First contact

“You have one new message,” the machine called in monotone.

“Hey guys,” a familiar voice said through the static. “Just calling to check up on Will. Heard he got tagged by a car the other day. We wanted to make sure he’s not busted up too badly, still able to speak in complete sentences, that kind of stuff … .”

Word of my bike commute mishap had spread through Durango like wildfire. The little collision was already all the talk at my wife’s workplace. Conversation of the crash even managed an appearance at Thanksgiving lunch at my daughter’s elementary school. “I heard it was pretty serious,” a friend told my shocked parents. “I guess the car just came out of nowhere and slammed right into him.”

It’s true, mom (mostly). I was clocked en route to work last week. However, I am happy to say the reports of my demise have been greatly exaggerated. I’m well on the road to a full recovery (and nearly able to type in complete sentences again).

The bump heard around La Plata County hit on one of Durango’s two days of winter this season. A thin sheen of ice covered my commute to work early that morning, and Durango’s winter driving skills were back in all of their confused glory. Bundled in my best Shackleton costume, I cautiously pedaled from the Animas Valley into the city limits. By the time I hit downtown, my toes, fingers and ears were rejoicing that office and baseboard heating were just a few, short tire revolutions away.

Heading down one of Durango’s many traffic gauntlets, I was pedaling well off the road and through the middle of empty parking spaces, having tapped my entire reserve of commuter experience (more than a decade’s worth). Not far enough, I’m sorry to report, and in a split second the ride turned nasty. Out of nowhere a dented hood and a spinning front tire snuck up and charlie-horsed my left thigh.

My first thought was that a friend had spied my bundled form and decide to play a little f—- with Will. When the car kept pushing, the theory changed and I feared for the worst – attack of the angry redneck. But the car soon showed itself to be a Plymouth Voyager, a fact that dispelled both of my assumptions. I had to look elsewhere for answers. Maybe, the driver was struggling to Blackberry an urgent text message. Changing a baby’s diaper? Tying his/her shoes? Too much 6 a.m. mimosa? I’ll never know.

I do know that my bike and this rider had reached a state of total invisibility. The driver and his/her unscraped windshield had absolutely no idea that he/she had made contact. I know that because the car continued to veer into me, pushing me dangerously close to the sidewalk and a forced dismount.

“Dude … What the? .. Christ,” I yelled out in a series of incomplete sentences. But no one was listening.

My only choice was to lie against the side of the vehicle, a decision I regretted as soon as the side view mirror tagged me in the back. Mirror or no mirror, I managed to stay atop my bucking steed and watched the grocery getter slide past me, praying that he/she wasn’t trailering a ski-boat, fifth wheel or cast-iron bbq pit. The prayers paid off and the hitch-less car rapidly swerved, weaved and texted off into sunrise.

The real shock hit only after I realized I was safe, sound and still pedaling. Perched atop the rear windshield (also thickly coated in frost) was a fully loaded bike rack. And just to salt my new wounds, a window advertisement for a bicycle tour company hid just behind the three bikes. For an extra dash of insult, the advertisement was dressed up with an environmentally correct message.

“Go figure … Cyclist clocked by cyclist … Man,” my newly bruised body yelled in another series of disjointed sentences.

It was at that moment that the heavens opened, Tullio Campagnolo and Fausto Coppi looked down from the pearly velodrome and reminded me of the first commandment of bicycle riding – cyclists reside at the bottom of the food chain.

Whether we’re pedaling to work, to the trailhead or spinning on La Plata County’s asphalt, we are more often victim than predator. During a couple decades on the shoulder, I can relate a few painful examples of the phenomenon – empty beer bottle in the back; gravel in the face; Winnebagoed into a ditch. Yep, two-wheeled organisms are the amoebas in this primordial soup – just a 35 mph bump away from extinction.

And as I sit down to my turkey roll this week, I can offer sincere thanks that my first-and-only car on bike action ended as peacefully as it did. I’ll take a side view mirror over a front bumper any day. And just to be a good sport, I’m going to dig deep and forgive that oblivious driver. Hell, I might even dial up for a bicycle tour one of these days … as long as I get to drive the first shuttle.

– Will Sands