Tuesday, October 11, 2016

That Sinking Feeling

I had just had a meeting with my supervisor at a café on New Street, and was taking Drew to see the university. We were going to do work and I was going to attend a talk. I was carrying my brand-new MacBook Pro, which I both adored and still felt guilty about buying because they’re so expensive. Drew was riding my roommate’s bike, and I was excited to take him along the canals for the first time. The canals are one of my favourite things about Birmingham, and I ride along them daily to and from the university, so I was looking forward to sharing their awesomeness with Drew. But let's be clear about one thing at the outset: no one wants to actually *go into* the canals; no one wants the water upon their person (even though we're told it's clean). The idea of one's body being submerged, partially or entirely, in the canal is terrifying. 

It was a beautiful October day – warm in the sun, but cool in the shade, with a surprisingly blue sky. It was the perfect day to ride under the trees, through spackled sunlight. We were just into our ride, just outside of what you might consider the centre of the canal system and heading along the canal that leads to Worcester, when it happened.

I was in the lead on my bike, and as we approached the (wide, modern) Five Ways underpass, I suddenly and mysteriously† wobbled and felt myself lose control of my bike. Having ridden along the canals for some time now, I have had a plan in case of such an emergency: bail as quickly as possible onto the ground, to avoid falling into the water. This, I did. But it did not help. Momentum was not on my side, and though my knee struck the ground (and Drew had time to think I was going to stay on land) I felt with horror as my bike, and I upon it, still somehow mostly upright, plunged into the water.

My entire being had one feeling at that moment, and it formed itself and whispered in my ears: No.

But yes! I saw the surface break, saw my hands brace out as if I could stop myself from going under, felt my bike sink away from me, and saw the water wash over my glasses. I was under water for the briefest moment, and yet my body had time to register the temperature (warm compared to the air), smell (clean and wet-rock, like a river), appearance (clear), and depth (greater than I had been led to believe). 

A single thought: COMPUTER.

Drenched in wool and leather
I surfaced, full-panic. Quoth I, “NAAAGH! NGAAGH! NAAAGH!” as I kicked and paddled, grabbed the side of the canal and launched myself up and onto the path. I frantically cried “Oh my god! Drew! My computer!” as I tried, legs still submerged and wriggling like a seal, to shake my soaking backpack off my drenched and clingy leather jacket. Drew was already in action, pulling my backpack off and taking out my things. I hauled myself fully out of the water, near-hysterical, and stood stock-still repeating phrases like ‘Oh my god,’ ‘I can’t believe that just happened,’ and ‘My bike.’

To his immense credit, Drew was looking at me with the most concerned and sympathetic eyes. I may have been dying with laughter if our roles were reversed. Two women who were walking by at the time got to see the entire spectacle. One of them asked if I was alright, but the other was straight-up impressed. “I’ve never actually seen anyone do that,” she said. I was congratulated on getting myself out of the water; “most people can’t get out.” Satisfied that all the damage was emotional, they went on their way.

My bike was gone. By some absolute miracle, my computer was dry. My phone, too, had but the slightest hint of moisture on its case. Drew tucked both of these into his warm and dry backpack, as I stood dripping. With those things safe, I was permitted to turn my thoughts to my poor, poor bike. My trusty, German-made, puncture-proof tyred, fully-fendered, wicker-basketed bike! It was down there in the water – just down, right down there. I stripped off my jacket and told Drew I was going back in for it. I put my jacket back on and told Drew that was totally insane I wasn’t going back in. My boots squelched. I took them off and squeezed out my socks, put them back on, and started trudging, with Drew, back home.

Haha just kidding
I was swinging between lamenting my loss of bike and general sogginess, and oddly unsettling laughter. We had to walk all the way along the canals to home, passing groups of people and police officers, and not once did anyone comment on my clearly sodden and bedraggled appearance. Brits! It would have been so much less embarrassing if someone had commiserated or made a joke with me, but everyone was straight-faced.

Thanks to the Canal & River Trust, I got my bike back. Two men with a long hooked stick dragged it out of the water (after first chancing upon some bags of trash). In the end, everything came through intact. The only things left to mark the event are my personal trauma and Drew’s memories, and now this story. 

† Leading theories of what caused the wobble include: 
• Five Ways Bridge trolls, exacting their price
• Tow-path elves, playing tricks
• A kelpie, attempting to eat me (though I'm not sure they live in England)


  1. Replies
    1. I'm leaning toward kelpies! Drew was describing this to a friend last night and in his words, the water reached up and grabbed me. Suspiciously kelpie-like.