cycling utah June 1999


Accident reminds us that we're all vulnerable

By David R. Ward


Like everyone, I was shocked to hear of the tragic accident involving Brian Carlson, Maikel Wise and Brooke Mickelson. Brooke and her husband Scott, are good friends. To have such an incident occur involving people I love and the sport I love is a double blow.

While the details of this senseless and needless incident are related elsewhere in this issue, I want to personally express my sorrow and support to those injured, directly and indirectly. To believe this affects only those actually involved in the accident is not only naive, but ludicrous.

To be sure, Brian, Maikel and Brooke bear all the physical pain, damage and disability. But I also know of the impact this has had on Brooke's husband, who has made his home by Brooke's side at the hospital since the accident. And who can possibly imagine the mental anguish of Brian's fiance, Cathy, who from 100 meters behind saw the accident take place and then helped staunch the blood flowing from Brian's body till medical help arrived? (Incidentally, Brian and Cathy were returning home to celebrate their recent engagement.)

This was brought home to me a couple of weeks ago by an incident I personally experienced. I was riding west on 7800 South in Salt Lake. I was going out to the Oquirrh Highway, north to 5400 South and then back east to my home. 7800 South has been a nice road to ride because of the low traffic volume.

On this day, however, there were a number of gravel trucks owned by a local gravel company also traveling west to a gravel pit. Such large trucks coming from behind always cause me to cringe somewhat. But because of the light traffic, they were all moving to the left and giving me a wide berth. All but one, that is.

Like the others, I heard him coming. There was no oncoming traffic, and I expected that he too would move to the left to allow me room. Bad expectation. Without slowing or blowing, he barged by within a foot of my left side. I uttered a few silent curses on his soul, calmed down and kept on.

But the episode was not over. These gravel trucks were turning into the gravel pit from 7800 South, and after loading they were exiting the pit onto 5400 South and heading east. I am certain you can see where this is going.

Sure enough, as I descended down 5400 South and passed the exit from the pit, another gravel truck approached the road. I went by without incident, but could hear him pull out onto the road. There was a decent shoulder, but as luck would have it, I was approaching a section where the shoulder was all broken up and covered with large, loose chunks of gravel.

This time, I heard a horn from behind as the truck approached. Again, there was no oncoming traffic. Again the truck came within a foot of my left side, forcing me over into the rough gravel. Fortunately, I was able to survive a rather rough stretch and stay upright.

This made me reflect on what might have been. Not only the injuries I might have suffered as a result of the inconsiderate truck driver's actions, but the consequences that would result. Depending upon the seriousness of the injuries, there would be financial hardship resulting from lost income. There would be the strain and drain upon others of having to care for me. There would be the potentially permanent impact upon the personal relationships with my wife, children and others. It does not take a paranoid personality to see all the potential implications.

I have no point for my fellow cyclists in reciting the above incidents and thoughts. Indeed, it cannot be said that either Brian, Brooke, Maikel or myself were doing something we should or should not have been doing. We were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. As cyclists, this is a risk we take each time we ride, and we must recognize that. The law gives us the right to use public highways as legal vehicles but the law can't protect us from injury.

Incidents such as these are uncommon, though experienced by everyone at one time or another. By and large, motorists are sober, careful and courteous. When we are competent and careful cyclists, we really have little to fear.

Still, be careful. Be courteous. Ride defensively. Use common sense. Obey traffic laws. Wear your helmet. Rub your lucky charm. Say your prayers. You are vulnerable out there, and we want you home in better condition than when you left.

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