Chapter 15

The Inevitable Bike Accident

Time, like an ever-flowing stream,
Bears all its sons away;
They fly, forgotten, as a dream,
Dies at the break of day.

Isaac Watts 1674 – 1748

If you are going to ride a bike you eventually are going to fall off, run off, get knocked off or simply run into something very solid. The result will vary from badly skun knees, to a broken thumb, a broken elbow, a broken ankle, a broken nose or ‘something else’. Joan’s accident did not become ‘something else’. She was not killed. But it was bad enough. If a cyclist starts thinking about the possible scrapes and bites and breaks possible on a long trip…then…I speculate…there would be no long bike trips. .

So far we had been fortunate in most of Australia, the USA, Europe, Turkey and Japan. The worst had been my carelessly driving off a side road into a shallow tidal pond in Queensland, right next to a sign which stated, “Danger, Salt Water Crocodiles in Area”! The exclamation mark is mine! Falling into a croc hole helped me to discover that it is not only a Divinity that can ‘walk on water’. I can still hear Joan’s shrieking laughter and shout, “Go! Go! Go!” To this day I am not sure if she was barracking for me or the black-water hidden croc. I prefer to think it was the former. I leapt from bog to bank with one great bound and later hooked the bike with a long pole, pulling the offending vehicle out of the swamp. Two eyes, looking like knots on a log, watched the entire proceedings. It took a few days to laugh at that one.

Of such incidents are great bike trips made: crocs, dogs, more dogs, hateful cops, gales, more dogs, typhoons…ah, Yes, typhoons. We were on the island of Okinawa, the southern-most prefecture of Japan, not far from Taiwan and in ‘Typhoon Alley’. This typhoon was much bigger than the twister we had encountered on our bikes on the Willard Munger Trail in Minnesota. Okinawa had been the site of one of the fiercest battles of the Pacific War in 1945 and there were still caves with signs which stated to not enter because of possible unexploded ordinance. Okinawa was a place where there were lurking ghosts in the jungle undergrowth. The large marine and army firing grounds were never far away. Their booms and rattles were part of living on a former battle ground, still being contested with another foreign power. We had just finished a week long period of sea-kayaking, fishing and body surfing on a US military base. We were teaching at a university campus at the base and as we were only teaching twelve hours per week that term, there were many hours of leisure and, the teacher’s dream, NO preparations as we had taught the courses before. Joan was the local expert on poetry and English Literature and I taught Speech Communications and American History. Our slack time was spent in sloth and play after the lectures were finished.

At breakfast, fellow lecturer Barbara, asked us if we wanted a ride back to our apartment in Okinawa City, about 100 kilometres south. “You certainly do not want to ride your bikes in this coming storm. They have just closed down the air bases.” Joan quickly responded. “Oh no, the winds are going south, just like us…we will just ride the typhoon home…won’t we Buck?”

Gulp! “Certainly…! Ah, just take a short time…”

And so, the Great Typhoon Bike Adventure began. Typhoons on Okinawa, it was said, are different from other typhoons. Never having been in a typhoon before we had to accept the nostrum from one of our fellow lecturers. We were to discover that Midwest twisters were definitely different. “They come around a head and go both ways at the same time,” Marcel said. Not knowing if that was good or bad we merely put it down as information to draw on when needed. “They say this one will have winds up to 150 k’s,” Marcel added.

Not knowing what she was saying for ignorance can be coy, Joan responded with, “Oh, good, we will get home real fast!” There is the saying that a woman scorned is a pretty dangerous person. Over the years I had learned to not counter Joan when her head was set…even if it might result in having our collective heads blown off.

There were almost no cars on the road. Great! We sailed south, picking up speed as our greedy wheels demanded more! Over Red Bridge we zipped. Past the old pottery sheds. Whiz…past some WWII caves still looking to sea for hostile ships. Still no one. Suddenly, Barbara in her car with two other lecturers drove past. I could read their lips, their faces were gray. They were fearful. Barbara was shouting, “Oh, my gawd…,” the way Americans ceaselessly do. I assumed they were fearful for themselves. We were having a magnificent ride.

Then we discovered what Marcel meant. In a brilliant dash of speed we approached the northern side of a point strangely known as ‘Skull Head’. My speedo read ’65’. Piece of cake I bragged to myself as words were ripped from my lips and hurled ahead of us. ’75’. Joan was only a few yards behind. We approached the end of Skull Head. Suddenly, we learned in an instant what air brakes are all about. We hit a pocket where both winds, north and south, met with each other and neutralized everything. We literally stood on our bike pedals. Nothing happened! I remember saying to myself, “Isn’t this interesting?” People DO say dumb things before they are about to die I have read.

From my treasure of useless information came, “Hail Caesar, we who are about to die salute you…” For a period of about five or ten seconds we were at one with the elements. It was almost friendly. Fortunately the wind that picked us up on the other side of the head was a bit more benign and we slowed to about fifty. We were now somewhat sheltered from the blasts but now came the rain. We rode into a bus stop which was fortunately built for idiots like us. That hug from Joan was the nicest hug I have ever received…she felt the same. About five inches of rain fell in moments but being a mountainous island the water rushed off quickly.

Now came the exciting game. There were no cars on the road. We were alone except for rolling rubbish tins, giant fronds from palm trees and a missile I will never see again: flying coconuts. As they bounced along the paths and roads I wondered if that is what it may have looked like in Civil War battlefields. I thought of the Minnesota First Regiment that fought at Gettysburg. It was an interesting thought especially as we found ourselves dodging the occasional coconut as it cascaded down the highway.

And the Japanese are so polite. We shot past a restaurant we had stopped at many times. About twenty-five people were standing inside, looking out at the storm. As we bulleted past they all, in unison, bowed to us. We did not bow back. Not a nice thing to do in Japan. But in the middle of that crazy ride a group of bowing Japanese people made me feel good and somehow safe.