Bike survival in the Flathead

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Several days ago a man driving a silver pickup passed a friend and me at a distance so close I could have reached out and touched his vehicle. I was on Riverside Road, accessed from Creston, a secondary road cyclists use often.

At the time no other drivers were in sight and “Jeff” and I were both well to the man’s right. I was infuriated and shouted, “Move over, move over!” The man slid to a stop. I rode up to his window and angrily explained that if the wind had unbalanced me he would have hit me, and perhaps killed me. He responded saying, “You bikers have no business on this road.” And, “I don’t care whether or not I’d killed you.”

That precipitated a hostile exchange that intensified, and at times I felt threated. Had I been alone, I think the fellow might have hopped from his truck and rushed me.

Sadly, such incidents seem to be increasing in our bourgeoning Flathead, and I can cite a number of genuine tragedies. The confrontation concluded when I tried to photograph the driver. He departed scattering gravel and waving impedes pediculosis.

Fact of the matter is that bikers are entitled to ride county roads, and the driver should understand that if he had struck us, he could have been charged with vehicular homicide. That, however, does not do me any immediate good. So what could I have done more safely?

Rather than peddling to his window, perhaps I should have stopped behind him, gotten out my cell and photographed his license. Next I should have called the Sheriff’s Office, hoping for some help. And now a question for law officials? Should I carry bear spray — and really escalate matters? I do feel as though I need some form of protection, what with segments of society becoming so hostile.

I don’t want to feel as though I need to worry about defending myself when I’m on the road, biking. And it is true that almost all drivers extend the courtesy of pulling way over. The few that don’t remind me of overpopulated “rats in the maze?” But we’re not deranged and confused rats; we are intelligent beings and should all be trying to get along, particularly with the Flathead’s inexorable growth.

With that thought in mind I’d like to apologize to the man for my very angry response, and now believe a less heated explanation about a biker’s road challenges might have been better received. But regardless, we all have the right to use county roads, governed primarily by courtesy and hopefully with occasional help from authorities.

—Bert Gildart lives in Kalispell

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