I feel really bad.
I didn't get out of the office till well after sunset this afternoon. One of the advantages of winter is that although the recreational paths aren't lit, exactly, they are rendered a little easier to see in the dark by the absence of leaves in the trees overhead, and the general reflectiveness of the snow. (I'm still taking the paths, because so far my usual route is still clear, with the wind sweeping the pavement free of what snow there is.)
But, it's still pretty dark out there. My headlights cut the shadows a little, but not really that much. So any pedestrians on the path show up mostly as dark shadows until I'm pretty close. As I was making my way along the path, near the river, before the highway underpass, I noticed a figure standing in the grass at the edge of the path. I swung a little to the left to get out of her way, and was distracted by the glow of a smartphone screen reflecting off her jacket (which I hadn't noticed before.)
When I looked back at the path, there was a small terrier practically underneath my front tire. I yelped. So did the dog's owner (which is how I know she was a woman) and the dog skittered out of the way only just in time to avoid my hitting it. I didn't have time to hit my brakes. I barely had time to register that the dog was there. And for a few moments afterward, I just kept pedalling, trying to process what had just nearly hapened, and being very glad that I hadn't hit the dog. Would I have killed it? Or just hurt it badly? I would have gone flying in either case. I was glad I'd had my helmet on.
And then I realized that I really should have stopped and gone back to talk to the woman. Not necessarily to apologize, although I probably would have - really, no one was at fault in this. The dog could have had a light on it, or a leash. She could have been watching instead of texting. But I could have been paying better attention to the path ahead of me. And she couldn't have been expected to be on the alert for cyclists after dark in early December - there aren't that many of us on the paths. And I really, really, should have stopped to make sure she and her dog were okay. Now there's a good chance that in her mind, I'm one of those reckless cyclists with no regard for pedestrians, zipping along unaware and unconcerned, a danger to myself and others (and others' dogs.) But the longer I thought about going back, and the more space stretched out between me and her, the more awkward it felt to turn around and go back. After all, no one was hurt. The dog is fine.
But I feel really bad. So if you know anyone whose dog was nearly run down by a cyclist this evening, tell her I'm sorry.