In the cutthroat environment of commuting to and fro we all have one, natural enemy. For some it’s the five-inch tailgaters, honking, swerving and trying to pass on the right shoulder. For others it’s the Sunday morning drivers easing down the road on Tuesday. Being one who likes to commute by bike, I have an all-together different foe – jogging clubs.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t hate joggers in particular. An individual jogger, plugging along, is the salt of the earth, a responsible citizen of the road. The problem is people don’t like to jog by themselves. It’s like doing your taxes without having an accountant assure you that if you give him or her a thousand dollars, you won’t have to give it to the IRS. Jogging is a lonely and painful pursuit. That’s why most people seek refuge in jogging clubs. People like to jog together because a strong sense of momentum can be created to carry the weaker members of the crowd. And with this sense of momentum, a rush of excitement can pour through the group making them an undeniable force.
If you’ve ever seen a jogging club in action, it looks like a herd of wildebeest streaming across an African veld. And with this collective dominance comes air of invincibility and shades of arrogance.
Believe me. I’ve seen it. Joggers, who by themselves are as courteous as a next-door neighbor, quickly take on a fighter-pilot mentality when grouped together. Suddenly, they can go anywhere and do anything because who’s going to stop them? They’re a motivated, moving mob, a cardio-training rampage.
The fact that the jogging clubs could go anywhere and do anything caused a problem for they usually ended up on the BIKE PATH. It irritated me as a biker because not more than twenty feet was another path for walkers and joggers known as NOT THE BIKE PATH. It was a perfectly fine path, but for some reason it never attracted the jogging clubs. They liked the larger and less traveled path to stay together to gather momentum to get in my way.
If yielding is considered a weakness in the urban jungle, I showed as much hostility towards any jogging club coming in my direction. Instead of pulling my bike to the side and waiting for them to pass, I kept to the right, picked up my speed and expected an opening to be made.
Usually, the front jogger, posting scouting duties for the herd, saw my intent to run him over and shouted, “Bike!” And with the precision of a regimented battalion, the jogging club constricted from a sprawling blob to a lean anaconda, giving me space, barely enough space to pass.
As these encounters began to accumulate, a notion began to settle inside of me. To every one of these joggers stretched along these lean columns I was the jerk getting in their way. And the thought of them thinking that infuriated me. Was I not the biker on the BIKE PATH? Was I the one to bow because they had the greater numbers? The audacity! The temerity! The outright arrogance of those wearing spandex!
As the Summer days grew shorter, I tried to hold my ground, but each encounter began to chip away at me. I found it difficult to sleep through the night. I found myself becoming easily irritated at work even after eight cups of coffee. I saw myself not enjoying the simple surprises life has to offer like watching a sunset over a local lake or finding a twenty-dollar bill in a co-workers desk. I knew why: It was those jogging clubs. They were slowly encroaching on my lane towards happiness. They were slowly turning me into a person I didn’t like, and that was a person who hated being stuck in traffic.
There was no reason to get caught in traffic on the BIKE PATH. There was no reason these packs of middle-aged, sweat-pouring joggers had to clamor for space not designated for them. But crowd they did on the paths and in my thoughts as I drifted off to sleep. It was only a matter of time before a flock of them started stampeding through my dreams, kicking over the cups of coffee I so wanted to count. These joggers had no right to ignore the simple rules of the road. Something had to be done. Some drastic incident needed to happen to spread from jogger to jogger, club to club, letting this group know that their unchecked days of reckless abandon were numbered. And with my wish came the reckoning.
Dusk started to settle on a quiet Fall evening. With another work day behind me, I saddled up and slowly biked home. Soon I started to feel the anxious feelings of the day ebb. Then I saw them.
It may have been getting dark, but it was still light enough to see not more than a city block away a jogging club standing on the BIKE PATH. My God, they weren’t even jogging. They were milling about. They were twenty martinis short of a happy hour. And not one single jogger seemed aware that a cyclist was hurtling towards them. There wasn’t even a lead runner posting sentry. Instead, in front of the pack was a guy lying down on IT’S NOT A YOGA MAT, stretching a hamstring.
In the laws of the urban jungle, there are two rules that cannot be ignored: fear and survival. At that moment I saw myself the avenger of these truths as the amount of space between my front tire and the jogger’s stretched hamstring collapsed with every heartbeat.
Twenty yards from the pack, I lifted my head and shouted into the crisp air, “BIKER ON THE BIKE PATH!”
In a knee-jerk of a second joggers jumped, dove and rolled into the grass. For a brief moment a gale force swept in my direction. For a brief moment I knew what a black lab feels when running through a flock of geese. And although the moment ended as quickly as it started, I knew I forever shattered this jogging club’s blind ambition in doing whatever it wanted. A new found fear would spread from jogger to jogger, club to club, letting everyone know that there was a madman on a bike, and that biker was marking his territory. Thus, a natural order would return and I would no longer be stuck in traffic on the BIKE PATH.