The Coastal Star

By Rochelle E.B. Gilken

I swam in alligator-infested lakes. I went rock climbing without a harness. I fought until I was bloody in a boxing ring.

But I was never more nervous about my mortality than I was while preparing to embark on this journey: a death-defying bike ride from Linton Boulevard and A1A to the Ritz Carlton in Manalapan.

It may not sound frightening, but I calculated the odds.

Even a Smart Car, hitting the scales at 1,600 pounds, outweighs me and my bike by the equivalent of six Mike Tysons.

And there’s a little more room in a boxing ring to avoid getting hit than there is between a hedge and a hatchback negotiating a two-lane curve at 35 miles per hour.

My challenge was to join the other daredevils with pink baskets, silver hair or spandex shorts who take this route on a daily basis.

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The risk-takers.

I rented a baby blue bike at Richwagen’s in Delray Beach, where I was politely informed, “We only had one person hit by a car in the last year. And it was fine. We fixed the bike.”

He never said what happened to the renter. But considering that’s one car accident for a shop that rents out five to ten bikes a day, I thought my chances of survival were getting better.

And I should point out now, to avoid too much tension, I did not die.

Didn’t even get a scratch. But after all the talk about bike lanes and the signs about sharing the road, it still seems like there isn’t enough room to ride safely on a routine basis.

The first mile and a half through Delray Beach was great. There was a wide, marked bike lane.

But soon that gave way to people opening doors from parking spots and others double-parked to load up their beach gear.

And soon that turned into miles of unmarked lanes, some no wider than a white stripe. From Delray to Ocean Ridge, there were times when I could not ride anywhere but in the driving lane. Luckily, my backside is big enough to give drivers a warning from a good 500 yards away.

Passing Gulfstream Park there was a narrow, unmarked lane.

During a one-mile stretch in Ocean Ridge, I counted the cars that passed me. This was a low-traffic area with virtually no room for a bike. In less than four minutes, six cars crossed the double yellow line to get around me.

That’s not a lot. But each one of those drivers had to veer into an oncoming lane of traffic to make room for my balancing act on a sliver of land the size of a snake.

And that gave way to a canopy of trees in Manalapan that, while beautiful, cast a shadow over the road that made it difficult to see me from a car.

To add to the trauma, I don’t like sharing.
And yet I had to share the road with the only thing wider than my backside: a Ford F-150.

This foe is 5,500 pounds. And even though I thought it wouldn’t matter if I were outweighed by 1,000 pounds or 5,000, it does. The monster vehicles rumbling by made my knuckles turn white gripping the handlebars. That’s not very relaxing.

If bikers are going to continue using this route, I suggest the following vehicles be banned from it: GMC Yukon, Ford Expedition, Ford F-150 and golf carts.
Eventually, the last mile was another pleasant ride with a wide lane and few close calls. The Manalapan Town Hall was a welcome sight.

I pulled into the Ritz at 10.2 miles, according to my little Garmin GPS watch.

In the end, the following things could’ve killed me:

• A woman balancing her beach chair and gear as she tried to cross at Ocean Inlet Park.
• A construction hose stretched across the street at mile 9.
• A sprinkler. (I closed my eyes as it spritzed me.)
• Mulch.

I was done in less than 40 minutes. I’m no speed demon, but I survived.

Rochelle E.B. Gilken is a journalist and amateur boxer living in West Palm Beach

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Comment by George Primm on February 17, 2009 at 3:35pm
I cycled A1A from Lantana Beach to the south end of Delray Beach one recent Friday with no problems. It's a very pretty, relaxing ride. Although it's narrow to nonexistent in places, the bike lane DOES make it safer. I think that white line gives drivers a graphic reminder they need to share the road.
Comment by Charles Keefer on February 17, 2009 at 12:31pm
Welcome to cycling, Rochelle. You should do it more. Then you would really get bent (I'm a recumbent rider) about the horrendous conditions those of us who insist on enjoying the most efficient transportation alternative ever invented face daily.

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