Monday, April 27, 2015

A Cycling Tale: When Intuition Goes Haywire

My head is a cornucopia of bad ideas.

I suppose if I never acted on some of those ideas, I'd have no sense as to whether they were good, bad or indifferent, but fortunately (at least for the entertainment of others) I often find myself too curious to simply let those passing thoughts go.
*Image found here
A couple of months ago, I made a comment that I was working toward a goal of riding every street of the city in which I reside. Part of the plan was to make some sort of goal and determine how long it would take me to do this activity, as well as to log the happenings of each ride in some fashion. The planning portion of this goal has been horrendous so instead I decided to just start riding when I felt like meandering the streets and not worry so much about how long it would take or how many miles I'd complete on a particular ride.

One of the first outings was rather unintentional. About a month ago, I started out with the intention to ride to a local lake, circle it slowly and return home - more as a means to be outside for a bit than to really worry about what I was physically accomplishing.

As I headed in the direction of the lake, a thought popped into my head: Why not ride a few of the side streets on my way to the lake to get some of the roads crossed off my list? It seemed harmless enough, but as it would turn out, I never made it to the lake itself because I got wrapped up in the street-riding portion of the ride.

I am familiar with the neighborhood through which I rode on this trip, but I was still surprised to see just how many streets were present that I hadn't known existed at all. As I looped around and in and out of various avenues I noticed little things that are inconsequential on most days. I found myself admiring Easter decorations on homes, curious about the days' menu selection for a murder of crow, and amused by the ever-changing road conditions from one block to the next.

Now, I am not a person who is obsessed with my cell phone. As anyone who is around me in real life for any length of time soon realizes, there are many occasions on which I forget my phone at home or it is turned silent and I don't hear all of the bells and whistles announcing calls, texts, e-mails, Twitter updates, etc. In short, I cannot reliably be counted on to immediately see updates on various sources.

So, it shouldn't be horribly surprising that on this particular ride, I completely forgot my phone and left it sitting on the kitchen table. This momentary lapse left me without a photography tool, which was unfortunate as I was spotting so many interesting items along the way. Normally, my primary reason to bring the phone on rides is in case of catastrophic bike failure, but since I knew I was going to be but a few miles from home, I wasn't particularly concerned about my forgetfulness on this occasion, and I figured I could live without photos of this short adventure.

The ride was quite enjoyable, but I am amazed at how exhausting it is to ride around a neighborhood. Between the slow speed and many stop signs, it feels as though I'm covering almost no ground at all, so to get through about 20 mi/32 km of roadway, I felt it was about the most I wanted to accomplish on this particular day.

Not only was I growing weary of circling, but much time had passed with my lollygagging and I was becoming increasingly thirsty and hungry. It was definitely time to call it quits for the day.

As I headed back toward home, I decided to knock a few more streets off my list. Why not? They were on the way home and it only made sense to try to sneak in a few more. As I was approaching a stop sign, I spotted a man attempting to get a large bookcase into the back of a very small wagon.

Initially, I thought I would just pass by without saying a word, but I thought about how I'd feel if I were trying to move by myself (as I have done - and it isn't pleasant), so I changed my mind at the last second and squeezed the brakes hard, bringing me to an abrupt halt about two feet from the sidewalk where he stood.

You might be thinking that this statement is leading to an injury report, but you would be incorrect in this assumption. No, instead, I proceeded to speak to this person and inquired, "Do you need some help loading that up?"

At first, he looked a little startled, but then after a few seconds, he shook his head side to side, indicating that he did not require my assistance.

I could have let it be. I could have mozied right along and neither of us would've been interrupted or disturbed that day. I could have smiled or waved and gone on my way. But, that is not what I do, apparently. Instead, I felt the need to press the issue.

"Are you sure?" I questioned again. "I really don't mind at all."

I could see that he was not wanting my help, so I started to get back to pedaling when he said, "You kind of threw me off there." I started to say something about it not being a big deal and that I just wanted to offer a hand, but I was cut off as he then said, "Do you know what a smartphone is?"

This confused me and I'm sure it must've shown on my face. Why was he asking me this? Did he need directions or the hours of a store? I didn't have my phone with me anyway, so I was of little use to him if he did. I replied, "Yes," assuming that I'd have to inform him that I wouldn't be able to offer any help at the moment.

He then laughed and said, "All these teenagers." Wait, did he think I was a teenager out at lunch on a break from school? I smiled internally and thought Wow, I must look great for my age! It's been a long, LONG time since I've been mistaken for a teenager. I started to nod along, thinking that he was going to make some sort of statement about teenagers having unnecessary smartphones, but then he continued on.

"They think ...{He fades off, but inserts his first cackle} Coming by here, and I'm like you don't know what I am or what I can do to you. I'm just trouble, and I get into a lot of trouble. {insert another cackle}"

Honestly, I was just confused at this point. What in the world was he talking about? Suddenly, my intuitive senses (which generally trigger much earlier during these types of situations) were going off. I just needed to leave.

As he started to walk toward me, I have to admit, a tiny bit of panic set in. Fortunately, he was on foot and even though he was coming awfully close, I was still standing over my bicycle, so I figured I had a far better shot at winning a race with this opponent than most I encounter on the roads (and I thought, Thank heavens I didn't dismount the bicycle as I'd intended to do!)

"You'd better run along there {he's kind of hysterically laughing/cackling now}. You have no idea what I could do."

Well, I thought to myself, I certainly don't want to find out. "Have a good day I said, as I smiled and started to pedal off." He continued to talk, but I have no idea what he was saying as the only thought in my mind was get away from this person - now.

As I pedaled the mile home, I went over what had just happened several times in my mind. Had I missed some clue? What exactly had just taken place?

I think it shook me far more than it should have. Whether on my bicycle or in a car, I tend to be a person who offers help to those who look like they are in need, and extremely rarely has there been a case during which I felt ill-at-ease or as though my safety was in jeopardy. In fact, usually I get that same "sick" feeling before I even stop if it's a bad situation. Suddenly, I was questioning my usually very reliable senses.

It's taken me several weeks to even write about it here because I wasn't sure it was something that could be beneficial to anyone, and I never want to scare anyone out of riding a bike. However, I realized that riding my bicycle was purely the mode of transportation on a particular day, and this could easily have happened if I were out walking, in the car and had stopped, etc. So, I think it is really more of a good reminder to always be at least a little on guard when approaching an unknown individual.

Have you had any iffy or disconcerting moments with another person while out riding a bicycle? What did you do (if anything)? Do you approach strangers who appear to need assistance? If so, have you ever had it backfire?

Stay safe on the roads out there. As spring is becoming more beautiful each day, I am reminded that more people are outside with these longer and warmer days, and I have to stay aware of my surroundings and the people occupying the environment.


  1. Oh my gosh, G.E., that would have left me feeling really rattled. Thank goodness you were on bike and not on foot. I too tend to offer help if someone looks like they need it and it is within my ability to help. I haven't had it backfire, but your encounter gives me pause. I have had a few occasions where I can remember not offering help because something just felt "off." In general, though, I don't have very reliable gut instincts, so maybe I should be less helpful ;)

    In any case, I'm glad you got going on your project to ride every road. I absolutely love your haphazard approach to doing it. Perfect! I'm usually a compulsive planner, but there is something about being on a bike that beacons me down roads I've never travelled before with the simple question: "I wonder what's down here?" Since I started wandering on bike, I've discovered parts of my city with a kind of intimacy that I had never imagined before. I hope your unpleasant encounter doesn't put you off of exploring your city.

    1. It was an interesting feeling, certainly, and I was very glad to be on a bike and not walking.

      I'm glad I have a start to the riding-every-road plan too. I think it's easier for me to not think too much about it and just do it when it feels right. This incident didn't deter me from the goal, but it definitely left me a little shaky for a day or so.

  2. ^ Ugh. Beckons not beacons.

    1. No worries... I cannot tell you how many times I've typed something and then gone back later and realized I used the wrong word (there/their/they're; road/rode; affect/effect, etc). I hate it because it's not as though I don't know the difference, but in my haste I often don't even realize what I've done. Argh.

  3. I'm not saying I condone the man's behavior, but I can understand it. Of course he could be a nut, but more likely, he was simply responding passively aggressively after you "insulted" him. Of course, you did not intend to insult him. But we all know, as they say in therapy, there are intentions and then there impacts.

    Again, not saying the man's response or feelings are "right", but many men do tend to feel insulted if a woman, especially a stranger, asks them if they need help. That is, thinking "has she judged me incompetent?" It's how many men are wired, or maybe socialized. Certainly these feelings are not recognized as socially acceptable in today's day and age, but nevertheless, if you are interested in understanding non-judgmentally, then know they can exist in men, at least some.

    If the situation was reversed. If a strange man stopped to offer assistance to a woman. I think many women would decline. Not necessarily because they feel "insulted", but maybe because they don't want to put themselves in a vulnerable position.

    Obviously, at least I hope it is obvious, the above thoughts are generalizations, not absolutes and they do not apply to everyone.

    My advice, be extremely cautious about offering assistance to a man unless you know them. Fragile egos, you know.

    1. It definitely didn't bother me that he didn't want my help (and I can completely understand not wanting to accept assistance from a female). What DID disturb me was the nonsense talk that followed his decline for help. I just wasn't sure where that came from and why he was carrying on in such a manner (the hysterical cackling and the conversation that had nothing to do with what had taken place). I suspect he may have had some psychological issues - but I'm definitely not going to attempt to diagnose. You may very well be correct and he just wanted me to be on my way.

      As for turning down help from a male on the roads - I think that would depend on the situation. I've had guys stop and offer to help when I've been pulled over. There are times when it's completely innocuous and they seem genuinely willing to help if I was in need. Then, there are other moments when someone is simply acting creepy and I'd prefer they just move on - and that goes for both sexes. I guess it's usually why I just trust my instincts to guide me.. or, as you said, it's probably better to not offer to help if I'm alone.


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