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The Day We Almost Died (And Why We’ll Keep On Cycling)

February 20th, 2013 19 comments


This picture was taken a few moments before we almost died.

The day we almost died

The day was March 21st, 2008. We were biking across Iran with our friend Bijan, on our way to the holy city of Mashhad. By 7am, we’d finished breakfast and packed our bicycles. We picked up the camera one last time, snapped a quick shot of our camping spot from the night before, and rolled our bikes onto the road.

On the face of it, the cycling conditions that day could hardly have been safer. The road stretched out straight ahead and far behind us. Visibility was excellent. There was a shoulder, and no traffic at that time of day.

We took the first pedal strokes. Up, down. Up, down. As we eased into our rhythm, Friedel contemplated crossing the road to take a photograph of Andrew passing by.

Then it happened. We heard the squealing of tires and saw a blur in our rearview mirrors. Bijan shouted something. A fraction of a second later a car flew by our left side at incredible speed. In front of our eyes it rose into the air, rolled a few times and landed upside down on the other side of the road.

Silence. Terrible silence. The kind of eerie calm that only happens in the face of tragedy. In all honesty, we aren’t sure if it was truly silent or if we were just in shock. We realised that someone had just died in front of us and we were mere seconds away from being part of that accident; another statistic on the roads.

Three people died that day. Three children were left without parents. We could so easily have been among them. If we’d been cycling in the other direction on the road, if the car had veered right instead of left, if Friedel had crossed the road to take a picture….

That night, we wrote in our journal:

By the end of today, we felt even more pleasure than usual in the simple things in life. We stopped to camp by an irrigation channel, dipping our toes in the cool water and being happy only because we’d lived to see another day. You just never know what tomorrow will bring.

The next morning we got up and carried on, cycling down some of Iran’s most beautiful roads.

the next morning we carried on

We continued on our world bike trip for another 18 months, crossing Asia, Australia and North America. We kept cycling because we realised that turning tail and heading home wouldn’t save us from an untimely death. Such events are simply a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Thankfully for us, on that day we were (just barely) in the “right place”.

Not so for Peter & Mary, who sadly died earlier this month on Thailand’s roads. Like our experience in 2008, however, their fate only encourages us further to continue doing the things we love, with the people we love. We’ll do our best to stay safe, of course, but ultimately we also realise that death is a fate that awaits us all and we don’t want our last moments to be the closing act that follows a lifetime spent on the sofa. As the famous quote goes:

Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming ‘Wow! What a Ride!’

So if you’ll excuse us, we have a cycling trip to plan….

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18 Responses to “The Day We Almost Died (And Why We’ll Keep On Cycling)”

  1. Blanche says:

    Beautifull Friedel!
    these moments keep rembering us that we should seize life – every day!

  2. Wholeheartedly agree with what you’ve written, Andrew and Friedel. As the saying goes, ‘when your life flashes before your eyes, make sure you have plenty to watch’.

  3. After a friend of our’s sister was killed a few years ago on her bike in Leiden, we were paralyzed with shock and almost unable to get back on our own bikes. We realised that not cycling and not doing things we wanted to do in our lives was not the solution. Thanks for the uplifiting words! We need to keep on living!

  4. Steve morse says:

    Thank you I needed that .

  5. exactly. this is how we finally got ourselves to get out there and go on adventures – it can happen to anyone at any time, and we didn’t want it to happen while we were living unfulfilled lives. no regrets.

  6. It’s crazy how we overcomplicate life and sometimes forget to stop and enjoy the small things. I hate to hear about tragedies on the road involving cyclists or anyone really. I biked across the USA last year and had multiple close calls. I’m glad I read this story…it has instantly calmed my day.

  7. Pleun says:

    Hi Andrew & Friedel, what a sad news… But you are totally right to keep going, so I wish you happy planning and safe roads, wherever they may lead you!

  8. Ann Wilson says:

    Andrew/Friedel,
    I read today that the driver of the truck was reaching down to pick up his cap from the cab floor when he lost control. Thailand has a bad record for accidents involving motorbikes/scooters but I always felt safe on my bike because generally, the roads have a wide shoulder. Whilst we in the cycling community mourn the loss of such a young couple, this is not a cursory lesson in the dangers of cycle touring, it is a lesson that none of us is invulnerable to the hazards of using road networks. Accidents involving motor vehicles are common and sometimes cyclists are part of the statistics. When the truck driver lost control, Pete and Mary could have been pedestrians or they might have been in a stationary vehicle . This was a tragic incident but not one that should deter anyone from exploring the world by bike.

  9. 21st of March is the first day of spring when Persian New Year kicks off. It is when most all Iranians travel, and statistically speaking, the most dangerous day to be on the road in Iran. It is surprising to know that accidents like these happen mostly on very quiet roads where there is no traffic at all. Something very similar to what you encountered happens to me on a quiet road in Iran during New Year’s holiday except that I was hit, and fortunately, no one died although everyone in the car was hospitalized. Please stop riding if you happened to be in Iran around 20th of March.
    Mansour

  10. Thank you, Andrew and Friedel, for this wonderful, measured, commentary on the recent deaths and your own experience with death itself. We all need to be reminded of our mortality and of our desires to lead our lives and not plan our deaths. As Warren Zevon said, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.”

    Until then, let us all lead lives that others will be inspired by!

  11. Laureene says:

    Its such a shame about Mary and Pete, they were so young and full of life and as i prepare for my own cycling tour, it was great following their journey on the road
    Like Andrew and Friedel do, we have to carry on and not limit our selves from going out to seek adventure..RIP Mary and Pete, and godspeed

  12. Jammie Tai says:

    Thank you for inspiring a newbie like me. Ride higher, ride longer. Life is short. Enjoy the moment and the breeze on your face during each ride.

  13. brenda says:

    When I was in my thirties with 2 small childen , my parents died, one from meningitis and the other from a brain tumour. That changed our lives. They were expecting to go off touring in a new camper van wen Dad died suddenly.
    We decided then to go cycle camping with the children and now in our 60′s we are still planning and going off. Just Love it. As far as we are concerned death is a gateway ro another world. It’s sad that Mary and Pete have died but as others have said, we do what we can to keep safe an live each day as if it is our last.

  14. David Hunter says:

    “Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming ‘Wow! What a Ride!’

    I agree

    At 68 I still run 4 miles 4 days a week and have just started with my wife cycle touring. I am one lucky guy. I run early in the mornings (about 6.30am) as I have done for most of my life. Watching the seasons go by and having the pleasure of the countryside all to myself is a treasure. I understand where you are coming from.
    Keep up the good work.

    David

  15. Jack Havana says:

    “By the end of today, we felt even more pleasure than usual in the simple things in life.”
    Glad the deaths of those three people made you feel so good about yourselves.

    • friedel says:

      I think you misunderstood. The deaths of those people made us realise how lucky we were (and still are) to be alive, and taught us not to take a single day for granted.

  16. Amaya says:

    Thanks for sharing this story.

    The old message, “Live life to the fullest,” can never be repeated often enough.

    In Malaysia,we had a similar “near death” experience.

    A car collided with a mini van just a few hundred meters from where we were cycling. More than one person lost his life and several were seriously injured.

    I was really shaken up for a few days and thought a lot about how I wanted to spend my life.

    Of course, after a while I forgot about this. I let some petty grievances get to me. I wasted precious hours (days!) of my existence. I took life for granted.

    The deaths of Pete and Mary are tragic. Let us learn from their shared love and joy of life.

  17. David says:

    “You’ve gotta dance like there’s nobody watching,
    Love like you’ll never be hurt,
    Sing like there’s nobody listening,
    And live like it’s heaven on earth.”

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