I've just finished my evening cycle ride. Just a short one, only twelve miles, it's my regular route. It's part of National Cycle Route number 65, it takes me away from York city centre along the riverside and quickly out into the countryside, through fields full of cows, woods, past poppy fields, through the pretty village of Overton and over the York to Edinburgh railway line. The top of the railway bridge is the six mile point, so when I reach it, I turn round and head for home.
It's a quiet and mostly rural cycle ride, for the most part along a narrow cycle track. The mooing of cows, birdsong, and occasionally the distant sound of a shotgun are the soundtrack to my ride. So it came as little surprise this evening when I encountered a man, out walking with his young son and his dog, with a shotgun case slung over his shoulder. The son saw my approach, alerted his father, and they moved to the right of the track to let me pass. I slowed down, overtook them, thanked them and continued on my ride, reaching the halfway point a little under three miles later.
I turned around and rode hard along the homeward leg. My speed topped out at 26 mph this evening, not bad for someone on a hybrid cycle which has a very un-aerodynamic riding position. My speed was helped in part by my clip-less pedals, a system which locks your shoes into the pedals which is bad for low speed manoeuvrability, but good for propelling the bike along quickly and efficiently.
I soon found that I was approaching the man carrying the shotgun and his son again, coming up behind them at quite a pace. I decelerated and flicked down through the gears. The son heard this, and moved over to the right. The father also started moving over to the right, leaving a bike sized space to his left. I was going slowly by this point, not more than 8 mph, and began to coast along on the left side of the track. When I was about six feet behind the man he suddenly moved to the left, blocking the cycle lane. There was no time to brake so avoidance was my only option, I aimed my bike at the long grass to the left of the cycle lane. The front wheel hit the long grass and I soon discovered that the grass was covering a hole with a diameter large enough to accommodate a bicycle wheel to a depth of about seven inches. The front wheel plunged into the hole and I, with my weight transferred over to the right to try to regain the cycle lane, was pitched over the handlebars and to the right, still locked in to the pedals.
At this point the man with the shotgun became aware of my presence. He seemed surprised to discover an upside down man on his bicycle soaring toward him. He gasped, and then we collided. Somehow the back of my right shoulder hit him hard in the middle of his left arm, sending him sprawling to the floor, which is where my bicycle and I landed on him.
There was a bit of an awkward silence, as we both tried to determine whether our limbs were intact and while I wondered exactly what the etiquette of the situation was. I didn't feel any pain and the collision had wrenched my feet free of the pedals, so I rolled off the man with the shotgun, and put my bike to one side. I stood up and at the same time nervously enquired "are you okay?"
The man sat up, feeling his left arm, "Yes, I think so. Are you alright?"
"Fine", I replied, " I had a soft landing." (I know, I can't help it).
I helped the man to his feet. At this point the small boy burst into tears. This may have saved my life. To placate him, the man with the shotgun and I both made a great display of bonhomie, I was so affable that I even befriended the dog. We chatted for a bit, established that there were no injuries, and having cheered up his son, we continued on our respective journeys.
Only I could go to the middle of nowhere and ride my bicycle into with a man with a gun. I'm now considering fitting a bell.