The danger-to-fun ratio

About this time last year, I did a long bike ride, about 70 miles, on the west side of Cayuga Lake. Approaching downtown Ithaca near the very end of the ride, I made a sudden decision: stay on the road instead of turning onto a bike path.

I was fatigued and dehydrated, not thinking too clearly. The choice was random, but it almost got me into the kind of accident cyclists dread.

The road at that point turned into a bridge with a curb—no shoulder to escape traffic. The second I committed to the bridge, a pickup passed me towing a boat on a trailer. A wide, wide, vehicle by the standards of that bridge. It went by me in a rumble and a flash of realization: if there was not enough room for me, the trailer, and the traffic in the other lane, I had nowhere to go.

I held on, kept pedaling, and the truck, trailer, and boat cleared me. By inches or feet I’ll never know, but it was too close psychologically. I can only imagine what the driver was thinking.

Safely off the bridge, I stopped for a minute, shaking, and took a long drink of water. Then I pedaled home slowly, on the bike path I should have taken in the first place.

Every time I pass that bridge (almost daily), I think about what would have happened if I or the trailer had been off by a few inches? What would my year have been like? I think about it and I give thanks for my health and safety. I pray every time I go riding.

Yet I love riding fast on a bike. My speed record is 42.5 mph on Irish Settlement Road northeast of Ithaca. In a more urban setting, I’ve surpassed 30 mph going down Buffalo Street, one of Ithaca’s notoriously steep city streets. As a pedestrian or driving, I see bikers, mostly young men, barreling down Buffalo. My first thought is That idiot! My second: But it looks like fun.

Speed is fun. Ask a downhill skier. Ask a surfer. Two sports I LOVE watching and admire a lot from a distance. Road cycling in the hilly Finger Lakes is my high.

But this season, the fun is dampened. The Finger Lakes Cycling Club’s Wednesday night women’s ride is suspended until further notice. I used to count on these fellow riders to pull me along at a pace I would not sustain on my own, over routes I wouldn’t have discovered myself. All while chatting about work, kids, school, stuff. I’ll miss that so much this season. I’ll also sorely miss the Southern Tier AIDS Program Ride for Life.

Just as well. Danger, this year in particular, is not appealing. If we can catch a deadly virus by standing too close to someone in the grocery store, what might biking down a city street at 30 miles per hour do to me? I’ve found myself pulling back in a lot of ways, taking fewer risks, trying to consider others—like the poor driver of that boat trailer.

A friend texted this morning; her son and daughter-in-law want to cycle around Cayuga Lake tomorrow, following the Ride for Life route. I think it’s a great idea, a worthy goal, and I want to tell them to be careful. Traffic is going to be heavy going up 34B to Lansing. You might get lost around Seneca Falls. Where will you get water in this age of social distancing?

This summer, I’m training for a marathon, my first in 13 years. I decided on a training plan yesterday, and it feels great to have three months of workouts laid out before me down the days of the calendar. The fastest I will go is just under 8 minutes per mile. If that’s this year’s top speed for me, I will be happy.