Sunday, April 22, 2012

Crossing The Bar

Sunset and evening star
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea

I first heard Alfred, Lord Tennyson's "Crossing The Bar"  at my Uncle's funeral. It had been read at my grandfather's funeral, and perhaps at others on my mother's side (the Beaches). Perhaps one day it will be read at mine. I found it poignant that he requested it to be placed as the last poem in all editions of his works. But at the risk of moderate irreverence, I submit that I have crossed the bar already, and today I will tell the tale(s).

The year was 1969. At 10 years old, I had yet to graduate to a "10 speed" but I was in possession of the most bitching 5-speed Stingray on the planet. Or so I thought. And OK, it probably wasn't a real Stingray, but a knock-off brand, but I polished the crap out of it. 

It was almost identical to the bike pictured above. Except I kept the seat down and reveled in the full-height sissy-bar. I was never quite sure why the name 'sissy-bar' wasn't mocked more. Maybe it was.

As my brother and I embarked on our ride to the nearest shopping center (5 miles away) he informed me he wouldn't be stopping until the nearest town (2.2 miles away). Dick.

The ride began with a ridiculously steep and long downhill grade. Since he had the much faster 10-speed, I knew I had to pedal my ass off to keep up, and reaching warp speed was essential.

This was my first encounter with a condition known as resonance. To sum it up, in an undamped system being driven at its resonant frequency, displacement theoretically goes to infinity. This is also known in skateboarding as the wobbles. Your Humble Narrator has a similar story about that but let us save it for another day.

After being jettisoned over the handlebars, I awoke on the simmering hot pavement of a 50-MPH 2-lane rural road with cars bearing down on me. There were no helmets back in the day. Fortunately for me the first car stopped and drove me to our family doctor, a few miles in the other direction. A few stitches and a diagnosis of severe road rash later, I got to spend the rest of the summer and most of the fall in a sling and not a lot of skin on my right arm and fingers. 

Fast forward to last weekend. Now graduated to a 2x9 full-carbon GT Sport (no sissy-bar), I stood up hard on the pedals to build momentum for a hill climb on the W&OD. Up ahead, I see a helmet-less adult male with 2 children on dwarf bikes, stopped and loitering ON THE TRAIL. Now mind, I'm moving at about 10-meters/second at this point.

ME: on your left.
ME: On Your Left.

And at this point, the unrestrained children decide to leave the trail via an intersecting trail on the left, ACROSS MY PATH.


Maybe I needed to utter these phrases in a second language, but what followed needed no translation. I was able to dodge both kids, but COMPLETELY took out the helmet-less adult male. And "across the bars" I went. And let me tell you, when you're clipped into the pedals when this happens, it's a lot like being thrown into the ditch with a lawn chair tied to your feet, doing a somersault

Shaking off the impact at ground level, I became aware of this screaming kid, who had just witnessed the bicycling equivalent of a drive-by shooting. Dad was still pasted to the pavement. But fortunately he was OK - after the stars stopped circling his head. I cleaned him up with my first-aid kit, we shook hands and went our separate ways. No harm, no foul, no lawsuit.

When I got home a few hours later, I was curious. Just how much energy got transferred in that collision? Well, it turns out my pendulous self at 22 MPH is going to deliver about 4,660 Joules of kinetic energy to the recipient. Tasers only deliver about 0.3-1.4 Joules. Defibrillators - about 400 Joules. So yeah, I'm guessing that stung a little.

Translation: Always wear a helmet. 
And especially for me - Slow down. Remain seated until called.  


  1. Well, it's OK, compared to the rest of the post, and after all, how many people get to have a comma after their first name?