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RUN DOWN IN NEW JERSEY, APRIL 2008 IT WAS A STRIKE OUT OF THE BLUE
Bang!! The noise was awesome and my immediate thought was, “This tour is over.”
Somehow, it didn’t occur to me that maybe my health and even life could be over, too. There was no screech of brakes. The whole experience was three mental images: the car a few inches from my left side, a severe wrenching of my back as I impacted his windshield with my left hip, and laying on the ground with the contents of my handlebar bag all around me.
I heard the driver tell the policeman he never saw me, but I am sure he did when my body met his windshield. At the speed he was going, perhaps 25 mph in his left turn, seeing him earlier would not have likely helped me and maybe even made it worse.
Anyway, I didn’t see this coming until late because I was watching the very bad pavement on Wildwood’s New Jersey Avenue and going straight with a green light. It was a hit out of the blue for both of us.
Miraculously, my left leg wasn’t hit as it would have certainly been crushed as the bike took all the impact. With the drivers so bad these days, and especially young males like this one who, I expect, was rushing to the nearby high school, this was someday an inevitability in my 50 years of biking.
It was my worst biking/auto accident ever and yet it was a “good accident.” The car was a sporty type with a low hood and strongly sloping windshield. The car’s low front knocked the bike out from under me and the yielding windshield effect surely softened the impact.
From the spider web pattern, I believe that windshield came close to busting in completely and dumping me in the occupants’ laps. I hardly noticed my flight and landing on the ground afterwards about 30 feet from the intersection.
While very much in pain and dazed, I got up on my feet within seconds (I think) after landing. Probably not smart, but I did this simply because I could. I, amazingly, had no broken bones. Just some pain I knew would get worse, a bent up Bike Friday, a slightly caved in helmet, and the scattering of my stuff all over the street. My clothes weren't even torn nor did I have any obvious bleeding.
An older and very upset man, presumably the driver’s dad, called 911, although for those initial moments, I was very out of it. While the EMTs interviewed and examined me, I heard a police officer informing the youthful driver that left-turning vehicles must yield to all other traffic (yes, even bicycles!).
I was being urged to go to the hospital but, as I was able to stand and walk (after a while and after a fashion), they "let me go."
BACK ON THE ROAD
I went to a local bike shop. Even finding that was a challenge, as I was still dazed and starting to really hurt. With a young mechanic's help, we forced the Bike Friday's fork tines close enough back into position to allow riding. Then I bought new pedals as the left one had been smashed to pieces. That the bike wasn’t totaled was another miracle as it also took a massive hit.
I then did the day's planned ride to Vineland, somehow. That also wasn't easy. Not only did I hurt and feel dazed, but, the bike rode funny. It was definitely kitty-wampus or something. By the time I logged the 47 miles, I couldn't apply any significant force with my sprained left foot. Still, I considered riding that day a form of physical (and psychological) therapy even though I felt like a cripple.
I took a hot-as-I-could-stand bath that evening and again the next morning and felt surprisingly good. Apparently, no critical muscle groups were damaged. The next day I did 63 miles to NE Philadelphia.
In the next few days, the bruising spread throughout most of my left side and in the lower back but I could still reasonably walk and ride. I may have to reconsider my beliefs that there is no God as recent books are claiming.
What a way to start the new biking year, 2008! This was the morning of day four of a six-day tour of Delaware, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. I had flown into Philadelphia's airport with my Bike Friday in its Samsonite suitcase.
Two days later, I started my tour from my brother’s home west of Philadelphia that could have very well ended in a Wildwood, NJ hospital.
Up to the “bang” moment, I was feeling very strong. I was doing my longest days of a new biking year that was still getting a rough weather back home in Minneapolis.
My first day south past Wilmington, Delaware was 60 miles to Smyrna. Not liking the motel options there, I continued on to Dover plus some local riding totaling 80 that day.
The next day to Bethany Beach in southern Delaware (plus the usual local extra) was 71 miles. Because of my distance goals, I had used major roads in Delaware and almost all had good shoulders, many with painted bike lanes.
From Bethany Beach, I biked north to the Delaware Bay ferry to Cape May, NJ (as I had done with Maynard in 2004) and visited the mostly still closed down, ocean shore, summer vacation city of Wildwood.
BEING HERE BEFORE WITH MAYNARD IN MARCH 2004
“This is my worst day on a bike.” As instigator and planner of this tour, I didn’t want to hear this. Again I was killing Maynard, or rather me plus the conditions we found ourselves in. Maynard had been my college roommate at Penn State in 1967. He’s about 5-years older, has had heart problems (mine were yet to come as of 2004), and is a more casual cyclist than me.
Our first significant time together since Penn State was a six-day bike tour in March 2002. From his northern New Jersey house, we biked the Delaware River Canal to Trenton (the state capital), crossed central Jersey to the shore, and overnighted in the famous college town of Princeton.
We followed that tour up with him visiting Minnesota in August 2003 and us doing a 12-day tour in Wisconsin and Upper Michigan. After those experiences, I felt the need for another and hopefully easier tour with him. This time it was the South Jersey Shore to Delaware, March 2004. Maynard had biked this way before, doing four solo 80-mile days, all with tailwinds (And that doesn’t happen often!) following our inaugural North Jersey early spring tour in 2002.
His expectations for the 2004 tour were likely based on those four good days. He talked about our making it to Maryland and possibly into Virginia. But this was early in the riding season and based on the hope of good early spring weather.
On his proclaimed “worst day ever” I felt satisfied that we had gotten as far as Delaware. Pushing any further wasn’t a practical option. I had another reason for this 2004 trip besides the regular spring cycling warm up. I had just been diagnosed with colon cancer and was scheduled for surgery late in the month. Being under the shadow of this and a possibly nasty aftermath, I needed the distraction of a familiar and fun routine. Besides, I felt physically fit even if in psychological denial.
Under these conditions, Bethany Beach, Delaware became the farthest south we’d make. The tour in summary was the South Jersey Shore, crossing Delaware bay on the Ferry and a little of the Delaware Shore and a return to the Central Jersey town of Allentown near Trenton.
It was motels, seashore resorts out of season and mostly closed down (like the coast of NC and SC was the previous November), and certainly a lot less traffic than we would have had in the high summer season. I had been all over southern Jersey including Atlantic City and Sea Isle for years but never to the southernmost resort towns like Wildwood and Cape May. Our second evening in Wildwood (the return leg), I sat on a bench across from a boardwalk arcade watching people trying to snag stuffed animals with a crane. I tried, without success, to remember the feelings I had almost 60 years earlier in Atlantic City visiting my grandmother Anna. Then it was giant Mr. Peanuts, the smell of the nuts, and the gaudy (and very tacky) prizes stacked high against the walls to exchange for won arcade tickets. The prizes are still there, or perhaps empty boxes with 3,000 or 10,000 points labels on them. I suppose no mortal human could amass so many points so the empty boxes will suffice. After watching one guy spend about $10 to win a $1.00 animal, I walked back to the hotel thinking what I would give to again be six years old for just one day.
Maynard and I had good snacks at the WaWa stores, bad winds and a thankful respite in the rain for the seven-day tour and my three extra traveling days. In all the big things, we were high fives: no accidents, sicknesses, breakdowns, flats, rain, or cold too much to bear.
On the personal negative side, I didn’t find the link to historic memories. We rode through areas and towns I had ridden with my bike club in the 1960’s but only the place names were familiar. Without the actual companions of that lost forever era, it wasn’t the same. I never even got to ask if the Mount Holly Ride still happens, an event started in the late 1800’s and was still going until at least the late 1960’s. I have a funny memory of sitting with Maynard in a restaurant, looking around, and mentioning that it seemed to be all old people. Then I realized we were also old, although, that we were biking somehow made us different, or maybe just delusional? BUT BACK TO THE EXCITING PRESENT IN NEW JERSEY, 2008 Obviously, the accident was the salient event of this tour. Aside from that incidental side issue, I recall it as a good tour. South Jersey was busy even though it was far too early for vacation traffic.
I tried to take minor county roads and these, as well as most state highways, also had wide enough paved shoulders for biking. In the afternoon of the accident, the road from Millville to Vineland, NJ was infested with those pesky, small “sporty” cars with large throaty exhaust sounds. They were racing around making a sardonic mockery of the signs that this was a “safe zone” where speeding fines are doubled. Hurting and a little dizzy, I cringed as I imagined what it would be like to get run down by this or that car.
I was more than a little spooked the next few days and around and around in my head was the old question, “Why do they let children drive cars?” From Vineland, it was a day and a half for my injured body across South Jersey to Pennsylvania. Rather than touring, I now felt I was moving for survival.
PENNSYLVANIA, ONCE MY HOME
Crossing the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge into Philadelphia brought back memories of my youth when this bridge was a destination, about 3 miles from where I grew up. Later for me, it was a place where some of the bike club’s rides started including the almost 100-year traditional Mt. Holly Ride.
That tour day #5 included exploring my old NE Philadelphia neighborhood. I found much had changed. The businesses I had known were all gone and the demographics had become very ethnic, especially African American. One surprising personal improvement was that many of the main streets now have bike lanes.
Absolutely sure I would find nothing there, I visited Rising Sun Avenue where Morrie’s Bike Shop had been. My first two lightweight bikes came from there, a used 3-speed in 1958 and new Viking 10-speed in 1960. I also visited my parents and grandparents graves as I had done in 2002 en route from Maynard’s back to my brother’s.
My tour’s sixth and last day was to the west side of Philadelphia, the bike trail up the Schuylkill River to Valley Forge, and then back roads west to my brother’s. After the tour, I had four days of R&R at his house. Even as I watched the bruises spread down my side and back, I got in short rides every day.
Although not the big thing this tour, the weather had been good the entire week with some cold mornings and afternoons in the 60’s and 70’s, some tailwinds and lots of sunshine. Very nice and different from what had been happening in Minnesota before the trip and that I would find still going on when I returned home on April 24th. Two days later back in Minneapolis, it was snowing.
AFTERMATH OF GETTING RUN DOWN
I survived with no major physical damage. I had some tests done by my medical center, paid for by my own auto insurance company. The Bike Friday's frame was bent. Minneapolis’ Bikesmithdesign, Mark Stonich, had the tools to straighten it and align the fork and that’s what we did. My actual out of pocket expenses were about $100. But, if the bike were not fixable, they would have been more than $1,000. Thank goodness for steel. When it gets bent, it can usually be bent back. The guy who hit me didn’t respond to any of my letters, even the one with the photo showing the blue bruises all down my side. His insurance company claimed they weren’t liable for any of my expenses and I decided that suing them (or the driver) wasn’t practical from so far away. So I got exactly nothing for my pain and damage. But not exactly nothing after all.
I received a bill from the City of Wildwood for the EMT service. I responded to them to collect from the guy who hit me. He had called them, not me. I believe they have finally given up billing me. Imagining the bill, I was glad I had declined to go with them to the hospital. Finally, the guy who ran me down didn’t even get a citation. In addition to the perp and his insurance company, I had also written to the state AG and the Wildwood Mayor, all with no response. So with all this, I have to conclude that NJ is a state of -------.
I don’t plan to return there any time soon. But maybe singling out NJ isn’t fair. From the recent history of cars hitting bikes I have heard and read about, police and courts in general almost always assume the bikers are somehow at fault or even deserving of what they get just for being on the road, no matter the consequences or circumstances. The really bad drivers are a small minority but they are still out there. Watch out.