This incident happened in August 2020. I wasn’t entirely sure that I want to post this since it deals with someone else’s tragedy. But I felt like I needed to write about it to help get past an overwhelming fear I’ve developed about cycling on pavement. I’m still working through all that happened, even though I was not directly affected. But I hope that this helps in my attempt to move forward and overcome this new fear.
There was a wreck on the highway near my house recently. A small SUV was attempting to pass an oversized load and collided with an on-coming semi hauling crushed rock. Both passengers of the SUV died: one at the scene, one in the ambulance on the way to the hospital. The driver of the semi sustained severe injuries but survived.
There aren’t many wrecks on this stretch of the highway, mainly due to low traffic and high visibility. You can see for miles in any direction. I ride my bike on this road, usually in the early morning when it is deserted. Although the speed limit is 70 mph, I feel relatively safe because there are so few vehicles and the shoulder is at least 6 feet wide. Most cars move over because the line of sight is well over a half-mile at any part of the road. I’ve learned that people in RV’s rarely move over, even where there is plenty of space and no one is in the opposite lane. They seem to take delight in blowing me sideways.
My sense of safety has changed since the wreck. I now ride dirt roads more often than pavement. Or I don’t ride at all.
The crash site is about 50′ from the intersection to our subdivision. Various vehicle fluids now stain the roadway, the acrid odors still adrift in the air. After winter, most of the remaining fluids will wash from the road and infiltrate into the adjacent ground. The few stray wires and remnants of vehicle parts will make their way to the roadside — all more stuff to avoid to prevent puncturing the tires on my bike.
Perhaps the thing that struck closest to home was that we had been in our car at this intersection just minutes before the crash. We were on our way to town to run an errand and it takes eight minutes to travel that distance. We spotted the emergency vehicle as we reached the first cross-street, not realizing it was headed to our road. I later did the math in my head. We were at that intersection roughly two-to-three minutes before the crash. Had I run into the house to pee one last time, we would likely have become part of that accident scene. I shudder thinking about that.
We were almost to our turnoff on the way back home when we were stopped by the line of cars at the crash site. The sheriff said that the accident was at our subdivision intersection. I immediately thought that it was one of our neighbors who may have pulled-out into approaching traffic. People on our road do this all the time — as if their right as local residents supersedes those on the highway traveling at 70 mph.
After about 30 minutes, we were allowed to make our way to the turnoff into our subdivision. The crash was just the other side of the turnoff, and I made a quick assessment of the scene as my husband drove by. The remains of the SUV were off on the side of the road on the left and the semi was about 100 yds further up the road, in the ditch on the right side. There was no longer a front half to the SUV, which was now scattered across the roadway. No one could have survived that. Not for very long.
I almost threw up.
From our house up on the hill, I could see that traffic was stopped for a couple more hours. Locals know about a by-pass on a ranch road. It adds about another 20 miles, but the sheriff started sending people that way. The only other choice was to wait while the accident was investigated and the debris was cleared.
I had to ride past the scene on my last bike excursion. On my way back, I crested the hill that the passing SUV traveled on and surveyed the scene that they saw before the driver attempted to overtake the oversized load. I could see well over a mile to the next hill crest. There is a small dip, but nothing that would hide something the size of a semi-hauler. There is still at least a half-mile of unobstructed view at the point of the crash. I don’t see how she couldn’t see the on-coming semi as she began to pass the oversized load. Then again, I don’t know what was happening in the SUV cab at that time. Was she just pulling out, checking the road beyond the load, when she struck the semi? Or did she not realize how long it takes to pass an over-long vehicle, accompanied by two support vehicles?
I cannot imagine what she must have felt when she realized her terrible mistake and was stuck between an over-size load and a semi-hauler.
I don’t want to insert myself into this accident, but I became involved tangentially. It’s the road that I ride and can no longer do so because I can’t get the wreck scene out of my head. The cause of the accident was listed as driver inattention and excessive speed. So how many other drivers are speeding on that road and are inattentive at any given time? How many things distract us as we drive. Satellite radio. Phones. Eating. Arguing with passengers.
I wear bright colors and have a tiny, red, blinking light on the back of my bike. But does that really do enough to alert a distracted driver of my presence on the side of the road? If they can’t see a semi, will they see me?
I still have been riding my bike these past few months, but now I ride mostly gravel roads. It may take many more months to get me back onto the pavement. I’m supposed to do a multi-day road tour this next summer, but I’m not entirely convinced that I will have it together by then.
Photo by author