So, this is... let's see. I think it's the third week I've been riding to work, and the first in which I rode all 5 days (man, I LOVE the Bay Area. Sunny with highs in the 70s? In early February? Yes, please!). I've come pretty far from my initial test ride, when I needed to stop at Vasona to take a breather. I'm now familiar with the route, have better endurance on the bike, and feel much more confident. It turns out that the third point isn't such a good thing.
I found out yesterday that Wayne, our CEO, was taking us all out for drinks after work, which is incredibly nice of him. However, since I had ridden to work, that raised some complications. I'm usually careful to hit the road soon after 5 so I'm not riding after dark; now, I would need to either make an incredibly brief appearence at the Los Gatos Brewing Company (which meant finding a ride who would also not be there long), or ride after dark, or head home even earlier than usual and drive back down, or bail on the whole thing and just go home. I really wanted to go out with everyone, so I decided I'd take my chances with the dark.
LGBC was a lot of fun, of course. This is sort of our default post-work hangout, and the second all-company thing I've been to there. Wayne paid for drinks and a great spread of food, which, again, is awesome. It was a really nice chance to talk with some guys I don't interact with much during the day, and I learned a lot about living in San Francisco, the counties of extreme northern California, and BREW 4.0. (Oops, probably shouldn't have mentioned that last thing. Or am I just making it up?!)
I left with Rajiv, my ride, around 6:30. It was already pretty dark, but with a full moon, and it didn't feel that bad. I went back to the office and had a brief panic moment when the side of the office where we keep our bikes was locked; fortunately, the back was not, and in a few minutes I was pedaling towards the freeway.
After examining my myriad options for getting to and from work, I've largely settled on crossing the freeway as my best connection from the trail to Rocket Mobile. It actually feels safer going home than coming to work, because I'm established on the road the whole time; the only tricky part there is merging across a lane of traffic to get to the shoulder at the end. In the morning, though, I'm doing it on the sidewalk, and because of the trees and the strong curve of the ramps it's hard to see a car coming until it's almost on top of you. But people are nice and I've even had a few wave me in front of them.
Anyways. This initial part is what I was worried about the most, since it dealt with drivers needing to see me when getting onto or off of the freeway. But it was fine, both because traffic was lighter at 6:30 than it is at 5 and because I have blinking lights for my bike. Yep, I definitely had the "be seen" thing down. Made it to the trail entrance in one piece and headed down.
I was struck by how quiet and lonely the trail was; there was nobody else around. It was dark, too; there are no street lights down there, and only a little light penetrated the forest and made it down the grade onto the path. It was a kind of eerie feeling, and I enjoyed it as I geared up and started making my way home in earnest.
Here's what went through my head at the crucial moment:
"Something's not right..."
In a second or two I deduced what had happened: I had ridden into a fence at a pretty high speed. Not my finest moment. I realized that I was at a point where the trail took a sharp 45 degree turn, and I had kept going straight. My unease was as not being able to see what was in front of me, which was perfectly understandable once I understood that what was in front of me was a chain-link fence separating the path from a bunch of trees.
I did a brief self-inspection and then checked out the bike. I kind of hurt, and my glasses seemed ajar, but nothing was broken, and the bike seemed in better shape than I was. Humbled, I resolved to take it easy the rest of the way home, and took the rest of the journey in a lower gear. As I rode I reflected on how I could have done something so stupid and came to some rationalizations and conclusions. Since I had just gotten off the freeway interchange, I was moving from a high-light area to a low-light, and so I didn't have my night vision yet. I was going too fast, obviously; for the same reason a car needs to go slow when it's foggy or rainy out, a bike needs to go slow when it's dark out... I can't see things until I'm on top of them and higher speeds give me less time to react. And while I "know" the route now, it's not like I can do it with my eyes closed, which is sort of what I was attempting.
As is often the case after a scare like this, I started thinking of all the ways in which it could have been worse, and eventually convinced myself it was good that I ran full-speed into a chain-link fence. I'd walked away under my own strength without needing to call 911 or anything. I was very grateful to still have a bike to ride; the thought of walking home for three hours didn't greatly appeal to me. And, really, it was good I learned my lesson about going slow early on. Later along the path I did start to encounter the occasional walker; it was hard enough to see them already, and I just hate to think of what might have happened if I'd run one of them over.
Despite the slower speed, it didn't take me that much longer than usual to get home, and soon I was examining myself in the bathroom mirror. It looked far worse than I felt. The right side of my body had obviously taken the hit: big ol' bruise on my cheek, a cut along my eyebrow, a massive but shallow wound on my shoulder, and a bunch of deep gouges on my hand that were painful to look at. I sort of marvelled for a while then started cleaning up. Soap and water to get the dirt out of everthing was my first priority. Then I took some rubbing alcohol and applied it to the cuts. OUCH. Man, that stuff STINGS! I gritted and carried on, though, and before long felt reasonably sure that the worst germs were dead.
I created a patchwork of band-aids for my hand. I wanted to cover the cut on my brow, but it would have either required me to lay some sticky stuff along my eyebrow or dangerously close to my eye, so instead I convinced myself that it had pretty much scabbed over already. The shoulder was tricker; it was just so large that I couldn't use a bandaid without touching a red area, and I didn't have any sterile bandages big enough for the whole thing. I ended up taking a clean handkerchief and sort of creating a makeshift bandage; not the best solution, but it kept it from being exposed.
So, here I am. Oh, and my frames are definitely bent and one lens has a thin crack in it; fortunately, I'm eligible for another VSP visit, so I'll try and do that early next week. I'm glad I didn't come out of this in worse shape, and hopefully I've learned my lesson now about riding after dark, and why it's best not to do it.