Monday, December 22, 2014

Running the gauntlet

I'm writing this after the fact, so the whole world knows I didn't die. Let's get that out of the way and ruin the suspense.

Was it pleasant? No. Was it scary? Yes.

At the base of the descent near Leggett, I roll across the bridge over the Eel River, euphoric. Can't see much but there is only one bridge which means only one thing: made it this far. I'd forgotten the little climb out of the river canyon, but no matter.

My foot goes down in the usual spot, near the intersection with the main street if we can call it that. Within sight of Highway 101. I'm throwing technology at the problem by deploying all gear. The reasoning goes like this: if I'm wearing every piece of night riding equipment on the bike - reflective bands and vest and all my lights, front and rear - and if someone still hits me, I did everything humanly possible to avoid it. No regrets.

The spot is next to a little house. I'm rifling through my seat bag when a guy comes out and a truck door slams. After every truck or van encounter since Fort Bragg  I've had the same involuntary thought: Garberville? Then a cloud of potent smoke hits me. Never mind; a bike on a narrow highway in the dark beats riding in a truck cab for 20 miles with some impaired yahoo. I'll do my own self-destructing, thank you.

So, the devil weed does not impair people for driving (much). But I really hate the smell. And it's Leggett and wintertime so he's probably been drinking too.

Looking over toward 101, which is noisy with traffic, two big semis steam by right on each other's heels. Well, fuck. Too late now.

Lights blazing, no option but to act like the vehicle that I am and wait for a gap to turn left. To start there is a narrow shoulder, not too bad. It will disappear in places. The plan is to lower my standards for what seems rideable on the right side of the white line, and be scrupulous about that. Slow down if necessary.

When the shoulder disappears, rabbit hard through there. When cars are waiting behind me and headlights are up ahead, if there's no room for passing stop and lean the bike away from the road until everyone is gone. I use this option more than once. There are many vehicles on the road. Really, folks, in the middle of nowhere?

Some people believe cyclists are actually more visible at night, properly equipped, than in daytime. At one point, with a massive a rock wall on my right, I remember running the gauntlet through here on a  hazy summer afternoon. Didn't feel safe then, either. It is possible, maybe even likely, that I'm safer with the headlight that makes drivers flick their high beams. And the NiteRider Solas taillight that's painful to look at. We're not good at assessing risk, not when scared.

After nine miles of this, just past Confusion Hill and the new bridge over the gorge, there is an exit for Highway 271. The old road.

Do I take it? You bet.

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