The other night, I was working away in the office when things took a turn for the slow.
I thought I caught a flash out of the corner of my eye, so I fired up a Web browser (I’m pretty sure I’m the first person, ever, to surf at work; I hope it doesn’t catch on, or productivity nationwide could plummet) and surfed on over to weather.com, where I was confronted with the apocalypse. A nasty red amoeba had swallowed western Kansas and was flagellating its way toward Topeka.
Hours earlier, when I checked the forecast, there was no suggestion of thunderstorms until well after my shift, so I rode my bike to work. But the forecast suggested I was going to get hammered on my ride home.
So I explained to my co-workers that I was going to take advantage of the break in the, um, action and ride home to get the car, then high-tailed it out of here.
Lightning streaked the sky as I pedaled home at record pace, though by the age-old count-the-seconds trick between lightning and thunder, I knew the storm still was a long way off.
I got within a block of my house when a particularly spectacular spiderweb of lightning exploded in front of me, a purple-plasma, air-to-air bomb that stretched beyond my field of vision and looked like someone had taken a hammer to the snow globe of my life.
Awed, I was struck not by a bolt but an epiphany (or at least some other kind of revelation my thesaurus has yet to puke up): One of the many reasons I prefer riding to driving is the relatively unobstructed vision permitted on the bike.
On the bike, I can look down and see the road, my feet, my pasty legs. Or, better still, I can look up and see bats and owls and lightning and thunderheads.
In the car, I can look down and see, beyond my pasty legs, all the wrappers, rocks and all the other crap I’m collecting on the floormat, or I can look up and see … the headliner. Woo hoo.
If my geometry serves, the view afforded in my car is constrained to a relatively narrow cone limited by the height of my windshield and windows. The awesome lightning display would have been severely cropped.
Thanks to this ability to look up on the bike, I’ve seen the aurora borealis, shooting stars, awesome sunrises and beautiful sunsets — in all their horizon-to-horizon glory.
I know it’s possible to get similar views from certain cars.
My boss drives a convertible, and, bless his heart, he pops the top more than anybody I know. Most people seem to think ragtop season lasts for a couple of weeks in the spring and a couple in the fall, but for my boss it’s pretty much year-round.
I’ve never had a convertible (the company rented me one once, in Hawaii; it was a free upgrade, I swear!), but I recall my parents had a Dodge Ramcharger when I was young. That banana-yellow beast of a pre-SUV had a removable top. Considering it had no rollbar or safety device of any kind except for seatbelts, I reckon it was a rolling death trap, but my dad’s reason for not removing the lip was that he feared it would leak.
I seem to recall we did peel its cap once, a massive undertaking that involved a pulley and blocks and tackle (it was, after all, a steel roof), but I don’t recall much about the resulting ride.
I also owned for a while a Dodge Daytona Z, an honest-to-gosh, turbo-charged sports car with T-tops. T-tops are like a poor-man’s ragtop, good for rockin’ that lip caterpillar and projecting your “Smokey and the Bandits” Complex.
The trouble with T-tops is that you must store them somewhere (usually, they rattled around in my trunk) and, not to sound too much like my dad here, but they leaked. I think I actually stayed drier with the tops removed than when they were in during downpours.
And then there are sunroofs and moonroofs, one of which I have on my current ride. I don’t think I’ve ever been more pleased to have a sunroof than the day I bought it. It’s probably been opened less than a dozen times in the decade I’ve owned the car. Now it serves as little more than a portal to check to see the Christmas tree I’ve lashed to the roof hasn’t fallen off on the ride home.
So there are some close auto equivalents to the world-in-3D visibility I’m permitted on my bike, but nothing quite like the view from my saddle.
Of course, if the sky had opened up that night, I likely would have traded the view for the shelter of a roof in a flash.
In a perfect world, we’d all cycle — and drive and scooter and longboard and rollerblade — on beautiful, pristine patches of velvety-smooth pavement.
In reality, we’re forced to wheel along on bumpy, pot-holey, rutted slabs of various surfaces that, in Lawrence, at least, seem absolutely covered with a spiderweb of crack-fill.
You know, that gummy stop-gap stuff street crews use to seal cracks and fissures and, in some cases, seem to make up more of the contact surface than the pavement it’s covering? In theory, at least, it’s good stuff.
It’s cheaper than repaving and is supposed to prevent small cracks from becoming bigger problems. And it does tend to take a bit of the sting out of some of the biggest cracks.
But as a cyclist, I’m not all enamored of the stuff.
First off, the process by which it’s applied is a pain. Crews blow all the gunk out of the crack to be sealed, and the gunk ends up all over. You do not want to be cycling by when the crud is flying, believe me.
Once the dirt is gone, the sealant goes down.
Again, not a good time to be pedaling by. There’s the fear of the flamethrower the crew wields to contend with, and the sealant, when freshly applied, is stickier than just about any substance you’ll ever encounter. I rolled through a bit of the stuff awhile back and continued on my way. I reached my destination and found my tires looked a bit like an ice cream cone’s crunch coat, with the sealant picking up every bit of loose dirt and rock I rolled over. Glad I didn’t roll through any glass.
After application day, the sealant doesn’t get much better.
On rainy days, it gets slick — much slicker than the surrounding pavement, making turns on the stuff dicey at best.
And then there are the dog days, as are upon us now. The heat makes the sealant loosen up, and though it’s not sticky, it gets squirrelly to ride on. Roll over the stuff on a ton-plus, four-wheeled vehicle and the resultant shift isn’t noticeable. Hit a patch of the stuff on a bike at 20-plus MPH and just try to keep your heart in your chest when your bike shifts an inch or so to one side —inevitably the one where a large car sits.
Oh, well. I guess it beats the alternative. Picture all the crack-fill on all the streets in this town, then envision grabbing one end of it and peeling it all away, like the strings on a banana or an unraveling thread. Now try to imagine driving on the cracked, rutted, bumpy mess underneath.
Yeah, I suppose I’ll stick with the crack-fill, sticky, slippery, shifty warts and all.
Now, to update everyone on the bike-rack project for the Health Care Access Clinic.
In my last blog, I solicited donations from readers to help purchase a bike rack for HCA staff and clients. The result was impressive: Less than 24 hours after the blog went live, I had pledges and, in some cases, cash in hand totaling well over 200 bucks.
Then I received an e-mail from a representative of Ride Lawrence, which is part of Lawrence’s Central Rotary. Ride Lawrence volunteered to build one of its racks — like the one at the downtown farmer’s market — for HCA.
So, assuming everything happens with that, it looks like the clinic will get its rack, and all you fine folks who donated or pledged money are off the hook.
So, I’m returning the cash, but I’m holding onto the pledges. If something falls through with Ride Lawrence, I’ll crank it back up and hope folks still are willing to donate.
Otherwise, I hope the HCA folks like their Ride Lawrence rack.
Thanks to one and all, and thanks to Ride Lawrence.