After one of my later days spent at the office I headed home to find a number of hazards on my way.
- Hazard number 1, my confidence: During the past couple of rides home I have chosen to pick up my cell phone and return calls that were missed earlier in the day. Not the safest thing to do while cruising down somewhat busy streets with parked cars lining both sides at night.
- Hazard number 2, the door opening: This evening was my first experience of this but I have heard some horror stories. You’re riding down the street, following the rules, maybe going a little fast when… the driver’s side door of the car on your right opens, you hit it, and you go flying.
- Hazard number 3, pedestrians: We’re all just trying to get where we need to go and with the hap-hazard parking of the wonderful drivers of Bucharest we just have to come out of nowhere at times skirting our way between vehicles.
- Hazard number 4 and by far the most dangerous in my mind, dogs: Night has fallen and that normally peaceful street with the school on the corner turns into a hunting ground with packs of dogs searching for food or maybe just some excitement to pass the time, something to chase before it gets so late that they have to chase themselves.
Well soon after successfully dodging hazards number 2 and 3 as they came within seconds of each other, I chose to give up on talking on the phone, putting a temporary end to hazard number 1. Since I tend to ride rather slowly around town it was easy enough to dodge 2 and 3, but being my first “opening door” experience I was a bit shocked.
The slow riding ends when approached with hazard number 4. Ever since bike riding began in Bucharest hazard number 4 has haunted nearly anyone who dares to take to the small streets on two wheels. There came a point when I finally found my perfect route to work. The route took a relatively straight path, it stuck to the small streets, and it kept me out of high traffic areas, both foot and vehicle traffic. The one thing that caused me to change that perfect course was that one dog, near that one block, always waiting there to chase me down the street. Luckily I found a decent detour that allows me to avoid the dog without significantly changing my course.
A lesson learned almost two years ago in Petrosani was that at night time in Romania those peaceful streets can turn ugly with the barking beasts hot on your trail. After slowly passing the general school I began to hear barking that I thought was safely contained behind a fence. From 5 to 7 angry barking dogs ran out from under the barrier and come after me nearly surrounding my bike as I began to speed up down the street. Such moments are the most dangerous on a bike here because when you are thinking about the angry barking dogs inching closer and closer to your ankles you’re not thinking about cars pulling out or the intersection up ahead. I guess you don’t really have to worry about dodging other pedestrians though. I got away.
After getting through a ride home like the one I had this evening, many cyclist would be proud of themselves. They just managed to skirt disaster coming at them from a number of angles without really even trying. No sweat, “floare la ureche” as the Romanians say. For me it was quite a humbling experience. My slow cruising of the small streets method has been reinforced as well as the need to have a heightened sense of awareness after darkness falls. Now that the clocks have changed, these new lessons will come in handy on a daily (nightly) basis either until springtime comes or until the snow drives me off the roads.