I never thought of the possibility of a catastrophic injury when I played football. The main physical activity I’ve pursued in the latter years of my life is another story. I’ve had four crashes while bicycling, each one increasing my sense of danger on the roads.
The first was long ago when I was a young and foolish UCSB student. I usually walked to class, but I was late on this day, so I rode my bike, a Terrot 10-speed, as fast as I could. I was crossing a road that split a bike path when a strikingly beautiful coed caught my eye. The next thing I knew, I was flying out of the saddle. My front wheel had hit a metal post between the bike lanes with such force that the frame bent like an accordion. It jolted to a halt, leaving me with all the forward momentum. I landed with arms outstretched on an asphalt runway.
“Are you all right?” the startled beauty asked me with genuine concern. What an opportunity. I could have lain there moaning, let her minister to my blood-streaked arms, and offered her a thank-you date. But the crash was a huge embarrassment, and my impulse was to escape with my pride. I jumped to my feet, picked up my bike, and off I went, pushing the wobbly wreckage ahead of me. I don’t remember seeing her again.
Years later, I was bike-commuting between Goleta and Santa Barbara. I’d learned to keep my eyes on the road — bike lanes seem to collect all sorts of sharp debris, from nails and screws to knives and forks — and I was wearing a helmet. Twice I purposely slid sideways onto the pavement to avoid being run over by cars. One of the drivers stopped and apologized for almost killing me when she exited her driveway in a heedless rush. The other driver made an abrupt left turn into my path — without signaling — and did not seem to notice me lying in the middle of the road as he sped away.
My last crash four years ago was way scarier than any other misadventure. It occurred on the bike path that descends from UCSB to Goleta Beach. I was coasting downhill at a good clip on a moonless evening. Suddenly, as I rounded a curve, the backs of three people — a man and a woman with a small child between them — appeared 15 or 20 feet in front of me, straddling the path. They were wearing dark clothes, and my small headlight barely picked them up. I was heading right at the little one. I shouted and hit the brakes hard, went flying off the bike and landed on my shoulder and back a few feet behind them. I hit my head, too — my helmet was cracked and scraped, and am I ever glad I was wearing it. I again heard, “Are you all right?” This time I angrily scolded the people, and they hurried away. I had a major case of road rash and sore ribs that would torment me for a couple of weeks, but nothing was broken, and I felt very fortunate not to have run over the child, a potential tragedy.
Although I initially felt blameless, if not somewhat heroic, in that incident, I later decided that I should have proceeded downhill with more caution and less speed, given the darkness of the night. And I invested in a brighter light.
UCSB students are now flooding the campus bikeways, and I see more people bravely pedaling around town than ever before. I implore them all to be careful, for their own good and my future good. Most motorists I encounter are respectful — in fact, I often have to urge them to go ahead and exercise their rights-of-way at stop signs — but there are those who do not like the idea of sharing the road. I prefer to give them room, to make it easy for them to observe the three-foot rule. I feel that cycling has been very good for my health, but that can change in the instant a driver looks at a cell phone or makes a dangerous move out of hostility.
LOST ANGELES: As predicted, the Cardinals have been a frustrating opponent for the Dodgers in the National League play-offs. But if I knew the Dodgers would score nine runs in a game started by Clayton Kershaw, I would not have expected a 10-9 defeat. Meanwhile, the Giants were so comfortable in another even-numbered postseason year that they played 18 innings instead of nine. The exuberant Kansas City Royals also enjoyed themselves, at the expense of the Angels. The collapse of the team with the best record in baseball was a total head-scratcher. At least L.A. sports fans could turn to their college football teams, both favored last Saturday. So USC went out and got burned by Arizona State’s Hail Mary pass on the last play of the game, and UCLA, with a big game against Oregon coming up, got caught looking ahead by Utah. Oregon also went down in a wacky week of upsets. If you want everything neat and orderly, sports are not for you.
HERE COME THE KIWIS: Rugby is flourishing here, with several teams under the umbrella of the Santa Barbara Rugby Association. It is hosting the New Zealand Institute of Sport (NZIS) in two exhibition matches Friday night, October 10, at San Marcos High’s stadium. The UCSB women’s club will play the NZIS women’s side at 5:30 p.m., followed by the Santa Barbarians versus the Kiwis at 7 p.m. The home team will be represented by players from UCSB, Westmont College, the Santa Barbara Rugby Academy, and the Grunion Rugby Football Club. The New Zealanders, who last visited Santa Barbara 10 years ago, can be expected to precede each match by performing the haka, a traditional and intimidating war dance. Admission is free.