Are you familiar with the game of chicken? Leave a reply When was the last time you played? For me, it was just this past week. Unintentionally. I took an hour or so of my afternoon to fit in a bike ride on a beautiful, clear, hot sunny day. I headed west on the bike trail that’s located directly behind my house. The trail runs along a creek shaded by trees on either side – winding through the city – giving a feeling of being anywhere else but in the middle of a metro area. But that all changes about 5 miles out when the trail exits the forest sanctuary and begins running parallel to a major thoroughfare that connects one western suburb to the next. It’s a route I travel regularly. The benefit of this route – besides being located right outside my back door – is that it extends for hundreds of miles with all sorts of wonderful Iowa towns along the way. The downfall is the section of the trail – prior to escaping the city limits – that involves maneuvering many major intersections and cross-traffic coming from just about every direction. The 4-lane highway runs east-west. There are many opportunities for cars to turn right and left off the highway – in front of cyclists who are riding along the north side of the highway on the designated bike trail, within about 15 feet of traffic. There are traffic lights, yield signs and some stop signs along the trail to caution, advise and dictate right of way. I’m fairly comfortable with the route, despite its “obstacles.” I’ve been an avid bike rider for 20 plus years. I always wear a helmet. And my dad taught me to always be a defensive driver, which I converted and apply to biking – it’s even more pertinent when riding on two wheels. As I headed west on this particular day, I was feeling fortunate to be on my bike – having the time and energy to fit in a ride. I wasn’t stressed. I was alert, traveling at a moderate pace, as determined by my training regimen for the day. I stopped at every traffic signal and waited for the walk sign to indicate safe crossing – which is still never guaranteed. You really have to watch for cars in the right-hand turning lane. That they see you. That they will wait to turn, even though the light indicates you’re free to proceed. See, Dad. I listened. In my world, the biker NEVER has the right-of-way. At least it should never be assumed. Because last I checked, in a game of chicken between bicyclist and motorist, the cyclist always loses. There are about 10 other crossings on the stretch I was biking that day that don’t involve traffic lights. Some are marked with yield signs or stop signs. Others are unmarked. When I reached my turnaround point to head back east toward home – just on the other side of the nearest town – I remember thinking how smooth the ride was going. I was thankful for my dad’s advice. I was thankful for the biking skills – both physically and mentally – I had developed over the years – which included 1) scanning for oncoming traffic coming from my right on the cross street in front of me, 2) being aware of traffic coming from behind that could be turning right onto the street I’m about to cross and 3) noticing traffic coming toward me that could possibly be turning left in front of me onto the cross street. I felt very aware – and grateful for all of the safe years of biking I had enjoyed. About two-thirds of the way through my ride – all that would change in a flash. I was still on the north side of the busy highway, but headed east now. There were businesses and residential areas on my left. I always like riding this direction a little better because I’m facing the oncoming traffic directly on my right. It gives me – an apparently false – sense of security. I slowed as I approached the cross street – with a yield sign for bikers headed east, and a stop sign for cars headed south – that lead in and out of some area businesses. At the same time, a driver was pulling up to the intersection – which crosses the bike path – to pull out onto the highway. We made eye contact, and the driver stopped before reaching the bike path in order to let me pass in front of her, waving me through. I waved back to acknowledge and thank her, picking up speed – only to be met a nano-second later with my life flashing before my eyes. During the brief interaction and confirmation with the southbound driver, I failed to notice the vehicle on the highway – from behind – in the left-hand turning lane. He apparently didn’t notice me either when, without any traffic signs or signals, he turned into the intersection I was currently crossing. I had no idea he was even there…until the moment his front bumper came within millimeters of my bike and my body – as we locked eyes in horror. I remember putting my hand out – resembling a Heisman trophy pose – in a knee-jerk reaction to deflect the car that was about to hit me. And somehow simultaneously steering the handle bars with the other hand, swerving wide enough to be missed – without me going down. How? Good question! Oddly, neither one of us stopped, but I waved back to the driver as if to say, “Phew! Thank you for not killing me – somehow.” As I pulled up to the next major intersection – waiting for the cross light – I realized I wasn’t even frazzled. I’ve had some close-call vehicle incidents before that left my heart-pounding in a flight or fight response, forcing me to pull over in order to calm my nerves. In fact, I’ve had person-to-person encounters that I would’ve rather avoided, that got my blood pumping harder than this. So why was I so freaking calm? As I entertained the question, the only answer that came to me brought me even more peace. Today was not my day to go. I had never had a closer call in my life. This had all the makings of a tragic accident storyline – but with a fairytale ending. I felt so happy. So grateful. It just wasn’t my time to go. I felt that with complete certainty. If you’re alive today, and you are if you’re reading this…right? You’re meant to be here. It is your time. Relish it. Make the absolute best of it. An even bigger revelation from this experience was that none of us were assholes in that moment. Yes. Assholes. I didn’t find myself blaming the f***ing driver of the vehicle that almost ran into me. Playing the scenario over and over in my head. Needing to make somebody right or wrong. And I have a history – along with most humans – at being quite good at doing just that. And the driver didn’t jump out of his car screaming – eyes bulging out of his head – in order to say how dare I almost make him run me over! Honestly, I’m not sure who was “at fault” in this situation. But this I do know. Nobody would have benefited from this scenario ending badly. In fact, there is a kind of rift between operators of vehicles and bicyclists throughout our city – and I’m sure other cities, too. Over the years I have been driven off the road by angry or annoyed drivers. Had a car pass me so closely that I’ve been hit by its side mirror. Had drivers honk profusely, scream profanities from their car windows and flip me off. But never the close call like this day. And it goes both ways, bikers bitch and moan about drivers all the time – but without the ability to do as much damage in a moment of impatience, road rage or entitlement. In addition, there are many bikers who have treated runners, walkers and less experienced bikers on the trail with the same annoyance, distaste and disrespect – the same as motorists to bikers. The pendulum swings both ways. So with a second lease on life, after surviving my closest call ever, I want to take this chance to encourage tolerance, patience and compassion. After all, we’re all human. We’re all mortal. We’re all vulnerable. We all make mistakes. And no matter who is “at fault,” everybody loses in some way, shape or form when someone ends up hurt, injured or dead. So the next time you encounter a biker. Or a walker. Or a runner. Or a person traveling too slow in traffic when you’re in a hurry. Or a Republican if you’re a Democrat. Or someone who speaks a different language. Or believes differently than you. Who is learning or inexperienced. Who made a mistake. Anyone who has a different agenda than you in any given moment. Like your teenage son, for instance. Try slowing down. Make a little room. Where can you make a little more room in your life? Practice tolerance? Stop being an asshole? Share in the comments below.