I suppose there’s reassurance in knowing how you’re going to die. Or at least, after feeding in the data, having a pretty good idea: number of bike rides per year; number of level crossings in Lancashire; expected level-crossing crossing rate; age and reliability of automatic barrier technology; general luckiness (out of ten).
My riding buddy and I, pedalling twice across the Lancaster – Barrow-in-Furness line in a single and frequently ridden thirty mile loop recently, both felt the same, strong premonition. One day, barrier up, no flashing lights, we are sure to pedal across those tracks to be met with a TTTHHWUMMPP!
Only one winner.
It’s a law of averages thing.
Ageing barrier technology failure. A cyclist (or two) wiped out. “Cyclist(s) in level crossing horror…” the local papers will say (cyclists as opposed to human beings, because that’s how the media works).
“I s’pose there are worse ways to go,” we agreed. Quick. Clean. Little time for panic or pain. Certainly beats at least seven or eight of the other options.
And don’t get the wrong idea: we are not timing our rides to coincide with the 4:27 to Ulverston. We are not attacking the level crossing, like lemmings at a cliff edge, consumed by religious rapture and seeking out the afterlife. This is not our intention. Our intention is to live to ripe old ages without so much as a “cyclists in level crossing near miss horror.”
We’re very happy with our current state of being. There’s just something vulnerable about riding a bike over an unmanned level crossing.
It brings on the heebie-jeebies.
It doesn’t take much imagination.
To die at the hand (paw) of an escaped lion or by, I don’t know…overdosing on custard creams, or something, is quite far-fetched. It’s hard to imagine yourself getting to a point where that could happen; half way through the sixth packet, for example, self-preservation would surely kick in.
But to gather together a mental image of yourself, the cyclist, smeared across the Lancashire countryside after a genuine attempt to cross the railway tracks at the appropriate moment, is no great leap of faith.
Word might get round, later that evening, to a melancholy (though unsurprised) round of shrugs and oh, that’s bad luck. As if to say yes, that’s a thing that can happen…I am saddened, but I accept this as a common hazard facing any keen cyclist…
My riding buddy and I, having really killed the mood of the ride, consoled ourselves with an imagined ideal scenario to accompany our inevitable railway related deaths.
As we approach, the train driver, seeing us, along with maybe a passenger or two, might be moved to wonder “well look at those two, they look to be in fine physical shape…aren’t they riding well…just look at the definition on his calf muscles…spectacular…”
And at least, having met our demise, we were noted to be carrying a bit of form. A supple pedal stroke and a lively turn of pace. We died in good nick.
Perhaps that’s all any of us can really hope for.
(Image: Eddy Merckx, 1974 Tour de France via History Lovers Club)