Became an official "DC biker" today by having my first brush with death. Wasn't even my fault. I'm not one of those crazy bikers who deserves to be hit. In about seven or so of the longest seconds of my life, I got sideswiped by a Circulator bus today as I rode alongside the Mall. I had a row of parked buses on my right and I was keeping on my eye on them in case any of them started up. All of a sudden, I feel a wall moving me over to the right and I hear the sound of my elbow and forearm squeaking against this big red blur that I now see out out of the corner of my eyes. The red blur is pushing me.
In that frozen moment, instead of panic setting in, everything oddly seemed to slow down. It was like I had an hour and a half to read the situation and react. Strangest moment I've ever experienced. I very calmly realized that a bus had somehow had come up behind me but not seen me and was just about one or two seconds from sandwiching me between it and the parked row of buses. I knew the wreck could be fatal if I got smashed into the parked buses or if the moving bus knocked me off the bike and to God knows where, possibly ending up under the moving bus.
As the eternity ticked by, I realized I could not look left because that would force the bike left, and I couldn't stop as the bus was somehow stuck to me. I recognized all I could do was keep my head straight, the bike straight, and use my left hand to bang on the bus so that the driver would either hear me or that sure-to-be-screaming passengers would tell him to stop.
So, while the bus is brushing me to the right and I'm inches away from getting flattened, I keep my right hand on the bike and start banging on the bus with my left. The bus was speeding up and still stuck to me. I banged three times and then attempted to use my left hand to push myself off the bus. I had to free myself from it and take my chances with smashing into the buses on the right. Just in that split second in which I thought the driver was going to remain oblivious and some really bad stuff was about to go down, the bus stopped and my push off hurled me forward -- still somehow in the straightest line I've ever ridden, and I clear of the moving bus.
I looked over my shoulder and realized I was clear. My first thought, and I'll never forget this, was not that I just survived a damn frightening deal -- I never even felt my heart rate increase; it honest to God seemed to slow down -- but that the driver was probably horrified and thinking his career was about over as surely I was about to stop, raise hell, and call the police. (The bus driver had a whole other lane he could have moved over to.) Instead, I just put in a few strong strokes, accelerated away from the bus, and kept on cruising as if nothing happened -- adrenalin racing through my veins and me feeling like Evel Knievel after getting up from something he had no business walking away from.
No blood, no foul, just like the way I used to play basketball as a teenager.
Craziest moment of my life. It was a rush, actually. Twenty seconds later, my mind still didn't dwell on what could have just happened. I was feeling a great sense of pride: "Wow, I just stayed unbelievably calm and made some pretty slick moves there. I really know what I'm doing on this bike. I'm a pro!"
I turned my attention back to the cherry blossom trees, the deep blue sky, the sun warming my skin, the architecture of all the Smithsonian museums and the monuments -- not a thought in my conscious mind at that point. I guess it was just too beautiful a day to die.