Fear & Action: Whoopi-ty-aye-yay

T.A. Barnhart

I'm back in the saddle again
Out where a friend is a friend
Where the longhorn cattle feed
On the lowly gypsum weed
Back in the saddle again.

This is only partially about bicycling.

Some of you might recall that back in early December, my biking life came to an abrupt halt at the corner of SE 7th and Morrison. My body is still on the mend — I’ve headache issues that are not going away, and the spot inside my chest where my ribs broke and punctured my lung still aches at times — but a milestone was passed yesterday: I got back in the saddle and rode.

I was not avoiding riding again out of fear, not really. I thought I might start riding again at the beginning of February, but my body was not ready for it. Nor my bike: The damage, along with labor, brought a price tag of nearly $600. Not cash I had on hand, especially after losing a lot of work hours in December. But the insurance company ponied up the bread a couple of weeks ago — without the slightest argument — and Thursday, Rick, at 7-Corners, where I got my Surly Long Haul Rider in the firstplace, completed the repairs.

And Friday evening, I picked up it and rode it home. I got there alive and well, and it’s just a damn relief to have that out of the way.

I’ve never been in a serious accident before. My left hand was crushed once in a work accident, but it wasn’t a job I’ll ever return to; I don’t have to worry about “What if it happens again?” in that regard. But in the 10 weeks since a careless driver put me in the hospital with multiple internal injuries, I’ve had plenty of time to think about when I would get back on my bike and ride again. How afraid would I be? Would I find myself braking to a hard stop at every intersection, at the approach of every vehicle? Could I even ride at all?

As it turns out, no big. I got my bike, put on my new helmet (the old one having paid for itself by about a billion-fold), and pulled out onto SE 21st to head home. It;s a good route, one I take a lot; not a lot of traffic: I zig-zag over to SE Gladstone, ride up to 42nd and thence south to my place in The Stock, just near Bybee. I was not nearly as winded as I thought I might be, and I had no moments of panic. I just enjoyed the ride home, enjoyed having my Surly back, and began the process of getting my life a little bit more in tune with how I prefer to live it.

But I did notice one thing: As I rode, although it was without fear and with the confidence of someone who loves to ride, I felt this – presence. On my back, near the base of my spine. If I focused on it, I then also felt panic begin to crawl through my gut. I may have ridden without the sense of fear, but I was not riding fearlessly. I may never do so again. I got hit by a car, by a driver who was stupid and careless, and I got slammed to the ground, sent to the hospital, and I am still not fully recovered. The more I think about the actual nature of what happened, the more I realize: this was a big deal. A few weeks after the accident, I returned to the intersection to take pictures for my lawyer, and I stepped off the distance from where I got hit to where I landed.

I still cannot believe I went that far in the air. And came down flat on my back and skull. No wonder somewhere deep inside there’s a nugget of fear. My mind may have decided to enjoy bike riding despite the accident, but it has also decided to hold onto the memory and the reality. At some deep, essential level of my being, I apparently am scared shitless this will happen again.

And yet: I refuse to be afraid of my own fear, and I refuse to be afraid of that which is the source of my fear.

With this kind of fear, the kind that is learned from an immediate experience as opposed to the kind that arises from a damaged psyche, one really does have a choice: ride or hide. I could have sold my bike, bought an annual bus pass, and had done with it. But as I said before, I love to ride. I am very happy to discover that my accident has not stopped me from being able to ride. I did not make any choice to be brave, nor to rise above my circumstances; I do not live my life by hackneyed clichés. The one thing I did do, the only thing I could do, was to get back on my bike and ride. That’s it. Nothing greater than that, but nothing less.

Ultimately, all we can do is act. Unless we are dealing with actual damage to our mind or body that prevents it, we can make a choice to do something and then do it. Getting back on my bike was not an act of courage; it was my choice to live my life the way I want to live my life. I wore a helmet, had my lights, watched out for cars, did nothing stupid (except at Steele, where it really was not my right-of-way but that guy’s ancient Datsun pickup couldn’t move anyway). I got back on my bike and returned to doing what I’d done before I almost lost the ability to do it at all. It was a nice ride home; very satisfying. And a hell of a relief.

It’s part of the reason I fear less for our future as a nation than do many people. Our new president is a man who acts according to what he believes is the right course, and he does so despite whatever fears he may carry. Bush and Cheney, I believe, did everything out of fear (the emotional foundation for their cupidity, stupidity and inhumanity). Obama surely knows fear; but in our president, I see a man who knows that only by living and acting according to what he hopes for, and not what he fears, can he lead the nation to recovery, healing and prosperity.

I appreciate that more than ever. I know the next time I ride, it could be the last time I ride. There is no reason I could not be hit again — or that I could die. Meh. I love to ride, and I love my Surly (thank you, Corey & all the gang at 7-Corners Cycles). I’m not going to let the fear of really bad possibilities control me. I’ll ride smart, and I’ll ride happy. It took nearly 50 years to get me the first time, so I think I’ll just call that my once-in-a-lifetime and pedal on.

Yippee-yo, I am indeed back in the saddle.

Rockin' to and fro
Back in the saddle again
I go my way
Back in the saddle again.
  • Aaron Cady (unverified)

    I had a very similar experience, except that I had no insurance, refused to go into debt, and did not recover fully. That was my choice. I'm glad you put this up, at least for one reason. You hear it asked, a lot, why bike riders have a "sanctimonious attitude". In this shallow society, as little as having a reason you believe your actions are for the social good, can constitute a sanctimonious attitude. I think if anyone cared to look at it from your point of view, they might understand what we're thinking.

    Not all riding bikes for transport are like T.A. Some of us don't like cycling, aren't in it for the health, are advanced in years, have day jobs, and have very busy schedules and multitudinous responsibilities, just like the average person. We cycle for once reason; business as usual is not sustainable. Now, fast forward to the scenario T.A. is describing. Given the context I just laid out, do you think we might feel like we have earned a little respect? I detest religion, but if I meet a nun that has given her life in the belief that her prayer in meditation will benefit mankind, I have respect; I don't argue with her that her religion is stupid, even though I could make the point well.

    The best motorists seem to feel that bikes and cars are equal. Can you not see why a cyclist would have a problem with that? The logic is simple. We faced with pretty much the same choices. When one group opts to accept greater responsibility for solving the problem than another group, the group not sharing the responsibility owes the group that is, some basic respect, at a very minimum, and outright deference, were it a nominal society. That simply doesn't happen. Do you understand why I chose the nun as a comparison? The respect is not contingent on your agreeing that the problem is real. Is that really too difficult to understand? Terry Parker and JK will post here and even argue that we are an active threat. Is it totally unrealistic to think that once, you might pop your head out the window of your motor vehicle and yell "thanks" at a passing cyclist? No, the reality in "bike friendly Portland" is that Mr. Parker was inspired to run for a metro council position after having to wait 10 seconds for a bus to pull to the curb, deciding "enough is enough".

    Is there a notion that you've not seen on a PDX bumper sticker? They pretty well cover the left gamut, no? Ever seen one that says, "Thanks for cycling", or "Thanks for not driving", or "My Other Car is More Important than Your Life"?

  • Joanne Rigutto (unverified)

    Keep riding T.A., the fear will probably go away. I had an equine accident about 15 years ago. Got run over by a paniced horse, concussion, lost my memory for about 45 minutes, wouldn't go to the hospital (no insurance at the time), etc.

    It stopped me from riding for years. But when I finally did start riding again, things got better. I'm infinitely more cautious around horses than I ever was, I've been around and working with them most of my life, but I always keep an eye out.

    If I can do it with them, you can do it with biking.

  • (Show?)

    i rode to New Seasons on Saturday & back, then to work this morning (still here). no problem. i really thought i'd be freaked, but i'm not. what i am, though, is sore: my neck is really bad, so i'm thinking the injuries the chiropractor has been treating me for have been exacerbated by the bike-riding position. ah well. it'll all get worked out in time. but at least i can ride again.

    Aaron, i have no insurance, either (no car, no medical). the entire tab is being footed by the driver's insurance company. that's what happens when you run over a bicyclist, at least in Oregon. i hear back east, not so much!

  • Ms Mel Harmon (unverified)

    T.A., Glad you're back on the bike. It took me years of riding again after my major accident before that "presence" went away, but it finally did. Hang in there and keep on riding!

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