Saturday, May 24, 2008

Sometimes you really have to slow down...

...and smell the honeysuckle.

I was riding home from what's likely to be my last overtime shift for quite a while, and I was grinding away into a modest headwind while climbing a slight grade. Up ahead, a horse and rider were approaching on the opposite side of the road. Equestrians are fairly common along 56th Street North because there's a polo facility and a couple of pastures. I've met some working cowboys along there too, using their horses to round up cattle.

Once, while riding in Amish country in Pennsylvania, I spooked a young horse when I waved at the buggy driver. The horse jumped sideways in the traces and nearly overturned the buggy. After that, I was very careful when approaching horses.

And today's encounter was similar. I could see that the horse was getting skittish as I got closer. Finally, I stopped and put my foot down. "Hi! I didn't want to scare your horse."

The rider grinned and said, "I thought this horse needed to learn about bicyclists, so I was hoping you'd keep riding."

The horse didn't say a word. But he was much calmer once he figured out that I wasn't a threat. Both ears came forward and he slowly walked closer, stopping only a few feet away.

That's how I met Jim McCall. His horse hadn't been ridden for awhile and he needed to be exercised. Jim is a bit older than me, a retired fleet service guy and it turns out he worked for the same airline as I do. How he figured me for an airline employee I do not know. But there's a good chance he's seen me riding along that road at the same time of day month after month.

We talked about horses and business. We talked about retirement and the changes that brings. We talked about kids and spouses. His wife died last year. I expressed my condolences. Jim said he stays pretty busy unless he's at home with nothing to do. He was quiet for a moment and looked off in the distance. I can only imagine his thoughts.

We had a fifteen minute conversation standing there on the road. A couple of cars went by. It's not uncommon to have a motorist wave as they pass, a friendly gesture that at first seems puzzling to 'city boys' like me.

Jim and I parted and I pushed off toward home.

When I opened my email later, I found messages detailing the harassment some cyclists experience. Drivers in NYC honk, yell, and make rude gestures as a cyclist tries to make a left turn. Another rider says the rednecks in Florida throw objects and swerve at cyclists.

I suspect that Oklahoma has as many rednecks and impatient, rude people as Florida or NYC, on a percentage basis at least. Population density is much lower, though. Maybe that's an essential part of the formula for relaxed cycling on backroads. There are fewer people and as a result, they're more easily identified, or even as approachable as Jim.

Or maybe we cyclists need to slow down and wave at those passing motorists. Smile. Ask "How are you?" and be willing to spend some time listening to the answer. It's a way of deliberately turning your back on the hurry-up inherent in modern living. Take some time to smell the honeysuckle, and say hello to Jim and his horse.



Blogger David said...

Great post, but the rednecks in Oklahoma aren't going to be swayed by a wave and a "how you doing." First, there's very little opportunity to have a pleasant conversation with a 17 year old who is passing you, way too close, at 60mph. You can't just flag them down and have a chat.

The change that needs to happen in the car-centric culture of our country isn't going to happen on a single cyclist and driver basis, it needs to change on a larger scope.

A horse owner is already used to being the non-dominant road user, and so is much more likely to be open to friendly conversation than are the people throwing things from vehicles.

6:06 PM  
Blogger Ed W said...

I ride a mixture of suburban, rural, and industrial roads while commuting. One of the true joys of riding those roads at the same time every day is that I become an expected presence for those drivers. It's very rare to have a nasty encounter. At most it's once or twice a year.

And I don't hesitate to call the local police with a complaint about a dangerous motorist. The first call goes to the dispatcher, and then a follow-up email goes to the chief of police. Our local PD has been very proactive, preferring to take care of harassment before it grows into something else.

7:17 PM  
Blogger JM Palacios said...

This Florida city boy is jealous

9:45 PM  

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