Photo: Tony Allen-Mills

Photo: Tony Allen-Mills
The Charge: First Race, First Climb

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Near Miss: Appointment with Reaper Rescheduled

Today I was involved in one of those incidents that makes you pause, take a deep breath, and take stock of the goodness of being alive.  At about 11:30 this morning, three of us in our team kit leaned silently on our bars at the intersection of Tuckerman and Old Georgetown, waiting for the long light to change.  Grant and Eddie had pulled up just behind the crosswalk, and I sat slightly behind them.  I was a bit breathless still from the flogging Grant had been delivering all morning, and really was not paying attention to much of anything around me until I heard a squeal of brakes from the highway to my left.  I looked up just in time to see an SUV hurtle into the front end of a sedan that had begun to cross into the intersection in anticipation of turning left from Old Georgetown to Tuckerman.  The sedan spun 360 degrees, striking the SUV again, I think, which caused it to be struck yet again from the rear by another car going in the same direction in the lane beside it (the sedan was then hit again by a car coming behind it).  All of these high-speed impacts, as the concepts of conservation of energy, conservation of linear momentum, and conservation of angular momentum would predict, resulted in a billiards-like chain reaction that ultimately caused the SUV to adopt a new vector -- one directly toward the three of us.  We each had a foot clipped in, were straddling our top tubes, and were hardly in a position suited to sudden evasive maneuver.  I think I yelled "watch out!" or something equally inane and pointless as the SUV quickly slid sideways toward Grant, who was the first of the three bowling pins in the line of its new path.  By chance and good fortune, the thing missed us, and instead went up the curb and onto the sidewalk.  It was a close enough pass that a piece of bumper that had come free during one of the collisions actually slid into Grant's wheels.

Foreground: Grant and the fateful SUV.
Background: Montgomery County EMS and what's left of the sedan.
The three of us dropped our bikes and rushed to the cars to see if we could assist the passengers.  I admit that I approached the sedan with some trepidation, hoping that the circumstances within would not be one the sort I would regret observing.  Fortunately, no one in any of the cars appeared seriously injured, although EMS ultimately took the driver of the sedan away on a stretcher after he complained of chest pains, seemingly from impact with his airbag.  (As an aside, I'll add that the passengers of that vehicle were  very fortunate to be driving a car made close in time to the year 2011, as when I reached them they were ensconced at all angles in airbags, driver's and passenger's, front and side.  Given the considerable amount of abuse that car took, it was rather amazing that the soft fleshy bags of pressurized meat and bone that were the human occupants could leave the scene of the accident nearly unscathed.)  Perhaps the most chilling thing about the accident I heard after the fact, however, when we were talking with the driver of the SUV.  He mentioned that he was going to turn right during the crash to avoid the next collision, but he saw us at the crosswalk and went up the curb instead.  I do not know how much control he actually had at that point, but Grant and I assured him that we really appreciated his decision not to turn right.  If it had gone even slightly differently, one or all three of us would assuredly have been toast.
The piece of bumper that reached us, with the SUV on the sidewalk behind it.
There's a few things I took away from this.  One, as Grant observed during our very careful ride home, it is often better not to know what did not happen to you but nearly did.  Two, never stop out front of the crosswalk or stop line, as I and other cyclists often do; should the worst come to pass, it is much better to have some space between you and cross traffic -- fortunately we did today.  Three, hug your loved ones; life is precious and fleeting, and ultimately we are all puppets of chance and fateful circumstance.  Four, none of this suggests you should live in a cave.

Stay safe, and Happy Mother's Day.


  1. OMG... this sounds terrifying... So glad this turned out be just a very scary anecdote and nothing worse.

  2. Wow. That's quite a story - I'm glad to hear you came out of it unharmed.