Wasp vs Cyclist at the Hotter’n Hell 100
Is it practical to use a one-word prayer and expect results? I experienced a spur-of-the-moment opportunity to find out.
The saying goes, “There’s only two things wrong with Texas: July and August.” The people of Wichita Falls, rather than hide indoors by their air conditioners, celebrate the Texas summer heat by hosting one of the great cycling events in America, the Hotter-n-Hell Hundred (HHH).
Fifteen thousand cyclists come from all over the world to ride 100-miles (161-km). Temperatures this August Saturday reach 106-degrees Fahrenheit (41-degrees C). The wind feels like an industrial blow dryer on full, blasting right in your face. The race is astoundingly fun, it’s challenging, and it makes a great story later while you are cooling off in a swimming pool.
My bike frame was made in Spain, my saddle Italy, the helmet France, the groupset Japan, the wheels America, and the tires Germany. I’ve added Aero-bars to reduce wind resistance by leaning me forward in an aerodynamic position.
Two issues with Aero-bars: when you are down in position, you can’t shift, and you can’t brake; weight is on your elbows with your hands gripping the front bar. You feel fast, yet can mostly steer only a straight course and are mildly out of control. What we cyclists won’t do for a little more speed.
Just after the 60-mile point, there is a long glorious downhill. I’m enjoying some help from gravity. This is a straight gentle hill about two miles long that lets you crank into the high gears and take your speed up near 40-mph (64-kph). I get down on the Aero-bars and let her rip. A team of nine Italian cyclists drafts in behind me, forming a flying triangle with me at the point of the spear. We slice through the hot wind, zooming down the long hill.
Suddenly, I see trouble: one hundred yards up ahead, some large red-and-black flying insect is swerving slowly above the road at eye level, trying to avoid the speeding cyclists. Texas grows some big stinging insects. Its red body held aloft by beating black wings is having trouble gaining altitude in the hot thin air.
I’m staring at this red wasp with the sick inevitability that I’m going to be a human windshield. I could not move to the left or to the right because of the surrounding pack of other cyclists.
Like some out-of-control guided missile, the wasp flies zigzagging in to the tiny space between my right eye and my helmet and sticks there with a resounding “clunk”. The wasp furiously begins stinging the inside of my helmet with maniacal animal intensity; its black wings beating against my right eyeball. Over and over he desperately stings the lining of my helmet, trying to paralyze his attacker and free himself.
With maniacal animal intensity, I join in screaming “NOOOOOOOOOO!” How’s that for a one-word prayer? But I’m stuck in my Aero-bars – speeding downhill at 40-mph; remember, I can’t brake or even steer. I free my right arm from the Aero-bars and start smacking the side of my helmet, trying to crush the venomous little beast. It does no good: I’m pounding the heck out of my helmet while the wasp continues to buzz like a chainsaw.
As you can imagine, I’m not holding a very straight line. My bike swerves all over the road. The Italians riding just behind me are totally freaking out – lots of hollering and rude hand gestures. All I can think is, “This evil insect is going to sting my eye, and I’m going to crash then get run over by nine ticked off Italians.”
So here’s the metaphysical question: Does “NOOOOOOOOOO!” count as a prayer? Well, in an emergency, yes, I guess it does. “NO” reverses the unreal situational thinking: one second I’m expressing speed, joy, and exhilaration – then suddenly I’m out of control, panicking, about to experience a very nasty case of “road rash”. It’s as if God is saying, “NO, not in My reality you don’t. No, you are not going to get stung in the eye. No, you are not going to crash. No, you are not going to get run over by an Italian cycling team. And, while you’re refreshing your thinking, stop saying that My little wasp is evil – he’s My perfect idea of insect.”
An essential idea in Christian Science is that God is always present, always available if man will only tune in to the same station that God is broadcasting from. Tuning in or acknowledging God’s presence in our lives is prayer – especially evident in emergency situations. In this immediate situation, my only option was to pray: I did not have any options from a material standpoint. I could not wish the wasp wasn’t in my helmet. I could not pretend that I wasn’t soaring down a hill on a bicycle at 40-mph. I could not hit the brakes, even if I could reach them from the Aero-bars, and get run over by the Italian bike team. None of these material things could possibly result in a good outcome.
Let’s return to the bike race. Then, as if plucked from inside my helmet by a pair of heavenly tweezers, the wasp frees himself from between my eyeball and the inside of my helmet and flies happily away unharmed. I’m relieved to report that the wasp did not sting me, even once. Both, the wasp and I made it through the race OK.
An adventure has been defined as “A situation terribly uncomfortable at the time that makes a great story later.” Unpredictable stuff happens in our lives, at work and at play; mostly it’s not worth worrying about, and some of it does make a great story later. Lesson: When you encounter an unexpected adventure, active prayer is a good way to keep it from ruining your race.