The Other Side of the Tracks

I’ve been off line for a bit, training hard for the Seattle to Portland Bicycle Classic (with my daughter Maggie). Toward the end, we were riding about 120 miles a week. That takes a lot of hours–hours that kept me from the computer and from writing.  We finished the 205 mile ride on July 10th, feeling strong. As a ride, it went well.

But on June 4th, we had a frightening training ride,  and in the process, we discovered a very powerful lesson. It began on a sunny Saturday morning with the plan to complete 60 miles of the Burke Gillman Trail, in Seattle, Washington. Some of you know that  the BG isn’t finished in the Ballard portion, and just six miles into our ride, as we headed west, we turned a corner to make an alarming discovery. I had swung wide, ending up on the “wrong side” of a set of unused railroad tracks.

Maggie managed to end up on the traffic side of the tracks, riding safely parallel to them. I, on the other hand, was on the shoulder side of the tracks, with these two iron rails (running parallel to our direction of travel), lying between me and the riding lane. I needed to cross those tracks; but I knew I was in trouble.

The cardinal rule of bike riding is NEVER, EVER cross railroad tracks without crossing at a 90 degree angle. I knew that. I said out loud, “Oh boy. I’m in trouble. I don’t want to be here.” I said it several times.

But I never stopped to think through the problem. I was too anxious to cross the tracks, to keep going, to make progress. We had so far to go, you know? I knew the rule, and I must have decided that I could successfully break it (though I don’t really remember making that decision). I swung wide and took a sharp angle toward the first rail. Crossed it. Still up.

Crossing the second rail, my tire caught in the space between the rail and the pavement. I went down like a rock from a jet airliner– at maximum velocity — never even removing my hands from the bar hoods. I crashed, elbow first, hips and knees only slightly behind, into the pavement, landing directly in the traffic behind me. Luckily, no car was nearby, and a rider behind me blocked the traffic lane while I tried to get off the pavement. At the moment of impact, I got a terrible cramp in my left calf. Wrenching myself out of the pedals, I danced in the street to rid myself of the cramp, before collapsing on the side of the road and weeping in pain. I thought I’d broken my left elbow.

The pain was so intense that while Maggie cleansed it with an antibiotic wipe, I never felt her digging out the gravel.

We managed to get me patched up, go to a repair shop (where they re-hung my front deraileur), and finish our sixty mile ride. I was sore, but not dead, and for that I am very grateful.

I got to thinking about that set of tracks and the cardinal rule that I’d broken. Why did I think that I’d get away with it? Why didn’t I stop and make a safer plan? Why the big hurry? Why the foolish decision?

Isn’t that like sin? Don’t we think we’ll “get away with it?” Just this once? I’m too busy. It’s too important. No one will notice. I won’t get hurt. No one else will get hurt. And we do what we KNOW BETTER THAN TO DO.

I’ve done it. I’ve had that fleeting thought, “this won’t work well.” And I’ve done it anyway. Lost my temper. Said something I later regret. And like the bicycle, I’ve found myself on the ground in a virtual heap.

Makes you think doesn’t it? Had a rail trip you up lately?


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