There's nothing more effective at spiking my heart rate on a run or a bike ride than a driver's angry honk or yell. Yesterday, as I biked north on Galaxy Ave from Apple Valley to Eagan, I waited at a stop light at the intersection of Cliff Rd and Galaxy Ave. When the light turned green, I climbed onto my bike and began pedaling across the intersection.
As I moved past the intersection, a driver behind me shouted, "Get off the road!" My heart rate spiked and my adrenal glands spewed testosterone into my bloodstream. I turned to look over my right shoulder to see the cretin voicing his ignorance of Minnesota traffic laws (read here, and here).
I don't raise the finger indicating extreme displeasure with someone's driving behavior, but seeing the driver of a black sedan leaning out the window, cigarette hanging from his mouth, staring at me from behind his sunglasses with the kind of vitriol normally reserved for seal clubbers, certainly put the thought of extending the magic finger into my head.
In the 0.37 seconds I had to consider extending my finger, I remembered that I wasn't, "that sort of person." By the time I remembered to give the less offensive "thumbs down" gesture, the moment had passed.
My thoughts turned to righteous indignation as I contemplated the general ignorance of traffic laws, specifically in relation to runners and cyclists. I could write an entire post listing the 100+ times I've been yelled at by drivers while biking or running, but I'll save that for another post.
Really, road rage is brought on by the stress of moving faster than one is used to. Most humans can't travel faster than 8 MPH for an extended time, so as soon as they begin moving faster than that, they enter a state of stress.
This stress is manageable for humans who've practiced--think of the first time you road a bicycle: Scary, right? How about when you learned to drive? Were you nervous? If you weren't, I know your parents were.
So, drivers who fail to anticipate the road ahead or who think they have the right to get to wherever they're going faster than anyone else, tend to experience higher stress. This can lead to anxiety-induced poor driving or road rage.
What this means for bikers, runners, and anyone who gets honked at, yelled at, or flipped off, is to refrain from engaging in a confrontation. People who deal with chronic road rage can become violent. Don't make an angry driver more angry by flipping them off or engaging in a shouting match.
A couple of years ago, I was running down the same stretch of road as yesterday's bike ride. My training called for a tempo run, so I was running a fair amount faster than my normal pace (read: I was in a state of stress). When a silver SUV rolled through a stop sign, I politely let the driver know to watch for pedestrians by smacking the side of his vehicle as I rounded its rear end.
Continuing down the sidewalk, I heard the squeal of brakes and the shouts of an angry driver, "Come back here M@TF%&! I'll kick your ass!" were among the many hateful words spewing from the young man's word hole.
Not wanting to know if the young man was packing heat or ready to take out a tire iron, I politely waved and continued on my run.
Running, biking, and driving can be fun. Take some deep breaths today--enjoy those activities. Don't let stress get the best of you.
Feel free to share a story about road rage--I'll plead the fifth on all the times I've lost it while driving.