On Sunday night I stayed up late watching a movie with my wife and daughter. The following morning I awoke after about six hours of sleep. Several cups of coffee later I was driving to Solomon’s Island in Maryland to take on oppressive humidity and rolling hills aboard my Cross Check.
The first ten miles of the ride were mostly along Route 2, a four-land highway and the only major north/south road in the area. I was still a bit groggy from my lack of sleep as I started my ride. The highway had wide paved shoulders which were occasionally guarded by rumble strips next to the right travel lane.
For the uninitiated, rumble strips are sequential cuts in the roadway that run in a line parallel to the travel lanes. These particular strips were about one foot wide. These cuts resembled a tractor track like you’d find on a dirt road. Their purpose is to alert drivers that they are leaving their lane and driving off the road. Properly designed they can be helpful to bicyclists because cars that hit the rumble strip make a distinctive, loud rumbling sound. If you’re riding and hear that sound it’s a really good time to take evasive action.
After a few miles I was getting into a nice pedaling rhythm, bombing along the shoulder at 15 miles per hour when I came to a long downhill. My speed increased quickly. I looked ahead and could see some vegetation obstructing nearly the entire width of the shoulder. This debris was probably caused by recent storms.
I rather absentmindedly started to drift to the left to go around the debris when I found my bike and me shaking violently. I had drifted right into the middle of the rumble strip. I’ve ridden some rumble strips that were no more disruptive than riding on an unpaved trail like the C&O Canal towpath. These strips, however, were composed of deep cuts in the roadway. They were so deep that the bouncing I was experiencing had slowed my speed into the mid 20s.
Even at this somewhat reduced speed, the shaking was making it impossible to control the bike. My butt kept coming off the saddle. The bike started to wobble. Instinctively I reacted by veering to the left. Freed of the rumble strip, my bike accelerated straight across the right travel lane.
I peeked at my mirror and saw nothing coming in my lane but, far behind, a vehicle was indeed approaching from the passing lane. Just as I was about to cross the dashed stripe into that lane I managed to get control of the bike and steered hard to the right, across the rumble strip, and onto the shoulder, well beyond the pile of debris.
This was the closest I’ve come to a high speed crash on a bike in years. It scared the crap out of me. I am very lucky that both travel lanes were empty when the rumble strip ejected my bike and me.
It took my several miles to calm down. In about 30 minutes the route took me across the highway onto back roads. Although these roads were quite hilly, unlike the highway, they were shaded. Temperatures had climbed into the low nineties. The high humidity made it feel like over 100 degrees.
There’s nothing quite like grinding up a series of steep hills in sweltering heat and humidity to take your mind off a homicidal rumble strips.