Half-Mind Weblog

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Risk and Responsibility

I’m haring a bash (bicycle hash) two Sundays from now. My co-hare and I would prefer to keep the pack on dedicated bike trails, but there aren’t enough of those in Tucson to do an entire trail, so we’re using a lot of residential streets with bike lanes. Try as we might, though, there’s no way to completely avoid traffic, and about half a mile of our planned 13-mile trail will be on multi-lane roads. These roads have curbside bike lanes, but there’s one intersection where the pack’s going to have to merge left across two lanes in order to get into a left turn lane.

Turning left in front of overtaking traffic is a serious problem for bicyclists. You crane your neck back as far as you can, but you don’t always see the cars behind you. When you do see ‘em, they can sometimes appear to be too far back to be a threat, but that’s an illusion: people drive way over the posted speed limit and they come up on you faster than you think they will.

We’re trying to figure out a way to minimize the risk to the pack. Just before the intersection, there’s a small parking lot off the right side of the road. We’re going to mark a true trail arrow in the bike lane with the word “MAP” in large letters, pointing into the parking lot. Then we’ll leave a chalk map somewhere in the parking lot to show them they have to turn left at the intersection just ahead. When hashers come out of the lot, they’ll be at a 90-degree angle to traffic and shouldn’t have any problem seeing oncoming cars, judging closure rates, and finding a safe gap to cross to the left turn lane. That’s our theory.

And the weakness of that theory? We can’t make it impossible for a hasher to swerve left and get hit by an oncoming car. So if it’s possible, someone might do it. What if trailing riders see the leaders turn into the parking lot, then come out and cross lanes to get into the left turn lane? Think they’ll follow the arrow into the parking lot to read the map when they can see that the leaders already know where to go? Not likely . . . they’ll start merging left to catch up to the leaders.

Or, hell, maybe some jerk’ll back out of a driveway without looking and flatten a hasher on one of those “safe” residential streets. I don’t know. But that intersection has me worried, and the closer we get to hash day, the more responsible I feel.

I’ve hashed some pretty hairy trails, and I’ve been scared a few times, but I’ve never been so scared that I turned back. Still, I tell myself that if a trail ever gets outright dangerous, I’ll turn back. Hashing’s a lot of fun, but not worth risking life or limb. And since I won’t hash a dangerous trail, I won’t set one when I’m haring.

A couple of years ago, a Nittany Valley HHH hare set a night trail that, at one point, paralleled railroad tracks. It had rained earlier and the banks of the roadbed were muddy and slick. When one hasher started to slip, he grabbed a cable near the tracks. The cable was an electrical line and the hasher was electrocuted. This one got hushed up pretty fast. Last I heard, the railroad’s position was that the hash was at fault, since railroad rights of way – except for marked crossings – are no trespassing zones. The hasher’s family was trying to recover damages from the railroad, but I believe there were some rumblings about going after the hare. No one’s said a word since, at least on any hash forum I’m aware of, and I imagine the matter’s still undecided.

How responsible am I for hashers’ safety on this trail I’m setting? I feel totally responsible, and no amount of telling myself hashers are grownups and should understand the dangers of riding bicycles in traffic is going to make me feel less so.

I can only imagine how that Nittany Valley hare must feel. I don’t ever want to be in his shoes. Or her shoes. Neither would you, I think.

So. Any thoughts, fellow hashers? I’m listening!

- Flying Booger

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