Thursday, February 14, 2008

Inattention and the Adrenaline Save

Is it weird that some part of me was kinda stoked to get in a car accident last night?

I should say that it was a very, very minor accident with nobody hurt and no apparent damage. I rear-ended someone ever-so-slightly. I wouldn’t even call it a fender bender—it was a bumper flexer at most. Completely my fault…I let my attention wander from driving to looking at what appeared to be another accident only to have to stand on the brakes in a vain attempt to avoid the car in front of me who had stopped to make a left hand turn. Too late—the anti-lock brakes pulsed a few times and “bam” I was into the rear end. Not too hard, mind you, the jolt only a smidge more abrupt than the anti-lock pulses, but I definitely hit him.

We pulled over—I was apologetic and the guy was pretty cool about things. We exchanged information, but I really don’t expect to hear from him—it was that benign. And if my people instincts are correct, he neither seemed like the type to pull a Brady Bunch injury on me.

So other than the fact that everything is OK, why would I be happy about nearly wadding it all up? Well, there’s something kinda cool about how instinct takes over in that panic split-second—the instant when I went from spectator of one accident to participant in another. I did not think or process or deliberate, I just acted. Or reacted.

I guess it’s comforting to know I still have the ability to snap "make a save" in a fraction of a second. It was not unlike my stint as goalie for my high school water polo team. Through coaching, training and conditioning I learned how to tend goal based on positioning and cutting off angles and doing things that lessened the likelihood of the ball going into the net. This text book stuff was undoubtedly tried-and-true for a reason, but for me it was always the completely instinctual things that were most satisfying. That intangible something that made you shift your shoulder just left enough at the last second, or the implausible way you might have guessed wrong on a penalty shot, but blocked it because the reactionary self covered a shot going the other way. The incomprehensible things you couldn’t do again if you tried, but none-the-less kept a goal off the scoreboard.

My initial thought when I recognized the stopped car was something along the lines of “Holy shit I am totally gonna plow this guy,” but the combination of my reaction and good mechanics/physics was more like, “Whew, dodged a big one there…it shouldn’t be too bad.” And it wasn't.

I’m always a little upset with myself when things like this happen at all—as a cyclist I’m a particularly harsh critic of distracted drivers and that’s exactly what I let myself become. Not cool. But the fact that, despite a little contact, I still made the save—I’m pretty happy about that.

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