The zebra ambled over and licked the salt off my handlebars.
The camels, aloof, looked the other way. And the springboks, oversized ears turning in unison like synchronized radar screens, dashed off in full flee mode.
I have no idea what manner of creature that was howling full-throat off in the distance.
And that’s the thing about cycling Florida’s back roads. You never know what you’re going to see next. Once I came across half of a built-to-scale brontosaurus – apparently destined to become Florida’s next roadside attraction.
On Mother’s Day, Jill and I cycled south out of Micanopy into the Marion County horse country on a rabbit warren network of rural roads defined by Spanish Moss-draped giant oaks, cracker barns, house trailers, multi-million dollar horse farms….and a private wildlife preserve.
It was a perfect day. The weather was fine. Traffic was light. Twice a man and a woman on a motorcycle cruised slowly past us, sharing the same scenery and peace of mind.
Later, back in Micanopy, we saw police cars diverting southbound traffic away from U.S. 441 where it intersects with CR 234. A badly dented car and a destroyed motorcycle blocked the road.
The man driving the motorcycle was dead, and his woman passenger critically injured. Maybe the same couple that had just shared our ramble through paradise.
Accidents happen. Even on Mother’s Day.
We call them accidents because it makes us all feel better – as though the inevitability of 40,000-traffic related deaths a year is simply the price we must collectively pay for personal freedom in autoAmerica.
But the truth is that, all too often, deadly accidents are the result of careless negligence bordering on the criminal – speeding, poor judgement, distracted, aggressive or impaired driving. That “king of the road” feeling you get when you’re tearing down the highway in your SUV, fiddling with the stereo, maybe sneaking a text message, impatient to get there and perhaps driving just a little too boldly because…you can.
And, really, you can’t blame us. We are sold vehicles that can travel at speeds far in excess of any posted limit. We enjoy wide, multi-laned “forgiving” roads specifically engineered to minimize our chances of dying when our hubris overrides our common sense.
Well, that’s not exactly true. “Forgiving” roads really only forgive people who are encased in automobiles. Scant mercy is spared pedestrians (6,000 dead in 2016), motorcyclists (5,000 killed) or cyclists (840).
By the way, isn’t it bloody ironic that we observe “Infrastructure Week” and “Ride Your Bike To Work Week” at the same time?
The former gives us occasion to berate our politicians for not building us even more lanes, that are wider still, more forgiving and pothole-free so we can to drive to work, school, the mall and home again as quickly as possible.
Even as we give once a year lip service to this notion that people ought to get out of their cars, get on their bikes and ride to work on roads that make anything but car-armored commuting a very risky business.
Listen, we don’t have to accept staggering body counts as a necessary trade-off for life in autoAmerica. We have the technology, the know-how and the wherewithal to end the slaughter.
In future columns I’ll talk about how we can save lives on our public roads…if only we have the will to do so.
But for now, I just wanted to tell you about the lovely Mother’s Day we had.
At least those of us who survived it.
Ron Cunningham is former editorial page editor of The Gainesville Sun. This column was published in The Sun on Sunday, May 20.