeness, coarseness and in-your-face, bullying behavior, often manifested in belligerence toward cyclists.  Today I experienced the opposite type of behavior, a boost for my faith in humanity (although, maybe not coincidentally, the graciousness came from a fellow cyclist).

I was riding a 6.75-mile trail in my new hometown of Summerville, SC when my back tire went flat more than five miles from the trail’s start and my parked car. I was unprepared BikeFlatTireAnimated– no patch kit, no extra inner tube.  What can I say? I was never a Boy Scout. It was a Flat Tire, Choose moment: Either throw a fit, swear to the gods, kick the back tire and throw the bike into the adjacent creek, or suck it up, accept bad luck and solve the problem.

I began backtracking the five-plus miles I had already cycled on foot, pushing the bike, not wanting to damage the rim by riding on a flat. I was resigned to a walk of at least one hour and 15 minutes to get back to my car. Soon after I began my walk, a woman on a bike passed me going the opposite direction. About 15 minutes later, a mile or so into my trek, I heard a voice from behind me.

“Excuse me, do you need some help?”

I turned around to find the same woman who had passed me earlier, now alongside me, straddling her bike.

“I got a flat and I don’t have what I need to fix it.”

“Where are you heading?”

“To the beginning of the trail.”

“How far is that?”

“About four or five miles.”

“My husband is walking our dog. He’s going to meet me at the parking lot at the bridge. I just have to find him and we could give you a ride in our truck,” she offered.

“You mean the bridge we passed about a half-mile back?”

“Yeah, there’s a path up to the parking lot. You may beat us back there.”

Having watched too many Dateline and 48 Hours episodes, and living with a wife who often warns me of hypothetical criminals who could be lurking around every corner, I momentarily imagined myself naively getting in the couple’s pickup truck, and in short order, being taken hostage, tortured at gunpoint and my lifeless body dumped in a swamp off the road, a vision that conjures up the derelict, sociopathic Brad Pitt character Early in Kalifornia.

I could have been fooled badly, but I detected genuine goodness in my fellow cyclist, and went on faith that her husband would be similarly congenial.

“I’ll meet you at the parking lot,” I said, and turned around to head from whence I just came.

The young couple, likely in their 20s, met me at the parking lot just like she said, helped me load my bike into the pickup along with her bike, gave me the front seat, and drove me five miles out of their way to my car. We engaged in conversation during the drive, with her husband referring to me respectfully as “sir” (not that I expect to be called “sir” by people junior to me in age, but I have experienced that a lot in the South so far).

I thanked them multiple times for their graciousness. I wanted to bottle the moment to revisit every time I feel myself becoming cynical about mankind. They were the type of people I would like to corral as new friends, if not for our generation gap.

We parted. I may never see them again, unless I run into them on the trail. No life was at stake; the situation was not desperate. Nevertheless, I likely will never forget their act of pure kindness for a complete stranger. Thank you Angela and Chris, Good Samaritans both.

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Ode to a 33-Year Relationship that Ended Badly

She was a love of my life. We had 33 wonderful years together, from young adulthood well into midlife. But in the end, she got old, and her body, especially the most important parts, just wore out. Things loosened and sagged. Her usual sharp edges dulled. Midlife is unforgiving in that way. And she hurt me, cut me like a knife. I’m still scarred from our relationship.

Ultimately, I just had to let her go. Our relationship had been broken; she was damaged goods and couldn’t be fixed without making wholesale changes. I wish I could say I let her go gently, but that would be a lie. I discarded her like a piece of junk on a scrap heap, and never looked back. I knew she could easily be replaced with a better version that would make me feel safer, happier and livelier, maybe even younger, and eliminate my doubts and anxiety.

Though the ending was brutal, particularly for her, that should in no way invalidate the great times and adventures we enjoyed together, where we essentially operated as one finely-tuned unit.

We first got acquainted as college sweethearts, as I was entering my senior year. We got familiar with each other during those innocent times, spending weekends together in the idyllic small towns, rolling hills and farms of Upstate New York.

Over the next decade, she was a constant companion. We would travel together through the Montana and Canadian Rockies, sleeping under the stars and a light August snowfall; down the rugged Washington and Oregon coasts; amid tropical Florida barrier islands and quaint Vermont towns; and on long, carefree journeys through the Shenandoah, Blue Ridge and Great Smoky Mountains. We enjoyed history together as well, touring the Gettysburg battlefields. We even competed together in triathlons, when she was in better shape than this last, disheartening year.

At home, she was always a loyal, steady and reliable partner. She was always there to pick me up,  ready to go when I needed to escape for a while, to clear my head, seek a change of scenery or just relax and re-energize.  For decades, I counted on her and returned her loyalty, even as I saw my contemporaries trade in their mates for younger, sleeker models. I admit to having envy, but I stuck by mine, perhaps stubbornly for too long.

Alas, all good things do come to an end. My longtime companion started giving me trouble last spring. Something was wrong with her, just wasn’t herself anymore. She became unreliable, nearly left me stranded a few times. Physically, she was breaking down, severely testing my patience. I took her to a specialist, and his prognosis was dire. The decline was irreversible without a major intervention.

Still, I decided to give her one more chance when others might have justifiably called it quits, taking her to Bethany Beach, DE with me for a summer 2017 of teaching tennis. We survived together for a while, but I was wary and it was touch-and-go whenever we spent time together. In short order, she let me down again. It was the last straw. I’d had enough. The relationship was irretrievably broken.

The grey Fuji Del Rey 12-speed touring bicycle that I had purchased for just more than $300 in 1984 had a drivetrain system that was worn and no longer functioning properly. The drive chain had become stretched and the gear teeth were dulled. If the pedal revolutions became too slow for the gear, the chain would detach from the gear teeth Bike_Fujiand the bike would become inoperable. Going up hills became an adventure, like in the movie Speed, where if the bus slowed to less than 50 mph a bomb on board would detonate. If I had to push too hard on the pedals, the chain would click…click…click…and fall off, leaving me on the side of the road trying to reattach the chain, hands blackened with grease.

The beach terrain is flat, so I thought I could milk one last summer out of my Fuji. On a backroads ride, I slowed too much for the gear I was in, and the chain detached. I reattached the chain, but apparently on the wrong gear ring. When I stepped on the pedal to start the wheels rolling, the chain detached and my leg crashed down onto the

BikeDismount (2)

The pair in happier times

gear teeth, leaving me with six cuts running up my right leg, a perfect imprint of the gear ring. I managed to reattach the chain correctly and ride another five miles home without incident, but bloodied. Months later, I still have the scars.

That was our last ride together, me and my ancient Fuji. I brought it home on a one-day trip back to Maryland and left it, where my wife unceremoniously placed it on the curb for trash pickup. I don’t know if a trash hauler saved her for a new life or crunched it into mangled metal. Either way, I didn’t care anymore. We had a past together, but I was over her. Me and Fuji, we were just so…yesterday.

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.

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

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