I’m feel dread when crossing railroad tracks since my header last Saturday.
I was Just Riding Along last Saturday when my wheel dropped into a railroad track slot in front of the Santa Cruz Boardwalk. I grunted something just before my body hit the pavement, but I think the sound the hundreds of witnessses around me will most likely remember is that ghastly clattering racket a plastic bike makes when it slams wrong side down on asphalt. I bent a wheel and broke a camera lens and bloodied the whole left side of my body, but everything seemed fine so I picked up the pieces and continued on my way.
Since then, I’m extremely nervous going over railroad tracks. I’m still sore from my mishap and I hashed up my arms, hip and leg, but I’ve crashed much worse, including a couple that required hospital visits. I’m still comfortable riding in heavy, fast traffic with cars, trucks, motorcycles, buses and other assorted maniacs, but every time I’ve approached railroad tracks this week, I feel fear. I slow way down, even at crossings that are perfectly perpendicular. This irrational fear even seems to make my riding unsure and sketchy, which likely increases my risk of falling.
This is a daily thing — my commute takes me through downtown San Jose, which is crisscrossed with trolley tracks, so my encounters with tracks are unavoidable. I’ve always ridden over these tracks before with confidence. That photo above is me riding between a set of tracks behind a train. Before last weekend, this was a little daredevil-ish but not horribly so. Today, it seems unbelievably crazy insane.
The usual advice to avoid this kind of bike crash anxiety is to get back on the bike as soon as you can. I was up and riding immediately after the crash, and I didn’t really think about it until after I arrived home two hours later, where I washed the wounds and saw how gory they actually look. Then on my Monday commute, I approached the tracks I always cross. These everyday road obstructions are normally handled at an almost subconscious level, but this time fear hormones flooded my body — blood pressure and heart rate elevated, a sense of dread and fear and stress. I slowed to near walking speed to cross tracks that I’ve previously crossed Every Single Day at 20 MPH.
My wife’s a therapist so I’ll ask her about this. In the meantime, have you experienced this kind of bike crash anxiety? Does it go away with time and exposure?
Track sign photo by Richard Drdul, Creative Commons “attribution/share alike” licence. Photo of my hashed up arm by my daughter. Drafting the VTA trolley photo by Yours Truly.