This new-old story dates back to August 2011.
With 35-odd years of rich life under my belt, I have experienced a few stressful situations. With each incident the assumption is that I learn something, and so rather than staying shaken by the event, my confidence seems to improve. Sadly, however, the “learning” eventually seems to slip away, while the confidence seems to remain.
I was biking home from work along the bike path and approaching an underpass for a bridge that joins parts of the Calgary Zoo across the Bow River. I was hot on the trail of another cyclist who I was trying to reel in. The path dips under the bridge which puts it at eye level as you approach, blocking your view of the path on the other side. I had been steadily gaining on the other cyclist but she had momentarily disappeared out of sight into that blind spot. I slowed as I approached the bridge and rang my bell to alert anyone coming from the other direction. I passed under the bridge and seeing that I had no oncoming traffic to worry about, I stood on the pedals to power up the other side and recover speed in my bid to catch the girl biking in front of me.
I was pedalling hard and then **thwack!!**, I got hit in the forehead by a large bug. No matter how many times this happens to me, it always catches me off guard and the initial surprise is followed by an instant and intense anger – as if the bug has been planning out a precision and targeted air strike against me for weeks. They are so small, but the impact feels so big. This time it wasn’t instant anger that I felt after the impact, but an instant pinpoint of searing pain. The bug – a bee or a wasp – had bounced off my forehead, ended up inside my sunglasses, and stung me right above the eye. I was filled with panic, my instincts took over, and my right hand came off the bars, violently swatting at the source of the pain. My sunglasses and helmet were in the way, but I was overwhelmed with a single-minded goal to get this bug away from my eye and I forgot everything else, including the need to steer my bike. At this point either I closed my eyes, or became blind with panic. My bike veered sharply to the left and slammed hard into the railing on the other side of the path. My front tire hit the lower rail, absorbing a good deal of my momentum, and then my left bicep hit the upper rail, bringing to an abrupt end whatever forward motion remained. I unclipped, finally managed to rip my glasses off and angrily swiped the bug out of my eye. My eyebrow felt hot and was already pulsing and pounding in reaction to the sting. My upper arm felt somewhat numb, and a rug-burn like feeling was creeping into my bicep.
I must have made quite a racket; perhaps it was the thud of flesh against steel or the whoosh of air leaving my lungs, or maybe it was a high-pitched scream. The cyclist I was chasing was about 100 metres ahead of me but she had heard enough through her headphones to alarm her. She stopped her bike, pulled out an ear bud, and looked back at me with wide eyes and a good deal of concern. I was immediately embarrassed and tried to gather my wits enough to tell her I was fine, that I had just been stung by a wasp or a bee. I did my best to be nonchalant and cool about it. She gave me an empathetic “are you sure?” with her eyebrows, but I waved her on. She cycled away and I began to gather myself and try to piece together what had just happened.
As I took stock I realised that my front wheel was now pointing in a distinctly different direction from my handlebars and stem. I pulled up my sleeve to find that my arm was already bruising. I tried to assess the sting site in the reflection of my sunglasses but it was hard to make out enough detail. I pulled my phone out of my backpack to snap a picture so I could take a better look at it. As I was doing this, another cyclist passed me surely wondering why I was taking close-up pictures of my face at that exact point on the path. This made me smile, and as my adrenaline subsided, I began to see the humour in what had just happened. I decided this would make for a great story so I also took a picture of the scene and a picture of my arm, so I could use them in the re-telling. After straightening my bars I even took a look around on the path to see if I could find the bug for another crime scene photo, but to no avail.
Other than an itchy and slightly swollen eyebrow, the rest of my ride home went well. I had faced another stressful situation, and thankfully come through it okay despite my panicked reaction. Thank goodness the railing was there, as I would have tumbled hard down a slope and ended up in the river otherwise.
This is a perfect example of a situation I should learn from. I like to think that next time I will recognise the non life-threatening nature of the situation, keep my eyes open, stay calm, hang on to my bars and come to a controlled stop before causing a life-threatening situation by smashing into something really hard or careening headlong into the river. I would like to think so. I really would.