Friday, September 14, 2007

Pilot Fish on a Whale Shark

On the way to work on Friday, outside of downtown, but in far enough for the road to be more like a street than a highway, I heard a tractor-trailer behind me. For those who know the 'boro, it was on Center Street inbound, by the intersection with Whitten Neck Road.

I'd much rather have a tractor-trailer in front of me than behind me. As a motorist I would feel just the opposite, but I can use that behemoth when I'm cycling.

The heavy diesel rumble stayed steady, indicating this nice guy would stay back if I held him back. I looked back several times, holding the look. Up ahead was a short section of wider shoulder. I pulled into it and slowed. The trick was to encourage him to pass quickly enough for me to use the little down slope to jet out of my safe haven in time to catch the pocket behind the trailer.

The wide place wasn't quite long enough, so I had to slide out next to the last double set of wheels. As soon as it passed, I exploded in a sprint to catch the draft. The slope helped me, but it also helped the loaded truck. I had to wind out the 48-13 at screaming dive-bomber rpms to gain the suction of the truck's air column. But I made it. As soon as the pocket sucked me toward the trailer I could coast and feather the brakes to maintain position.

The trailer was loaded with heavy pallets of building materials, so I knew the truck would make a slow, wide right turn pretty soon at Route 109A to go to Winnipesaukee Lumber. It's like transferring to a different bus. Meanwhile, the ride was comfortable. I mentally reviewed the condition of the pavement ahead. Drafting the truck I was on a different line from my usual. Any raised or sunken utility lids? Killer potholes? Large longitudinal cracks? Nope.

Traffic management depends on opportunities like this. I always use larger vehicles the way a pilot fish uses a shark, but sometimes it's hard to catch a good shark. This monster was a whale shark: a big, harmless plankton eater that would not attack.

When the truck jammed the whole intersection with 109A, I slithered around the left corner of the trailer and slid back into my usual groove. All the motor vehicles I'd been traveling with had been trapped behind the truck as it wedged itself around the tight right turn. Some came along shortly to provide extra lift going into the nice right onto Lehner Street.

I had to go to the bank, so I went past the shop, dropped into Mill Street and picked up another small shark to keep people from pulling out on me as I flew down into the sweeping left by Hampshire Pewter.

As I left the bike-through at the bank, a dump truck was just pulling out, so I got another truck draft to the shop. Drafty morning.

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