It only takes a micro-second for something disastrous to happen. One moment you’re happily riding your bike, the next you can find yourself thinking about your mortality.
– A blog and videos by Rob Arnold
It’s a vision that is burned into my mind. I cannot unsee it. And the memory of what happened is being replayed over and over and over again. It invades my sleep and pokes its way into my thoughts at all times of the day and night.
It relates to a very brief moment during my ride on Saturday. It involves an oncoming vehicle… and a miracle. Somehow I’m able to tell this story, but I wish it never happened. It has shaken me. It disturbs me. It upsets me and it frustrates me… and as horrible as it was, it could have been a whole lot worse.
It was a catastrophic situation that, thankfully, was over almost as quickly as it began and no one was harmed but it has damaged me and I’m different now. Allow me to explain…
Saturday morning: to Bundeena and back
There’s a stretch of beautiful road in the Australian bush. Two lanes, a false flat, and alongside it are trees that beg to be looked at and noises that can captivate if you take the time to listen.
Birds and frogs sing and the sound is mixed with the hum of bike tyres and, on this particular day, a blustery southerly. If you pull on the brakes – not even to stop, rather just to slow down a little and allow your breath to catch up with your legs – the wind noise calms and it’s as tranquil a place as you could possibly imagine.
The Royal National Park to the south of Sydney begs you to visit. There are treats for all your senses.
Don’t fret if your heart rate drops when you ride past the signs welcoming you to this bush paradise, it’s only natural – you are, quite simply, more relaxed when you enter the park. This is your place. It is our place. It is a great place to be alive.
‘The Royal’ (or ‘The Nasho’, as it’s called by some) has something for everyone and yet there’s room enough to roam without the concerns that come with a crowd. You can find your patch in the park and allow your mind to wander while you feel the world breathe.
I’ve written about it before, and I’ll write about it again for many years to come.
I’ve ridden there before, and I’ll ride there again… for many years to come. Thankfully!
I’m grateful for this place, and it means even more to me now after what happened to me in the Royal National park on my Saturday morning ride last week.
It took only a micro-second, not enough to even consider any aspect of life – or death – but it was all the time I needed to realise my vulnerability. One moment I was riding along, concentrating on the white line below my tyres, and the rhythm of my breath, the next I was almost idle, staring at the heavens… wondering how I was still alive.
The vision that replays in my mind is of an oncoming car, its driver carefully negotiating a sweeping left-hand bend in the National Park. And then the harrowing element of this story emerged. A ute. A low-cab, black ute.
With no warning, without any indication – and, I’m sure, without any consideration – the driver hit the accelerator and turned his steering wheel right. It’s a sudden action too, there was nothing subtle about it. From behind the car in front of it, the ute bursts into my line of sight.
I look up. I have no time to think but the four words that filled my mind in that instant echo in my memory: I’m going to die.
Of course, we all are – at one point… but on Saturday, I saw how it might have happened had there not been some miracle that allowed me to avoid catastrophe.
It was there. And then it was gone – speeding off into the distance at ±100km/h (in an 80km/h zone). The driver probably didn’t have a care in the world. He surely didn’t even notice me. I was just a blip on the side road as he sped past, and he probably just went about his day without giving the moment a second thought.
But me? I cannot stop thinking about it.
How the ute missed me – how I avoided a head-on collision – escapes me.
I’ll never fully understand how my life didn’t end with a sudden thump, bike rider meeting black metal. But it didn’t, and I’m telling my story because sharing it helps me realise that I’m still alive.
The vehicle missed me by a matter of millimetres. I faced it, head-on. I looked through the windshield. I saw black metal. I thought, ‘I’m going to die’. And there wasn’t even time to panic. I may have breathed deeply. If the driver saw my face, he would have known he was doing the wrong thing. It was a nightmare scenario that still feels like a dream, days later while it continues to replay in my mind.
It was the worst moment I’ve had on a bike. It should never have happened, but it did and it reduced me to tears. I rolled to a snail’s pace. I dropped my head as the bike drifted as deep into the shoulder of the road as I could go without riding into the bushes. I rolled along until I found some sanctuary, a place amongst the trees with the birds providing their background song, with frogs chiming in with a croak.
After unclipping from the pedals, I put my forearms on the handlebars and rested my head down low and I began to sob. It was a scare like I’ve never had before and one I hope no one else ever has to endure. It was terrifying and it has left me feeling like a different person.
Of course I kept on riding. I always will. But it’s different now.
– By Rob Arnold
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Postscript – #StoryOfMyRide, intermission
I’m happy to report that the rest of the ride was excellent and, thankfully, safe. I’ll post a follow-up video showcasing where I went next and what I saw on what was a magical day on the bike. It was frightening and included a moment that I’m sure I’ll never forget, but it also included plenty of highlights, some discovery and, of course, some beautiful scenery.
The bike is more than a vehicle and cycling is much more than going for a ride. It is a way of life, one that I love.
Thanks to everyone who has sent messages since watching my video. I’m humbled by all the support I have received. It means a lot.
Ride. Enjoy. Be safe.