After the previous day happy strolling up and down the Santa Barbara foothills, I was not sure if I wanted to head out in the morning fog to join the usual coffee group ride. As it turns out, it might have been a good idea to stay in bed. Or perhaps not, as I might have missed learning something along the way.
There were just four of us at the usual meeting place, the others involved in a group ride out of town just a few did not know about. I already had the 8 miles from home to the rendez-vous point in my legs, and that felt extremely good. The air was damp and mildly cold, at least relatively to what passes as cold at these latitudes. We took off along the usual route, and little by little the group swelled to 15 or so, some known faces, many unknown. But it wasn’t the same as usual, the pace was slower than average, but the stop and go much more frequent than usual. I came to realize that much later, busy as I was pushing on my new pedals and enjoying my new plushy ride. In retrospective, what I think happened is that we were missing the people who usually hold the group together, force the pace up maintaining a constant speed and serve as good role models keeping straight lines in turbulent sprinting situations.
We race up and down Hope Ranch and later on Foothills as any other Sunday, then we get to the infamous sprint zone on Cathedral Oaks. I’m surprised I can easily keep up-- but it’s not just the new bike. And it’s probably a good thing I’m unusually up ahead rather than in the middle of the peloton. I catch the wheel of a veteran, hopeful that he’ll provide good guidance.
How wrong I was.
I’m not able to recount what happened, a fact that I find mildly scary in itself. Somebody crossed somebody else’s path, they braked, somehow I move out of the way. Somebody else did not brake or find an escape route fast enough. Wheels touched, then the terrifying noise of bikes and bodies hitting the asphalt at 30 mph, rolling and crashing again. There was no time to scream.
Then somebody calls the crash, we’re stopping, turning around watchful for cars, the wide emergency lane we ride in this area is a real blessing. I drop my bike in the soft grass off the road. Three riders down, laying across the pavement. One landed on his face, there’s blood all over the road. They are in shock, Lycra torn and road rash showing through. One rider, Joe, we were talking just a few minutes before is down badly, banged up and bloody. Cars are stopping, a few people come out. Before riders start chatting on the cell phones with the emergency responders, there is silence on the road, just for a few instants. It’s 10 am, the sun is behind the fallen riders, and it all looks so tragically beautiful and unfair.