Bike Commuter Confessions

20 07 2014

Friday, on my bike ride home from work, I came within a centimeter or two of hitting a pedestrian. I’ve been thinking about it a lot ever since.

Here’s what happened. At about 5:30 on Friday, I was riding northbound on Eastlake approaching the intersection with Edgar. That’s a mild downhill, and I’d picked up some speed… I was going between 20 and 25 miles per hour in the right lane. For those not familiar with the intersection, it looks like this: 

Eastlake and Edgar

(Cars can’t park in the right lane in the evening commute, so picture the entire right lane as free.)

I see that the car in the left lane has slowed to a stop. As I come up behind the car I look to try to figure out why, and I see that there’s a pedestrian in the middle turn lane. My split second thoughts were: “Danger! Multiple threat. But if I keep going I’ll get through before the pedestrian.” So I decide to keep going. Actually, it’s less of a decision than instinctual reaction. Once I determine I won’t hit the pedestrian, my bike instinct says of course the right thing is to keep moving. A sudden stop would make me vulnerable to whatever unknown menace is behind me. It’s safer to swerve and dodge obstacles I can see in front of me than deal with the unknown in the back.

However, in this case, I read the situation wrong. What I didn’t anticipate: The pedestrian started running across the street once she was sure that the car in the left lane was stopping. She was trying to be courteous, unblock the road, and get to safety as quickly as possible. All things I understand. She didn’t see me coming in the right lane. Suddenly swerving and dodging isn’t an option. I hit my brakes as hard as I can and hope for the best. 

The pedestrian’s suddenly aware I’m coming. She stops, turns to face me, braces herself, and puts up her hands to protect her body. I know that’s instinct and I’m sure I’d do the same thing… but it seems so feeble. If I’d been a car, or if I hadn’t been braking hard on my bike, putting up her hands would accomplish nothing. I stop maybe 1-2 centimeters shy of a direct hit. Deep breath, and then… we all just go on our way. She continues across the road, I pedal on, nobody hurt, nobody even touched.

This whole thing took maybe two seconds, start to finish. And here I am, taking two hours to write this down, and spending even more time replaying it in my head. I’m not sure why. Part of it is I started out mad at the situation. What was this pedestrian thinking, running into my lane without looking? Could’ve gotten herself killed, grumble grumble. 

One part is trying to figure out what I should do differently on the road next time to avoid another close call. I guarantee that next time I see a pedestrian I’ll remember that they can start running and include that possibility in my is-it-safer-to-dodge-or-stop reaction. Maybe I should get a whistle to make sure people know I’m coming? I know if the pedestrian had seen me in the right lane, this would be a non-event.

My biggest lesson: I need to start slowing decisively but not unsafely when I see cars in other lanes are slowing. Maybe if I’d started stopping sooner, rather than waiting to see what was making the other driver slow down, it wouldn’t have turned into a panic stop and I could have yielded to the pedestrian’s right-of-way without fearing for my own safety.

I also keep replaying this out of regret that I didn’t stop to make sure she was OK and not shaken up. I regret I don’t know her name. She’s going to always be “the pedestrian” in my story, just like I’m “the asshole biker who almost hit me” in her story. I’m writing this and putting on the Internet in a feeble attempt to undo that regret. Maybe these words will somehow find their way to The Pedestrian. If you’re reading this, Pedestrian: “I’m sorry I almost hit you. I hope you’re OK, not shaken up too badly. I’ll try to do better next time. —Brian”





Easter in July

15 07 2014

I’ve been taking photos, I just haven’t done anything with them. So now there’s quite the backlog.

Here are my favorites of the boys at Mary Jane and Richard’s farm for Easter. Yes, I know, that was three months ago.

Alex on the Hay

Patrick on the Hay

Good Clean Fun

Springtime Silhouettes





Our Birthday Boy

18 03 2014

Molly had her most inspired birthday party planning yet. Invite 3 of Alex’s friends over, buy a nice Lego set for each of them, and let them build. It was less expensive than most of our birthday party ideas and way less trouble… the boys occupied themselves for two hours. Just building and silly eight-year-old boy chatter. They only needed parents when it was time to serve the cake and ice cream.

(This plan worked so well because our friend Ben kindly segregated the kindergarteners over at his house, also with their own Lego sets. He said they were also very well behaved and spent most of the time building. The moral: Keeping the age groups separated is the key to parental happiness.)

While this was simple, as you can see, Alex gave this party two thumbs up!

Happy Birthday Boy

The Cake





Bike Commuting, 1 Year In

3 03 2014

Monday, 8:40 AM. February in Seattle: The skies are dark gray and it’s doing that weird Seattle thing where millions of tiny water droplets seem suspended in the air. Mother Nature doesn’t even go through the bother of having the water fall on your head; as you move the air just makes you wet.

It’s time for my morning bike commute. My usual route has me climbing twisty, steep Ravenna Boulevard shortly after I leave my door. In the winter I value going uphill. As long as the temperature’s above freezing, I know I’ll be warm soon after I start an ascent.

To get downtown, I bike down Roosevelt Avenue, cross the University Bridge, head south on Eastlake, and finally ride a tiny stretch in heavy traffic on Stewart. I’ve always felt safe riding this route. There’s ample room for bikes and cars on most of the roads I ride. Because there’s a lot of bike traffic, drivers know to look for cyclists. My only accident in a year of commuting came from taking a downhill turn too fast and having my bike slip out from under me on a wet road… entirely my fault. (I treat wet roads with a lot of respect now.) 

Even though I’m comfortable biking next to cars, my bike commute requires me to be much more alert than when I drive to work. I’m scanning the road for bits of glass, gravel, or potholes. I’m listening for the cars approaching me from behind and I’m watching the ones in front of me… which ones need to turn right? I try to guess if any doors will open from the parked cars I pass. You know how you can drive along a familiar route, get to your destination, and not remember a thing about how you got there? That never happens on my bike commute. 

But oddly, “alert” does not equal “stressed.” Driving makes me stressed, like when I do the “death merge” in the morning from 520 over to the Stewart St. exit. Or when it’s time to drive home in the evening, and I neurotically monitor the I-5 traffic from the office window wondering if I have to leave NOW NOW NOW or if I can wait another 10 minutes and still pick up the kids. No, biking isn’t stressful. Riding alert makes me feel more connected to my city. Being exposed to the wind, rain, and sun connects me to the seasons. And, aside from that one ride home with the flat tire, I pretty much know exactly how long my commute will take. It’s so liberating to never worry about that. Even the Seahawks Super Bowl parade didn’t mess up the bike commuters.

So, even though it’s 39 degrees and wet, I start pedaling — and smiling.





Super Bowl Sunday

4 02 2014

We had some time to kill before the Super Bowl this past Sunday, so I took the boys to the aquarium. It turned out to be a great trip. It felt like we had the place to ourselves, as most families were preparing for parties. And the aquarium was in full Seahawks mode, too, so the kids got to enjoy that.

Marshawn Pinch

Marshawn Pinch Close Up

Maybe because it was less crowded, or maybe because they’re getting older, the kids seemed to enjoy the touch tanks and the octopus presentation more than usual. (Did you know an octopus brain is shaped like a doughnut? That’s because its throat needs to pass through its brain to get to the digestive system on the other side.)

Touch Tank

Giant Pacific Octopus

We walked up to Pike Place Market after the aquarium, and even it wasn’t crowded. Unbelievable. We got there just in time, I guess, as almost all the vendors were closing early as we were leaving. Everybody wanted to head home for the game. Especially our little seven-year-old.

Market Pigskin





Resolution Run 2014

3 01 2014

This all started because I was bored and surfing the internet.

I came across a blog post about the 12th Annual Polar Bear Plunge over at the Ravenna Blog. As I read it, I thought, “Hmm, if I jumped into Lake Washington on New Year’s Day and drank Hot Tang afterwards, I won’t be so bored. I wonder if I can talk Molly into this?” You can guess how that conversation went. It was quite one-sided… I tried to explain how bringing us and the kids to Matthews Beach to get wet outside on a cold day would be fun. She just stared at me, speechless, like I’d lost my mind. That idea went nowhere.

While I couldn’t talk Molly into it, I was now hooked on the idea of jumping into Lake Washington on New Year’s Day. Hidden at the end of the Ravenna Blog post was another crazy idea, which made more sense to me if I was the only one getting wet: The Resolution Run 5K and Polar Bear Dive. At least I’d get some exercise along with my hypothermia.

That’s how I found myself in a crowd of 2000 runners in the Magnuson Park boat launch parking lot early on New Year’s Day. The smells of chili, hot chocolate, and porta-potties blended in the air. I had arrived an hour before race time to make sure I had time to do my day-of registration. The announcer told us the air temperature was 46 degrees and the water temperature was 46 degrees, so we wouldn’t notice it at all when we got wet. (Ha!) With a jacket and an insulated mug of coffee, I had no problem staying warm during the first part of the morning. I had plenty of time to admire the runners in costume… lots of cardboard “Happy New Year!” hats and tiaras, plus one adult wearing one-piece flannel superman pajamas. He seemed the warmest of us all. There were also many high-school students, obviously on their respective track & cross-country teams, including some keeping warm in State Championship sweatshirts. Although they were less than half my age… or because they were less than half my age, they intimidated me.

At 25 minutes to race time, I stuffed my jacket, warm pants, and now-empty coffee mug into my backpack and turned it into the bag check. Now I was cold. I was wearing only a thin long-sleeved running shirt and shorts. Nothing I did warmed me up. I ran back and forth through the parking lot a couple of times, but the little bit of wind that created made me colder. I bounced up and down like a kangaroo with ADHD. That helped a little. I stuffed my hands into my armpits and kept my arms close to my body to conserve my body heat, and just waited it out.

10 minutes to go: I lined up for the race. Like most races, the Resolution Run sorts the field and puts faster runners near the front to keep things from clogging up. I needed to guess where I should line up. I’ve never run a 5K race before, but with the help of my GPS I’d run two solo 5K runs on the shore of Lake Michigan this past summer. On the second of those runs, I’d just barely managed to beat a 7-minute-mile average for the run. This was one of my big accomplishments of 2013. As a nerdy non-athelete in high school, the 7-minute-mile was the impossible speed of people who got the Presidential Medal for Physical Fitness. (Not me.) I’d never run a 7-minute-mile in my life until last winter, when I pulled it off for a single mile. I’d felt great about sustaining that pace for a whole 5K this summer, and I hoped I could do it again for this race, in spite of the cold. I lined up next to the 7-minute-mile marker.

I immediately felt like an impostor. Around me were the high school track runners and skinny adults who belong to running clubs. I didn’t belong. But at least I was finally warm… having all those people standing close by made things surprisingly comfortable.

With a blast of an air horn, the race started. It felt good to run. All the cold disappeared from my body. I passed some people early as the field spread out, but I was passed by many more. As I heard each set of footsteps approaching from behind, I thought, “Hmm, will I be able to keep up with this person?” The answer was always an undeniable, loud, definitive, “NO!” I proved myself the impostor; these fleet-footed people passing me were the real runners. One couple carried on an easy conversation with each other as they passed me, while I struggled to maintain deep and even breathing. And the race leaders? They were so far in front of me they may as well have been cheetahs or gazelles running, not people.

But this is why I’m still enjoying my late-in-life discovery of running: The real competition is with myself. All those other runners are my allies. When my body wants to slack off or coast, I fight it with the adrenaline and motivation they’re giving me. As a result, with each race I’ve done better than the one before. So far that’s an amazing and addictive thrill. I know it can’t go on forever… a plateau is coming, sometime, and age will eventually catch up. 

But New Year’s Day 2014 wasn’t that day. According to my GPS, the first mile of the race was by far the fastest I’ve run in my life (6:07), and I finished the whole race in 19:42. That’s a 6:22 pace if you believe the race was a real 5K… my GPS says it was short and it was more like a 6:35 pace. Whatever! That’s still so much faster than anything I’ve run in my life, over any distance. I still can’t believe it. I’m going to turn 40 this year but my body still surprises me with what it can do.

And the plunge into Lake Washington? I did it, and submerged myself completely… and honestly, didn’t even feel it. Even once the race was over I didn’t feel cold. My squishy wet shoes were my only discomfort.

While Molly & the kids weren’t there for the cold & the waiting, they did come for the post-5K Kids’ Dash. Both kids had a blast… but jumping in the lake was not an option for them. (Parent’s orders!)

2014 is off to a great start.

Resolution Run 2014

Resolution Run 2014

 





Small Kids in Confined Spaces

1 01 2014

The day after Christmas, we headed back to Leavenworth for a dose of Winter Wonderland. Only Winter didn’t cooperate this year. Any bit of landscape that had decent southern exposure was completely barren. None of the ski trails were open. People who planned vacation around serious winter sports discovered new levels of despair.

Luckily, this is what our kids think of as “serious winter sports”:

Full Speed Ahead

Swimming

(What? Swimming is a serious winter sport? Of course!)

And luckily, the Sleeping Lady resort is nestled in valley that protects it from most direct winter sun, so the landscape outside our room looked like this:

Icicle River

So the vacation wasn’t the disaster I’d feared listening to the snow reports. The kids had a blast: Sledding, “hiking” (short walks up a rocky snow-covered hill), swimming, playing foosball in the game room, and movie night every night (arranged by the resort).

But, admittedly for the parents, this trip had a little too much “small kids in confined spaces.” It’s just too hard to keep the kids occupied outside in the cold, especially when all the white stuff outside is hard-packed snow/ice (great for sledding but not much else). Everybody’s a little to close together for a little too long… siblings start needling each other… tempers get short… you know how it is. We couldn’t have lasted another day. It was good to come home.








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