Tongue Lashing

“$@!@#$double yellow$#@@Q!”

Gary and I had reached the Y on Asotin Creek on our weekly ice cream ride. We had a few minutes to spare before heading back with the rest of the group for ice cream. I thought we could spin up a bit on our usual route off to the right.

Gary was having none of that and headed straight for Cloverland  Grade.

“That’s a hill, Gary. That’s no fun,” I grumbled but turned to follow him up that first steep mile.

We seldom ride this hill. The first mile is very steep and while the descent is fun for the down-hillers among us (Gary’s one), I don’t feel comfortable at the speed gravity encourages.

But a challenge is a challenge and I had just managed to catch Gary using my middle chain ring and all the oxygen I could suck into my lungs. I was blowing hard when I heard . . .

“Q!@#$Go home!@#$!@”

A white pickup appeared behind us and its driver seemed displeased.

I couldn’t quite make it out but I assumed the pickup would soon pass. We were already riding on the right hand side of this shoulderless two-lane road. Cloverland grade snakes up the hill. We were just short of the first major switchback and neither of us could have been doing more than 6 mph. It is a low traffic road and I could see plenty far enough ahead that I waved the pickup on. I just glimpsed Gary doing the same.

“!@#$double line@#$@#,” came the complaint and the pickup failed to move around us.

The driver was making a point. We were forcing him to violate the law by crossing those two yellow stripes. If he’d been rational, I’d have liked to ask him a question or two.

“Why can’t you cross the line just long enough to pass us? We are well off to the right side of the road and only moving at 6-8 mph. Surely you could manage a safe pass,” I’d say.

“Crossing the double yellow is against the law,” he’d assert.

“So you follow the letter of the law everywhere all the time? Never exceed the speed limit or run a stop sign?” I’d ask.

“If the letter of the law must always be followed,” I’d ask, “shouldn’t you slow down and stay behind the slower vehicles? Would you pass a tractor on the same road, for example?”

“A tractor is different. That’s for work.”

“But would you pass it?”

“Bikes don’t belong on the road. They are toys.”

“Not according to Washington State law. They are vehicles and have the same right to the road as do you. In this case, we occupied the space on the road before you. The law says we need only yield that space if we are delaying five or more vehicles and then only if it is safe to pull off and let them by.”

He was right, of course. But he’d drawn the wrong conclusion. He thought the point he was making was that bikes don’t belong on the road. The right conclusion—he needed to stay behind us and not cross that double yellow line until we could safely pull off the road to let him pass. More reasonable people would see that crossing the double yellow in this case would be both safe and reasonable, but if the letter of the law is important, then he should have followed it without complaint.

Cyclists in my experience don’t like a vehicle slogging along behind them. Cyclists have to wonder when and if the vehicle will pass and that absorbs a good deal of concentration. Most of us will pull over. I’ve even stopped to get out of the way. Most driver’s recognize the signal to pass as a courtesy. But the law says don’t cross the double-yellow. The consequence is you must then stay behind the slow vehicle until it is safe and legal to pass. Like it or not!

Some states are passing laws to make it illegal to harass cyclists in this situation.

The driver of the pickup was not in a rational state and it turns out he’d also shared his wit with our companions farther back along the route. Kelly said she knew the man and would talk to him. I warned her he wouldn’t be responsive. She said he’d probably been drinking.

Guess we were lucky to only get a tongue lashing.

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