Oil and Vinegar; Bikers and Scenic Byways

Thursday, May 13, 2010
Last fall, the road we live off was designated as a National Scenic Byway. The road is confusingly nicknamed “The Gunflint Trail,” leading many a well-intentioned hiker to set off down the 57 miles of paved two-lane highway and wonder if they missed a turn. The road is heavily wooded, curvy and a bit hill, with basically no shoulders to speak of. It truly is a scenic road, but it’s just that: a road, not a trail. And that is why I cringe every time I have to swerve around a biker pedaling down the road in a lane of traffic, like I did on Tuesday.

I should state that I have a couple issues with bikers. For one thing: bike shorts. You can’t tell me that those look good on anyone. If you venture out in public wearing bike shorts you deserve nothing less than a firm tongue lashing from What Not to Wear’s Stacy and Clinton and Project Runway’s Tim Gunn. That’s right. And Tim Gunn.

Also, I can’t seem to shake the feeling that bikers are kind of overly self-satisfied. This is probably just a personal issue, but whenever I drive past a biker looking all environmentally and fitness conscious, I feel this need to yell, “I drive a Toyota Corolla! I’m a good person too!”

The chain fell off my bike when I was fifteen and as such, I have not exactly been out biking a lot in the last decade. In fact, I think I have been on a bike once in that time period: in Ireland’s Aran Islands where the wind blew so hard that we had to petal downhill. I guess seeing bikers always brings up some sort of inferiority complex inside me that stems from never getting that bike of mine back in working condition.

I am so torn by the whole biking thing. I know that it is a wonderful transportation option that keeps not only the rider, but also the environment healthy. But whenever I see a biker, no matter what the circumstances, I am always struck by a sense of impending doom. If I am driving and happen upon a biker, I become convinced that I will hit the biker and they will die. If I observe someone biking in heavy traffic, I become convinced that the biker will be hit and I will watch them die. If I am a pedestrian, I become convinced the biker will hit me and I will die. Needless to say, I was pretty much constantly on the verge of heart attack during our trip to the Pacific Northwest last month, where everyone bikes.

All jokes about death aside, it is a huge concern. When I was little, one of my mom’s coworkers was struck by a motorist while he was biking into work. Luckily he was wearing a helmet (which split into two pieces) and after a long time hooked up to all sorts of machines in the hospital, he was okay. But he was very, very lucky; there have been fatal biking accidents here too.

A couple summers ago, a guy came into my workplace at the time and asked about biking on the Gunflint Trail. “Oh please don’t do that,” I gasped. “There’s no shoulder. There are curves and people driving won’t see you in the middle of the road until they’re on top of you.” His partner snorted. “We’ll be fine,” she said. I tried to convince them that they didn’t understand the danger. I might even have done some clutching at my heart. I think the guy thought I was going to cry. I thought I might cry too.

I guess it comes down to this: I know you should be able to bike wherever you want. I know that it is the right, smart thing to do. I wish there was the infrastructure across the country where motorists and bikers could coexist in harmony.

But this is not one such harmonious place. Here it is dangerous to bike. So if you must bike on a scenic byway, please be careful and realize that not only are you putting yourself at risk, you’re also put the motorists who must swerve around you in a less than ideal situation as well.

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