Sometimes you just have to write…

My amazing brain

photo by Anne Hellersmith

photo by Anne Hellersmith

In my post last week I listed some of my pet peeves, several of which referred to bicyclists. A few days after posting it, I was driving in our neighboring town, on my way to an appointment, when a girl on a bike pulled out right in front of me.

The road I was driving on was a narrow, residential road, with a speed limit of 30 kph (18 mph). Because the road was quite narrow and I had to go over a large speed bump to enter the street, I probably wasn’t even up to 30 kph at the moment the girl appeared.

She was coming from my right, from a bike path that ends at the road there, and I think she was intending to take a right, so she would be going in the same direction as me. The road itself has no bike path, so she would have to ride on the road, along the curb. I had the right of way in this situation.

However, she didn’t do what she should have: either wait for me to pass, or go very slowly on the turn so she could stay out of my way along the curb. Instead, she maintained full speed, and biked almost straight ahead, presumably with the idea of making a big wide right turn somewhere past the middle of the road. Or maybe she was crossing the road to one of the houses on my left. I don’t know.

Thinking back on the incident, I can only feel amazed at the speed and abilities of the human brain. Within, I would guess, about a second, a long series of reactions in my brain enabled me to respond to this sudden event. But not only that, I was able to add in extraneous thoughts: thoughts that did not contribute to my response in any way.

Here was the sequence of flashes through my brain, though I’m not absolutely certain of the order in which I thought each one:

  1. There’s something coming from the right.
  2. It’s a girl on a bike. A white bike with one of those racks above the front tire instead of a basket. Oh no! She’s not slowing down! (This is when the adrenaline started to flow.)
  3. The girl looks young, maybe 11 or 12. She’s blond.
  4. I don’t have time to brake! I would hit her anyway. This was the result of some mysterious calculation I must have been making in the background showing my speed and her speed and her trajectory.
  5. I could swerve to the left to try to avoid her.
  6. There’s no one coming the other way. Thank goodness!
  7. I started to swerve to the left, braking at the same time.
  8. It might not be quick enough. If I hit her, (again, calculations going on in the background), my right front bumper will hit her front wheel.
  9. I saw exactly how this would look: the tire with its rack would suddenly jerk to the girl’s right on impact. She would fly off the bike diagonally forward and to the right of my car. (Fortunately my brain spared me the details of the girl’s impact with the ground. I’ve imagined them since that day, though.)
  10. I braced, mid-swerve, for the possible impact, hoping against hope it wouldn’t happen.
  11. Oh, phew! My swerve worked. I haven’t hit her. Or maybe she braked at the same time.

At this point, I was past her, and we’d both come to a full stop in the middle of the road. I think she was as shaken up as I was, and I hope she learned something from it. We looked at each other, and she waved to me to indicate she was okay. My destination was within that same block, so I inched the car down the street and parked. I’m not sure I could have driven further, since I was shaking from the adrenaline jolt and fear.

photo by Anne Hellersmith

photo by Anne Hellersmith

Thinking about this later on, I realized that all of those thoughts flashed through my brain in literally about a second. And that’s including extraneous details that were not necessary to dealing with the situation, like picturing her flying off the bike or noticing that she was a young, blond-haired girl and that her bike was white with a front rack. And including all of the physical operations that my brain was directing at the same time: messages to my hands and feet about driving the car, the adrenaline rush, and so on.

How does that happen? Aren’t our brains amazing things?


9 comments on “My amazing brain

  1. Joyce
    November 10, 2013

    It is amazing how in an emergency our brains slow down and yet are moving at lightning speed to make a series of quick decisions which can save our life or that of others. Great blog.

    • Rachel Heller
      November 10, 2013

      Thank you! It’s as if time ceases to exist in an emergency situation. And thank goodness, because otherwise you’d never be able to react in time!

  2. Amy
    November 10, 2013

    I agree that our brains are truly miraculous! I’m so glad that you were awake and engaged with your driving, not looking at a cell phone or fiddling with the radio dial, or you might have made contact with her and the story would have ended differently!!

    • Rachel Heller
      November 10, 2013

      I’m glad too! I never use my cell phone without pulling over and parking first! But, yes, I could have been fiddling with the radio dial. (We just had a new radio installed in the car and the buttons are marked with REALLY SMALL labels so I always have trouble finding the pre-set station I want!) Thanks for visiting and commenting!

  3. Lisa Mallis
    November 10, 2013

    Wow – so happy you are both ok! It’s amazing how quickly are brains can process . . . thanks for the reminder . . . as mine is slowly waking up this morning!

  4. Amar Naik
    November 10, 2013

    Our brains are like superpower which get triggered automatically in such situations. great details in this post.


  5. Rachel Heller
    November 10, 2013

    Thank you, Lisa and Amar!

  6. Delia @ Blog Formatting
    November 10, 2013

    Oh, our brains are the most amazing things! On many occasions I noticed that we have no idea what we are capable of until we are put in situations like this.

    Glad that everything went fine, Rachel!

  7. Eva Synnergren
    November 12, 2013

    What a nightmare! I can feel it when I read your story. Yes, the brain is fantastic – so many decisions in such short time.

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This entry was posted on November 10, 2013 by in Life in Holland, Uncategorized and tagged , , , .
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