Saturday, October 22

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It’s hot and windy. 80-something in the sun, at least. It is not a perfect day for a bike ride, but it will work, and I haven’t ridden anywhere in months, so I become determined. Lacking any special destination, I head for Hygiene.

There’s a stand selling honey at the turn onto 75th, so I buy some. I’ve been thinking about the idea that eating locally-produced honey will somehow innoculate you against allergens. It’s probably nonsense, but it’s the kind of folk-medicine thing you hear from people for long enough and it starts to sound plausible. It’s probably worth a try.

I sit around with the locals at the farm (it’s an ever-rotating cast) and talk nonsense over a joint and a pickle jar full of water, buy a deli sandwich at the market by the intersection, and head west on Hygiene Road with a stop along the way for more bullshitting.

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If you ever want a good sense of how people driving cars feel about sharing road space with bikes, Hygiene Rd is a useful exercise. With the exception of a few bridges and pullouts, there’s no paved shoulder — just a white line where pavement turns into dirt and goathead thorns.

I learn over and over that the safest thing to do on roads like this one is usually to take and hold the unambiguous center of the lane, which seems to force some mental switch for drivers that gets them to cross the line and take the other lane. Or maybe even wait to pass if there’s oncoming traffic.

I waver, though — the other thing that taking the lane does is make people angry. Honking, yelling out windows. Every time I do it, I remember the drivers I ride with (usually good people, my friends, etc.) who will gesture extravagantly and yell “GET OFF THE ROAD” in situations where the rules of the road clearly allow (or require!) bikers to be where they are. There’s a psychological tide pulling you ever closer to hugging the edge. You get to feeling that maybe meek conformity to expected norms will keep you alive longer than asserting your presence. Or you feel that way until a couple tons of metal tear past at 50 or 60 mph a few inches off your left elbow.

A home truth about cycling in America is that, whatever the statistics are on fatalities per passenger mile traveled, it’s pretty dangerous to bike on a large subset of roads. I suppose conformity to expected norms by way of not being on a bike is the major outcome of realizing that, for most people.

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I don’t mean to get all adversarial about this, as hostile as things sometimes get in practice. I drive a lot on roads that are popular with the local road bike community, and I live in fear of the day I see somebody die because he (it’s just about always he) decides it’s well within his rights to ride three abreast out into the lane on a curvy, 60mph two lane highway full of tourist drivers already overwhelmed by the presence of mountains. Some of the standard-issue bike pieties wear kind of thin after a while, right along with some of the standard-issue bike behaviors.

Maybe there’s just a big experiential impedance mismatch between big metal boxes that feel slow at 40 miles an hour and skinny little metal frames that feel fast at 25. It’s probably best to remember that, however things should be, there’s an actual, material conflict of interests and modalities between different classes of vehicle. I piss off the drivers because I’m in their way. The drivers piss me off because there’s a decent chance they’ll kill me. So it goes.

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All the same: Riding bikes is one of the better things.