I am a runner but not in the strictest sense of the word. My husband is a runner in the strictest sense of the word because he started running cross country in middle school, continued in high school and received scholarships from his college for being on the cross country team. At 57, he runs a sustained 7:40 mile for long distances and he has run five marathons. At 56, I run an 11:30 mile. I run 25 to 30 miles a week and have done so for 25 to 30 years. I have run countless half-marathons and finished four marathons and this is why I consider myself a runner, although not in the strictest sense of the word.
My husband thinks it is with a noble reverence for health that I run six days a week because he runs only three days but there is absolutely no truth to this. I run six days a week so that I can eat a cookie at four o’clock every afternoon and not gain weight. So much for nobility.
One of the best parts of living in Geneva, for a runner, is the Fox River Trail, (FRT going forward). Seasonally spectacular, it offers gentle hills and views of the river and you don’t have to worry about cars. You must, however, worry about bikes.
The bikers have three methods they use when approaching a runner from behind on the FRT.
First, they call out to you that they are passing you on the left. This method would be okay but the tone is often slightly hostile as in: if you so much as think about taking one step to the left, I may run you down like a chipmunk with this bike.
The second method—and my favorite—is the tinkle-bell. You know the one. We all had them on our bikes when we were little kids and they have a merry little jingle that happily announces their presence. I love the tinkle-bells and I love the riders who use them.
The third method is absolute silence as they pass you so closely that your hair is blown to the other side of your head or your shoulder touches theirs as they streak by. I know that my hearing may be going a bit but you cannot hear these riders, I swear. These stealth Ninja-bikers scare me to death because if they hit me, I could fall and at 56, that might mean something gets broken that will require a long mending process and the afternoon cookie is then out of the question.
For the longest time I thought my bike paranoia belonged only to me and was another weird- getting-older sign to be added to the many other weird- getting-older signs I seem to be accumulating. But three things happened that convinced me otherwise.
The first thing happened when my daughter was visiting me last year and decided to take a run on the FRT while I made pies for Thanksgiving. I did not mention to her about the bikes on the trail because I thought she would think I am turning into a paranoid old lady and this is probably true, but why invite speculation? She came back from her run and announced that the cyclists on the FRT were lunatics with an agenda to pick off as many runners as possible. She said that they probably gouge a notch on their seats for every runner they take out. I felt justified for having this same belief and crossed it off my weird- getting-older signs list.
The second thing happened when I was driving a car. I was making a left-hand turn onto our road. A bike rider was on the sidewalk riding toward the cross-walk into which I had turned. Suddenly, I heard, “Hey!” I looked in the rear-view mirror to see the rider chasing me down. He was screaming. I could not imagine what he needed so I pulled into my driveway and waited for him.
He stopped behind my car, screamed that I had almost killed him, whipped out his cell phone and dialed 911. Upon connection, he screamed to the dispatcher that I had almost killed him and he wanted an officer sent immediately and, in case I should attempt to escape justice, he gave them my license plate number. I was in shock. The man did not have a scratch on him. To me, “almost killing someone” should have some blood involved or at least road rash.
The officer arrived. The cyclist screamed that I had almost killed him. The officer asked him what happened. He screamed that I almost killed him in the middle of the cross walk. The officer asked me what happened. I said that I had, indeed, seen the rider but he was nowhere near the crosswalk at the time of my turn. The cyclist continued to scream that I had almost killed him.
My neighbor was listening to all of this. He had come out into his yard no doubt wondering why the police were called to a home as boring as ours. My neighbor offered that it might have been a service to humanity if I had killed the cyclist. The officer began chewing his lips in an effort to keep from laughing. The cyclist wanted a fine levied. The officer refused. The cyclist insisted. The officer declined. The cyclist demanded an apology from me. My neighbor told him not to push his luck. Everyone left. But this incident again validated my belief that some of these cyclists are militant about their imagined or actual rights on the roads and trails.
The third thing that happened was that I read a piece called “Critical Mass” in the Oct. 2 issue of the Sunday Chicago Tribune. It was on the front page. The piece was written by a cyclist and talked about the hostile and aggressive attitude of some of today’s bike riders toward motorists and pedestrians. A bike rider wrote this. I now had absolute proof that this attitude and subsequent behavior exists. All of this evidence points to a need to reiterate the rules of the road so that the guilty can repent and behave better toward the pedestrians with whom they share the Trail. As a child, I was taught these rules by the adults in my life but clearly, this is no longer the case. So here are the rules and they are the essence of simplicity:
Pedestrians have the right of way. Always. They have feet and you have wheels and feet always trump wheels in the case of right of way.
When approaching a pedestrian while riding a bike on a common walkway or path, the rider must call out to the pedestrian their intention of passing on the left.
And then, there is the merry little tinkle-bell. Might I interest you in purchasing one? Who knows? It may even improve your mood.