July 2005: The Tunnels

The first one took me completely by surprise. I just rode in. It took a minute to realize what was wrong. The light from the entrance faded and I found myself riding slower and slower, until we were in complete blackness.
I was still riding. Was this a good idea? Shouldn’t I stop? Don’t you need to see to ride a bicycle? Right. You do. I stop.
Lights, lights. There they are.
A little flashing red one on the back of my helmet. Much safer. Now at least there’s a chance that the drivers behind will see me.
I don’t exactly have a front light. I have a headlamp, a little flashlight that straps to my head. Except that I can’t strap it to my head with a helmet on, so I wrap it around my handlebars. A very slight glow is barely visible on the ground ahead of me. It may make me more visible to oncoming traffic, but as far as seeing the road in front of me, both lights are completely useless.
Obviously, I can’t be on the road like this. I can’t even see where the road is. I shine my light to the right and see that there is a narrow sidewalk. Oh, thank god. I’ll just walk. Slow, but the only option, really.
I pull my bike up and take a step. I escaped stepping into the gaping black hole by about three centimeters. What the hell? An entire square of the sidewalk is just missing. Gone. No tape, no sign, no warning of any sort. Blackness, straight down, as far as the eye can see, which isn’t far.
That was a close one. Obviously, nobody walks here.
So the sidewalk is more dangerous than the road. Great. My cycling companions have put their lights on, mostly about as useful as mine, and they’re pedaling on. Shit. I’d better go with them. At least then I can follow the bobbing red light ahead of me.
A roar in the distance gets louder. Cars are really incredibly loud things. Especially echoing menacingly in the blackness. It’s almost unbelievable how loud it is.
"Please let them see me."
"Please let them see me."
There is no shoulder in the narrow, two-lane tunnel, so I am in their lane, pedaling blindly. My life depends entirely on the illumination of their headlights and how much the anonymous driver is paying attention. It comes closer. The roar is deafening.
"Please don’t hit me."
"Please don’t hit me."
They pass. I am still alive! Hallelujah. It seems like a miracle. I speed up to try to keep up with my friends.
Oh shit! My bicycle shudders beneath me in the darkness.
OK, relax, it was only a bump. Keep pedaling.
When is this going to end?
Oh, great, another car.
"Please don’t hit me."
"Please don’t hit me."
Oh, lovely. Oncoming traffic, too. At least the headlights help me see the road for a minute.
Wait. Nobody’s slowing down! I know they usually don’t, but we’re in a tiny tunnel! There’s no room for two cars and a bicycle to fit here.
I keep pedaling, since stopping wouldn’t help, and pray for a head-on collision to somehow be averted. The car coming toward me is still not slowing down, and I can hear from the mounting roar behind me that neither is the other one.
Oh, come on. Can’t anyone see how crazy this is? Please slow down and let the other car pass! You can’t be in that much of a hurry!
They don’t. What do I do? I get as close to the curb as I dare and try to ride in a straight line.
My life flashes before my eyes. What ever made me think this was a good idea, spending the summer cycling?
Nobody is slowing down. There’s no time to get on the sidewalk, even if it exists intact here, which I can’t tell.
The roar from behind envelopes me.
I jump in my seat and nearly swerve into them.
Thanks. Honking was really helpful. As if I couldn’t hear you coming.
The driver behind me speeds into the left lane, meters in front of the car hurling itself at us from the opposite direction, apparently trying to kill us all in a head-on collision. My mind is blank as I prepare for death.
But I guess it’s not my day to die, because the car swerves back into my lane directly in front of us, having missed the other car by what looked like centimeters. As far as I can tell, nobody ever slowed down.
A light appears ahead. The light at the end of the tunnel! Daylight pours in and I pedal faster to get out before the next car, whose roar I can hear somewhere behind me, can catch up.
That’s it! I am free! Sunlight dries the cold sweat from the back of my neck. The trees are green, the flowers bright, and the road widens ahead of me. Warm air rushes into my lungs. I am alive! The road has never looked so beautiful.