Night flight

Night flight

In the paper today, there was a bit about three local riders doing a DC to Orlando ride in support of Beautiful Feet International, a Christian charity. But their ride home turned tragic when they were struck by a van in Georgia and two were killed.

And my opinion is against them on this.

I know they had rights to be on that road, that they were keeping well to the right (as I do), had reflective gear and lights (as I do) and helmets (as I have). They should not have been killed. But then again, they shouldn’t have been out there.

They weren’t seen, of course – this should come pre-printed on accident reports where a motorist strikes a cyclist. But the paper goes on to tell how they’d gotten a hotel in Georgia only to find out that it only had one room, one bed, and no AC. They decided to strike out in the middle of the night for the next town and find better accommodations. They never made it.

I’ll say this – my nine mile commute has dangerous spots. There are parts I really, really hate. There are parts that, after riding them a couple of times, I’ve changed my route or avoid them all together. The thing is, I know that route – I’ve ridden it a hundred times, I know where the dangerous cracks are, the tire-grabbing railroad crossings, the dried concrete in the gutter, all that. I also keep tabs on recent changes, that drooping barber shop banner that nearly knocked me off my bike the other day, new road kill, the tiny dunes of powdered headlight glass. Oh, things still catch me by surprise but at least I have a chance. If I get out of work and its rainy or dark (or both), I can still make it home.

But riding at night along roads you don’t know is about as dangerous a cycle-transport thing as you can do. You need all your visibility to deal with crumbling edges, narrow spots, or the recklessness of motorists. A bike is not a car. You can’t just get on it and ride across town at 2am, not with any degree of safety.

Riverboat captains and mail pilots had to learn their routes, every inch of it, before they would attempt them in the dark. There is a certain risk (meaning not a “level of risk” but “specific and existing risk”) to night riding. Running on roads you don’t know, lit or not, reflective or not, is just dangerous.

They shouldn’t have been out there. That’s my opinion.

When my wife and I toured Tunisia, we got the same sort of room once. We were up in the mountains in February and it was bitterly cold. We had a single bed and a heater on a 30 minute timer (meaning I had to get up every hour and turn it back on). Did this push us to roust our guide and travel dangerous mountain roads at night (by car) looking for some unlikely Motel-6? No, we hunkered down. We camped. We endured. And that’s what these guys should have done at 10pm in their crappy room in the middle of nowhere. They should have opened the window, flipped for the bed, and the losers made pillows out of their saddlebags and crashed on the floor.

Nothing would get me out on a rural road in the dark, especially one I didn’t know.