A Riddle in Bronze

A Hal moment of my own

For the past decade I've been writing novels about a broke, error-prone freighter pilot called Hal Spacejock. 'Error prone' explains why he's forced to land his spaceship on the remotest landing pads in the dodgiest spaceports ... and I use 'land' in the broad, all-empassing, 'well, at least we survived' sort of way. *

Over the past twelve months I've become a cycling nut, riding everywhere on a bike even when a car was clearly the better option. (A 30km round trip to deliver a large metal frame to a powdercoater springs to mind.)

These two facts ARE related, and I'm about to tell you why.

Picture the scene. I'm returning from a shopping centre and it's raining heavily. Naturally, I'm riding my bike. You'd think I was caught out by the weather, perhaps riding to the shops when it was sunny only to watch in horror as storm clouds gathered. Nah, it was raining heavily when I set out on my 20km ride. The phrases 'cycling nut' and 'even when a car was clearly the better option' should have clued you in.

Clad in wet weather gear, squinting against the driving rain, I was negotiating a bike path Slartibartfast would be proud of. I don't know why, but in Western Australia they design dual-use bike paths by flinging wet spaghetti at maps and tracing the contours with an HB pencil. I don't know why they bother putting lots of gears on bikes, because you rarely get out of second before the next 45-degree bend. But I digress.

There I am, rowing home on two wheels, when I encounter yet another bend in the path. At the time I was shaking my helmet to get the drops off, and thus distracted I missed the six-inch drop and the deep, soft sand on the side of the path. Actually, I missed it but the front wheel didn't.

I was travelling at 30km/h, which is pretty nippy for a heavily-laden bike with panniers, but as I went over the handlebars I still had time to grin at the shocked look on the face of an approaching dog-walker. She was at least a hundred meters away, so she was unlikely to get hurt by collatoral damage from my fall, but obviously she hadn't been expecting this impromptu circus act.

By now I'm eight or ten feet in the air, which is a novel experience even for me. (I'm 6'3", and I ride an XL size bike. When sitting in the saddle I tower over other riders like an SUV owner in a sea of convertables.)

As I describe a graceful arc, arms outstretched, I glance back to make sure my bike isn't going to hit anything. The bike is upside down, cartwheeling, but I don't think it's going to hit me. It still hasn't dawned on me that I'm going to hit something, and very soon.

I'm still in mid-air, and I'm wondering how I can incorporate a bike crash into my next novel. Then I remember I've already made Hal Spacejock fall off a jetbike, a fence, several buildings and a planet or two. All of them were really funny at the time.

The ground approaches, and I put my hands out. Now, at this point I should note that I never ride without my fingerless gloves. They're specially designed with a thick pad over the palm, and I wear them because I went over the handlebars of a motorbike when I was fifteen and not having the use of my hands for a couple of weeks was very frustrating.

At this point, time sped up. I felt the ground on my hands, I absorbed the impact by bringing them sharply towards my face, I rolled right and used the momentum to drive me to my feet. The bike slithered to a stop alongside me, I bent to pick it up, then climbed aboard and rode past the dog-walker, who was still rooted to the spot with her mouth wide open.

For two days I had a very minor ache in my right shoulder, but I got off very lightly. I'm still riding my bike when a car would be the better option, and I have full use of my hands.

* Hal 1


Posted 25 July, 2011 . . .
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