Thursday, March 20, 2014

Mar 20 (Day 79) - Hit by car, Bachman's sparrow

I was hit by a car at around 3pm this afternoon. I was thrown to the road, but did not suffer anything other than a big scare. Here's how it all occurred. I was riding along Route 200 heading north to Ocala where I had arranged to stay at the Best Western Ocala Park Center. I had been on this road for the previous 18 miles or so. The road has a nice, wide bike lane, and those 18 miles unfolded without incident. As I entered Ocala, traffic lights became more frequent as the road started to run through the usual suburban strip malls. There was a red light several hundred feet ahead of me. I began to slow down, but while I was decelerating the light turned green. I started to accelerate back up to cruising speed. Traffic started moving as per usual. I passed a number of the stopped and accelerating cars as I headed towards the intersection. I figured I would just cruise through the intersection as I have done a thousand times prior. However, this plan was thwarted when an SUV turned right through the bike lane. I had at this point committed to going through the intersection, and there was now nowhere for me to go but into the back right side of the SUV that had cut across my bike lane. I knew this was going to be bad, and rather than trying to avoid it altogether, I decided to minimize the potential damage that could occur. The big issue is that I was clipped into my pedals. This meant I was going to go down and go down hard; There was no way to avoid it.

Route 200 bike lane

61 miles today

As soon as the SUV cut in front of me, I stuck out my left arm to use as a brace. I was able to break with my right hand (my rear brake), while I fended off the SUV with my left. The problem was that the SUV continued through the turn which meant that after a split second I did not have anything against which I could brace myself. I went tumbling forward and left into the lane from which the SUV had turned. I fell onto my left side and bashed my left forearm pretty hard. I was stunned, and the bike was lying on top of me. Very luckily, a man on a motorcycle behind the SUV that cut me off saw the whole thing unfolding and did not move forward during the whole episode. This meant that even though I fell into the adjacent car lane, there were no cars coming as they were all stopped behind the motorcycle. I picked myself up and went looking for the SUV that, to my disbelief, continued driving down the street onto which it had turned. I was livid at this stage, and I asked the guy on the bike to go and get the plate number. This is where this gets REALLY interesting.

This part of the story was all relayed to me by the motorcyclist when he came back to the intersection at which the crash occurred. The motorcyclist followed the SUV about a half-mile down the street to a development in which the owner of the SVU apparently lived. When the driver got out of the car, the motorcyclist told the driver that she had hit a cyclist back on Route 200. He told her she needed to return to the scene immediately. She said she hadn't hit anyone and hustled into the house with her kids. The motorcyclist returned to the scene of the accident and relayed all of this to me. He also gave me the plate number and his contact information. After he left, I decided to call the police and file a report of a hit and run. The dispatcher said that an officer would be by shortly to take my statement. 

While I was waiting, a man appeared on foot from across the intersection and asked if I had been hit by a car. I told him that I had, and I explained the incident to him. He then told me that the driver of the SUV was his wife. He then relayed the following to me. His wife called him immediately after she got back into the house. She told him that a big guy on a motorcycle had followed her home and accused her of hitting a cyclist. She had no idea what the motorcyclist was talking about, and she felt a bit threatened by this big guy in her driveway (recall she had her 2 young kids with her). As her husband worked not far from the accident site, she had called him and asked him to come over and check out what was going on. This was the man who appeared on foot.

I started to talking to him, and we started to get everything ironed out. He was a really nice guy and handled the situation very well. He called his wife who immediately returned to the accident site. The police also showed up during this time. Basically, she had not realized that she had cut me off and just kept driving. It was an honest mistake. The police asked me if I wanted to file a report and I told them no. Since she had returned I basically just wanted to convey to her that she needed to be much more careful when turning across an established bike lane. I am a relatively young guy who thinks very quickly and can take falls with relative ease. I told her that I just wanted to make sure this did not happen again to someone else who might not be so lucky. Both her and her husband handled it amazingly well. He was actually really into my story and asked for my blog address. He asked if I needed lunch. I told him I was fine, but he could make a donation to The Conservation Fund and American Birding Association instead. He gave me some cash that I will contribute to the pot on his behalf. It was a good ending to an initially very bad situation.

The bottom line is that everyone needs to be careful to avoid bikers. Since Boston (where I lived before this trip) has so many commuter-cyclists, I have become very accustomed to double checking for cyclists before I make right-hand turns. However, here in Florida where car culture dominates, motorists are have not yet been forced through the required repetitions to avoid cyclists. This is something of which I will have to be mindful as I continue into areas with few cyclists. 

I also think my decision to take the fall really helped me. I instantly knew it was going to be impossible to get my feet out of my clips during the incident. Since I accepted this so quickly, I was able to minimize the damage that was going to occur once I did fall. Had I tried to avoid falling altogether, I might have ended up doing much more damage. I knew falling left into the street behind the car was better than trying to avoid the fall altogether, hitting the curb, and then smashing my face into the pavement. A guarantee of falling on your side is much better than a 50% chance of falling on your face. 

That's all I'm gonna say about this. I will be a bit more cautious at intersections in the future. I did, at least, gain 2 more blog followers and a few more conservation dollars out of the whole episode.  

OK, back to birding! Today, I decided, like yesterday, to backtrack to find a bird. This time I backtracked to the Croom Tract of the Withlacoochie Forest to look for Bachman's sparrow. It was 12 miles each way, or a 24-mile total detour.  I rode through this same area yesterday, and I thought that it looked perfect for the sparrow. I did not hear a peep during the heat of the afternoon, but this morning was a different story. I arrived just at sunrise and immediately heard several sparrows singing in the area I scouted yesterday. I had some really nice looks at these birds as they ran around on the ground and then popped up to sing (Bachman's sparrows nest on the ground). I also found 4-5 Red-cockaded woodpeckers in the area as well as dozens of pine warblers. It was a really nice morning.

***Click thumbs for bigger images***

Bachman's sparrow habitat

Bachman's sparrow, back view

Bachman's sparrow, front view

I spent much of the day today riding on the Withlacoochie Rail Trail. This is a fantastic bike path that runs for about 45 miles through Citrus, Hernando, and Pasco counties. There are even bike stores that have sprung up along the path as there is sufficient bike traffic on it to support the businesses. My host (Harry) from last night uses it as his exclusive commuting route. Today, Harry had a dentist appointment 18 miles from the house, so he rode the 36-miles to-and-from it! I actually knocked into him on the trail as I was headed out to the north and he was returning home to the south!

Part of the Withlacoochie Rail Trail

Harry on the trail returning from the dentist

Trailside attraction

Harry's wife Mary


Tomorrow I am going to head to Gainesville where I will bird Payne's Prairie in the afternoon. Saturday I am going to visit the Kanapaha Prairie, a Conservation Fund Project for which I a raising money. It will be very exciting to be on the very ground I am hoping to save!


  1. Glad to know you're ok after the accident. Be safe out there!!

  2. Jeez Dorian. Glad to hear you're okay. You could make your title and opening line a little bit less heartattack-inducing. Congrats on the sparrow!

  3. Be safe out there D. Glad you got out of this relatively unscathed.

  4. Scary moments! I'm glad that the people did take responsibility and followed up. Congratulations on keeping your cool. Now keep safe! You are in Florida, you know! ;-)

  5. So glad to hear that it all turned out okay, Dorian. Be safe!

  6. Glad to hear that you're OK. Take care, Dorian.

  7. A collision had to happen somewhere along the way and I'm just glad you didn't sustain any serious injuries. I will bet that you'll have some sore body parts tomorrow, tho. Take care and be safe.

  8. It's a relief to know you weren't hurt! If that were me, I might have freaked out a little bit. And the way you handled the situation was admirable. I definitely agree with you that motorists should be more aware of cyclers on the road, and not just of other fellow motorists. And good tips too! I hope this message gets passed along to others! Stay safe always!

    Jamie @ Butler & Company

  9. This was one accident story that ended on a happy note! Things could've been different if the woman who hit you became stubborn, so it's gratifying to know that not only did you get well, but you also ironed out things nicely. Not all drivers are the same as the couple you've encountered, so knowing what you could do legally in an unlikely event is important. Stay safe!
    Christine Matsinger @

  10. I agree that it might have been an honest mistake on the driver’s part. As you've said; in a car-dominant road, bikers and motorcyclists tend to be ignored, and that could lead to situations like yours. Thankfully you weren't that hurt, and hopefully that driver will now be alert and vigilant when turning in the bike lane, so that possible accidents can be prevented. I wish your story will help spread awareness regarding this issue. Thanks for sharing!

    Roman Barnes @ Johnson & Johnson Law Firm