THE path is dark and wet when it happens. This twisting track runs along the edge of the university, with the open stray to one side and a thicket of trees to the other.
Not much is on my mind, apart from a gloomy analysis of my Wednesday squash match. At least I managed one win, I think, one more than last week. There was even a draw recently. How big these small victories are written.
Perhaps I am too old to get any better and this is the downhill stretch, I think, knowing I’ll never give up until my legs will no longer carry me onto the court. Years ago there was a man in his late seventies who bandaged his knees and elbows to keep on playing. Perhaps that’ll be my golden period.
My trusty Marin takes another bend in the track. Now there are trees on both sides and the shadows have deepened. This is an evening for steady cycling, nothing fast, and anyway the knees could do without the added stress.
That’s when I see the light, jumping and rushing towards me. Everything happens in a sweaty clutch of seconds. I am on the left where I should be. And another cyclist is heading towards me at full pelt, a racing bike by the looks of it. The rider has his head down and he is really going it, body leaning and turning with the bicycle like a pro-cyclist. This track is fun to cycle along. Perhaps he has lost himself in the moment. Or perhaps he is a complete idiot. Maybe both.
He gets nearer, dazzling me with his front lamp. We are both lit up unlike those dim cyclists who play York roulette with the night-time traffic. He is coming right towards me now, still going fast, still on my side of the track.
Don’t the rules of the road apply here, mate – you stick to your side and I’ll stick to mine?
I try to stop, shuddering and sliding in the wet. And he races even closer. A head-on collision seems certain. At the last split shaver of a second he wobbles, swerves and passes within an inch, leaving a long scratch in the air around me. I just manage to stay upright. Stopping I glance over my shoulder. ‘Shit!’ the other cyclist says, almost toppling into the trees. But he stays vertical and wobbles off without another word.
That would have been a hospital job all round, a two-bike pile-up. Why are other people such idiots? Probably because we are all idiots some of the time. But that thought is too calmly philosophical for the moment. My heart is racing and something is thumping in my head. Taking a deep breath, I resume my ride.
At the end of the twisting track there is a short section of road, then a gateway to Walmgate Stray. This route is newish to me and crossing in the dark is a challenge. Many students walk across here, most of them dressed entirely in black. There are no lights, so night sky and black-coated student merge into one wall of darkness until you are almost on them.
A serve or two more, a wobble or three, and the stray is crossed. After that there is the long stretch between the barracks, dark as sin and with hidden bollards at the end. And more students in shadows.
Now I have reached the main road, still in once piece. The lights change and I go down the dead-end road that leads to the millennium bridge over the river. The Ouse has broken its banks and floodwater covers the path to the right of me. Luckily I am turning left and heading over the bridge, which is lit up at night, unlike the students. Home is reached without further incident.
The dedicated cyclist learns to be wary. You expect the cars that come too close. You live in fear of those giant rubbish lorries like a house on fat wheels. You dread the silent electric buses. You remember that taxis are prone to sudden U-turns at the drop of a traffic queue.
And in all this you completely forget that sometimes other cyclists can be the problem.