Sunday, March 02, 2008

Mindfulness In Motion

I ride up to Redmond to chat with my friend Mark Thomas. We meet up at Victor's Coffee, discuss weighty matters of the world and then each go our separate ways on the various errands that will fill our day.

Redmond is north of Issaquah and I usually traverse the dozen miles which separate the two towns on via the eastern side of Lake Sammamish. On this side of the lake I have the option of either taking the paved, mostly well-shouldered Sammamish River Parkway or the more scenic, unpaved Lake Sammamish Trail. I'd taken the Parkway on my trip north, so I opt to take in the slower scenery of the trail for my southbound journey.

I ride down the trail which runs along an old rail corridor. Over the past few decades almost every bit of land that either overlooks the lake or has direct waterfront access has sprouted a multi-million dollar home. Despite the fears of some local residents that the creation of this public trail on public land would create a corridor of crime allowing roving pedestrian and biker gangs to spend their free time bashing Bentleys and lobbing Molotovs at Mercedes, no such crime-wave has been forthcoming. Instead the trail crimes tend to be more aesthetic in nature, tiny dogs whose tiny running suits match their owner's perfect Polarfleece, software executives jogging while under the influence of Bluetooth, middle-aged men riding bicycles while wearing clothing far too fluorescent for decent decorum...

That last character, of course, would be me.

So I'm riding down the trail minding not only my own business but the business of others, because I've learned, over the years, that fortune favors the vigilant. I go slow. I click my brake levers, ding my bell, clear my voice whenever I get even remotely close to other trail users. I look for the telltale white earbuds that warn me that their wearer may be paying more attention to Britney or Bono than anything as mundane and dangerous as the actual real world.

And even so, for all my vigilance, my attention isn't always perfect and sometimes I can be surprised.

I'm surprised today, but not by my inattention. Today I'm surprised by how far a person's mind can be from their body.

I see them jogging towards me. This is a straight section of trail and they came into my field of vision at a distance of at least 200 yards. I'm rolling towards them, they are running towards me. They are two young women, running side by side. As the distance between us closes, I can see them clearly. No earphones are visible, they are not conversing. They are jogging, looking straight ahead.

Straight at me. The guy on the red bike, with the bright yellow vest. In what I believe is called "broad daylight."

My spidey-sense is tingling. I slow way down. I click my levers and ring my bell.

I'm now going at just about walking speed. Neither woman seems to have the slightest awareness of my existence. And one of them is in my lane, running straight for me.

"Hey!" I shout as we are about 15 feet from each other and I basically track-stand on the trail. The woman's eyes flip into focus and go wide. She slows, slips in behind her companion and says, "sorry, I didn't see you" as she jogs past me.

I don't have a response.

There is little I can do but tell this story and note that I've kicked the paranoia level on my clue-less meter up one more notch.

We all have distractions in our lives. My friend David Smith pointed out to me the other night that even something like a rear-view mirror, which generally increases your safety and situational awareness, can be detrimental if you are looking back at the particular moment you need to be looking forward.

The best advice I ever got on this subject came from a zen master: "Be here now."

Be careful out there. Pay attention. You can be certain that somebody isn't. They may be jogging, they may be driving, they may be riding a bike.

All I can do is try to remember to be here now.


Marrock said...

"I didn't see the cyclist" is a confession, not an excuse.

Schorsch said...

I've witnessed this from runners a couple times. I think it's the human equivalent of "letting the horse take you home." Doesn't tend to happen to cyclists, because the greater speed punishes inattention.

To me, it's just another in a long reasons not to run. If god had meant humans to run, he wouldn't have invented the bicycle.

Citroen said...

Funny post Kent.
Better than Bike Snob NYC.
(and that guy is funny)
You're just too modest Kent, being a babe magnet can be hazardous to your health!

Perry said...

You stealth bike Ninja persona prevents people from seeing you. It's your own fault. People with loud personas get noticed more.

WheelDancer said...

Those two were exhausted from running a great distance because I nearly ran into them last week here in Minneapolis...

Peter Peterson said...

"I've witnessed this from runners a couple times. I think it's the human equivalent of "letting the horse take you home." Doesn't tend to happen to cyclists, because the greater speed punishes inattention."

Let me first point out that I am a runner, but I also cycle a decent amount too. Inattentiveness is a universal thing affecting motorists, cyclists, and runners alike, so singling out runners seems to be a little silly to me especially when we all have to deal with inattenive motorists more often then those of us using human power.
I'm in the minority of posters on this blog in that I prefer running, I have my reasons just as you do, but you can't honestly tell me you haven't caught yourself zoning out on the bike at some point. I know I have probably just as often as when I run.
I'm not trying to be combative I've just heard this argument before, it goes something like this. Cyclist is riding in middle of the traffic lane doesn't notice a car behind them , motorist gets annoyed honks and drives past thinking if god meant for humans to ride bicycles he wouldn't have invented cars.

The fact is the only mode of transportation god gave us is our legs, we invented the other stuff because we like having multiple ways of getting around depending on our needs or in most cases we are impatient and want to be there ASAP and inattentiveness is unfortunately not limited to just one group.

-Peter Peterson

Anonymous said...

She was entitled. You were from someplace else - obviously, on a bicycle.
I've seen that too where I live.

Bill Gibson said...

Yay! Kent, you ride more than I do, but I know who came up with Be Here Now; it was Baba Ram Das (google him) in the book Be Here Now, published lo these many years ago by the Lama Foundation, which may or may not have burned down in a global climate change induced fire near Taos New Mexico. It is a very good guidebook to a way of enlightenment. Baba Ram Das has had a few strokes, but he may be an immortal anyway. And you probably knew that anyway. But maybe some of your readers didn't? ;-)

MitchK said...

Were you on your red Dahon, or other red bike? If the former...whooboy.

The inattentiveness phenomenon is why I have an Air Zound on my bike. I consider it an essential piece of safety equipment, like brakes, or a helmet.

But for peds or cyclists, I use the soft touch, like you did. Well, there was one time I was tempted to use the Air Zound on a jogger who was in the *bike lane* (going in the correct direction at least) of a busy street. That, in spite of there being a sidewalk *right next to her*. She was wearing headphones and acted like it was her own private lane. I simply shook my head and passed her when it was safe to do so.

Emily said...

It's pretty common for people to zone out. I'm learning to never assume that someone will see the bright red biker bearing down on them. Sometimes they're in a hurry, sometimes they're tired, sometimes they're hungry, sometimes they just don't have their brain turned on... I do the same thing. I try to catch it fast, because it's not safe on a bike. I don't always succeed.

A zoned out driver is usually going the same way I am, so I can evade easily. Pedestrians I can see and take action. Wrong way cyclists who zone out can get pretty scary.

Albert said...

I second the Air Zound. You get 30-50 toots from the air cyclinder before you have to pump it up again.

I rode as a 'ride ref' on Chilly Hilly - I had to pump my horn up 4 times. I rode the course backwards dressed in a bright red vest, glo glovs, and a blinking DiNotte.

Honking my horn, signaling riders to get back into their lane, I rode slowly down the hills, 2 feet from the double yellow line - straight at the idiots who were riding across the double yellow line (ie do not pass) going up the hills.

Unbelievably enough, it took some of them a while to realize I was serious and get back in their correct lane.

Andy said...

It IS easy to 'zone out' on the trail, behind the handlebars, running, walking, and certainly in the car.
Perhaps that is why some of us find the meditative space on the bike so appealing.

But, it's also dangerous. In the car it can be deadly, as we learn all too often.

'Be here now' is good advice for most anything!


Tony Licuanan said...

I like the way this blog started with a nice ride to chat with a pal, (the friendship, the ride, the experience).

Then it turned to: I want my public trail vs. I want my multi million dollar home.

Then to: the kinda people that use the trail... dogs wearin' dogsuits matching their owners' - as if this is a crime. And, people wearin' Bluetooth? Oh nooooo!

Down to a runner that was zoning,
(we gotta comment for that too, surely).

I like the way this blog started.

Not the - complaining much about nothing stuff.

FWIW, I need a bike consultant. And, I still think that you're the man for the job.



Kent Peterson said...

Hey Tony,

You know how things work. I complain about stuff, people complain about people complaining, everybody complains about everybody else. Heck, that's the foundation of the internet! Right now I'm going to complain about how I haven't been riding with my pal Tony in way too long. You wanna ride to the Expo this weekend?