Friday, January 06, 2006

Reservoir dogs

Date: Jan. 5
January mileage: 72.7
Temperature upon departure: 24

There's something about bicycling on top of a mass of water that's so ... ethereal. Something about gliding atop the epitome of a smooth, flat surface; about the silencing strength of snow against the grind of wheels and the darkness of evening settling over a frozen landscape. Geoff and I hit the reservoir today after a harrowing descent down the rutted-out ice roads above. The sudden change amounted to the difference between weaving through Los Angeles traffic and an joy ride on the Bonneville Salt Flats ... all of the speed, and none of the stress.

After the ride I was eating a giant burrito and browsing the Anchorage Daily News when I came across a letter to the editor titled "Hopefully, violent collision with SUV knocked sense into winter cyclist." Of course, I knew that reading a so-titled piece of work would probably cause the burrito to churn uncomfortably in my stomach, but I read it anyway.

"I was initially sympathetic to the piece published Dec. 25, 'Cyclist happy to be alive after violent hit-and-run by SUV,' Mitch Lewis of Palmer began. "However, I had to wonder why the author didn't mention the obvious: This is Alaska, it is winter and the streets are covered with snow and ice. Am I the only one who saw this?"

I can just see Mr. Mitch Lewis of Palmer approaching the downed cyclist on the highway shortly after the accident.

Mr Lewis: "I'm sorry to see you're hurt, but I'm afraid to say you have no one to blame but yourself."

Cyclist, fighting for consciousness through a nasty concussion: "Um ... I'm pretty sure that SUV hit me."

Mr. Lewis: "Yes, but, it's winter out. (which is the best argument he poses in his letter)"

Cyclist: "I know."

Mr. Lewis: "So, if you agree with me on that fact, you can't deny the unreasonable risk of cycling in the winter in Alaska" (for Mr. Lewis's sake, let's just say he means the months between September and July.)

Cyclist: "But I was in control that entire time. That SUV hit me. From behind."

Mr. Lewis: "It's an infallible fact that Sport Utility Vehicles are impervious to the perilous conditions of winter roads. Therefore, sir, it must be your fault."

"To wish him back to the same place and frame of mind that would encourage him to ride a bicycle on the same snow- and ice-covered streets of Anchorage that he was almost killed upon in the first place, would be a misuse of glad tidings," Lewis wrote. "I hope he had a bit of common sense knocked into him and he takes the bus when the weather and streets warrant it."

And, Mr. Lewis, I hope you have a bit of common sense knocked into you when your SUV hits an ice patch on the Seward Highway and careens into the Turnagain Arm at 80 mph. Well ... that sounds a little too vindictive. My point is, the risk of any form of travel is increased by snow and ice. Personally, I feel a lot more in control navigating winter conditions down the 1,000-foot elevation drop of West Hill on my mountain bike than I do in my car. I only wish I could feel the same sort of confidence in the traffic barreling down with me.