He was referring to the rack — still carrying two 12-foot-long kayaks and a bike — that had been thrown from the roof of my Honda Civic when I hit a pothole driving back from Cape Cod in September. A good Samaritan, unfazed by what had just played out in front of him, had pulled off the road to help us, holding back traffic while Harold and I ran onto the highway and retrieved our wayward cargo.
Miraculously, no one was injured, or worse. Even the boats and the bike survived the crash intact. The main damage was to the rack’s mounting hardware, which took the brunt of the impact and would need to be replaced.
Motoring with bulky gear — not just bikes and kayaks, but also skis, snowboards, sculls and hang gliders — is no walk in the park. No one keeps tabs on how often these things fall off cars en route to or from someplace fun. But it happens more often than you might think, sometimes with disastrous consequences.
A month before my incident, a woman in Utah had to be airlifted to the hospital after a car hit her as she tried to retrieve one of her kids’ bikes on an interstate near Salt Lake City. The circumstances, as described in news reports, were eerily similar to mine: The bike had fallen off her car when she hit a bump in a construction zone.
Sgt. Marc Black of the Maryland State Police tells me that he has come across plenty of lost items, often in pieces, on and along I-95 and other major highways. And amid the wreckage of accidents that he has investigated, he has found bits of broken bikes that drivers swerved to miss.
William Loewe of Silver Spring, a theology professor and member of my local bike club, concedes that he may have played a role in one such crash a few years ago. He’d just pulled onto the Beltway when he noticed that the rack on the trunk of his car was carrying only one bike, although he and his partner had left the house with two. Someone had forgotten to secure the straps, he said.
Several months later, when a policeman came knocking at his door, he thought that his missing bike might have turned up. But his hopes were dashed when the officer asked for his insurance information, because two cars had been damaged running over a bike with a tag identifying Loewe as the owner.
Harold and I share the blame for our mishap. We wrongly assumed that we were safe as long as we ensured that the straps and clamps attaching the boats and bike to the rack stayed tight. In fact, we made a point of stopping to check them every several hours.
Rookie mistake, according to Karl Wiedemann, a spokesman for Thule, my rack’s manufacturer. We failed to account for the force of lift — that is, the wind passing under the boats as the car traveled at highway speed. He guessed correctly that we’d neglected to read the instructions that came with the kayak cradles and to use the front and back tie-down straps that came in the package. Ouch.