Enjoy or: How I Learned to Defuse the Road Rage Bomb

Yesterday, I found myself huffing and puffing up Poplar Street when I locked eyes with a woman in an SUV at an intersection. I didn't have a stop sign; she did. She clearly saw me, then pretended she didn't as she pulled out and cut me off. I veered almost into oncoming traffic then swerved back behind her tailgate to signal my dissatisfaction (and I think you can figure out what that means.) She continued on. Even thinking about it now makes me angry.

In the past, I've said that road rage is nearly impossible on a bike, but situations like this happen again and again. It happens often enough that it leaves an unpleasant taste in my mouth that lingers into the next ride. Where once there were blissful thoughts of freewheeling adventure on the open road, now there are negative emotions, anger and trepidation. I start seeing things in black & white, "Us vs. Them."

It's important to keep a clear head while riding because this stuff is just going to keep happening, and you need to pay attention or you'll be wind up in trouble when it does. Yelling and screaming, thoughts of revenge, none of this moves the dialog forward. Plus, you end up looking like this guy:

I've grown a thicker skin and learned to tolerate this kind of behavior from drivers, but I still wonder, why should I tolerate it? Why should anyone -- drivers and cyclists, alike -- tolerate aggressive driving?

Because if you don't, you're probably going to do something stupid. So, what can you do? Legally, what can we do to curb aggressive driving (and cycling)?

There are always going to be situations like this popping up, and we need to stop looking at it as an "us vs. them" situation, as much as it feels that way, or it will just continue to escalate. We are all traffic, we all have to get along. It's just that some people will never learn and will always take advantage of the situation when they feel they have nothing to lose. Cyclists are routinely honked at, yelled at, cut off and targeted. Believe me, I've had more than enough of this guy:

I don't think we should just grow a thicker skin and tolerate aggressive driving, but I don't know how to solve this problem. The only thing I can think of is to increase visibility, and that means to keep riding. Just keep getting out there, be safe and be seen. That's the most legal, most positive way I can think of to fix this problem. And the best way to achieve that is get rid of road rage. Grow a thicker skin, wave, smile and let it go.

Thanks a to a number of factors -- aggressive drivers included -- this ride that was meant to clear my head and make me feel better now made me feel worse. I was upset that I felt weak after being sick a few days and stomped the pedals in an attempt to whip myself into shape. I know I've gotten slower over the last few weeks -- my mantra shifted from "go faster" to "go further" and "this is not a race." I've lost some fitness and, despite being able to ride much farther distances, have lost a little bit of speed. Or, maybe it's all in my head. Maybe it's just a build up of negative emotions at things I can't change, like the lousy weather we've been having, or the behavior of other people. The road rage was just continuing to build within me, and like overstuffed panniers, it was weighing me down.

Whether it's physical or psychological, being upset and angry definitely doesn't help. That's when I found myself riding alongside another cyclist on a hill just past Weatherly.

I resisted the urge to pedal hard and race past him and, instead, shot a friendly, "Good afternoon!" as I caught up. He asked, "How are ya?" and we rode side-by-side for a bit, until our paths diverged. I gave a little wave and said, "Have a good one!" to which he responded, "Enjoy!"

Enjoy -- one simple word that completely defused my bad mood and nearly knocked me off my bike. I rode on, contemplating its meaning. "Enjoy what?" I wondered to myself. "The weather? The ride? The bike?"

Earlier, I was racing along the Weatherly-Plains Road when I saw long stretches of bright flowers growing along the side of the road. I had no idea what they were, and I don't recall seeing them before. I thought they might make for a good picture, but I was too busy trying to go as fast as possible to bother stopping. "If I see them again," I thought to myself, "maybe I'll stop. I promise." I say that a lot, though. "Maybe next time." "I'm sure I'll come this way again." "I don't always have to stop and take pictures." How many times have I said that, and not gone back?

After my encounter with that cyclist and a refreshed perspective on just why I was out here in the first place, I made sure to stop at the very next chance I had to snap a shot of one of those flowers. I even paused an extra moment to shoot some video and capture the sound of the environment. Suddenly, I had an answer to my own question, "Enjoy what?" Enjoy this moment; it'll never come around again.

If you're experiencing road rage lately, take it from me. Be seen, be safe and don't do anything stupid. Let it go and, as was so eloquently said to me, that day, "Enjoy."



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