Jackie Minge was cycling down a lonely stretch of road last Thursday, thinking about how hard triathlons are and how she was a fool to keep signing up for them. It was mid-afternoon and quiet on the two-lane connector that links Arctic Valley Road to the Glenn Highway overpass when she heard a sound like an explosion.
She saw red and felt gravel.
Minge caught a glimpse of a dark truck rounding a curve in the road ahead. She realized it had hit her.
She had been thrown off the road, landing on a bed of dry leaves. The frame of her mangled carbon-fiber road bike was about 30 feet away, snapped to pieces. The impact of the crash had torn one of her shoes off. Her instinct was to call 911, but her phone was crushed.
"I knew I wasn't dying, but I knew I couldn't get myself to help," said Minge, an experienced triathlete who also coaches inmates on the Hiland Mountain prison's running team and is married to BP America chief John Minge.
That was the end of her Gold Nugget Triathlon training ride, and nearly the end of her life.
A week later, she's healing from deep bruising and road rash. But she is shaken by how close she came to a much worse outcome, and wondering how often this kind of thing happens: a bicyclist struck down by a car and left in the road.
Police say it's hard to quantify exactly how common the scenario is.
In 2015, the Anchorage Police Department recorded some 136 traffic collisions involving bicyclists. That equals one about every two and a half days. But they don't keep detailed statistics on how many of those involve a hit-and-run.
There hasn't been a fatal hit-and-run involving a person on a bike since 2014, when Anchorage cyclist Jeff Dusenbury was hit by a teenage girl while he was riding in a South Anchorage neighborhood, according to Sgt. Roy LeBlanc, the head of APD's traffic unit.
Minge says she thought about what she could have done differently to avoid being hit. Her conclusion: Not much. She was following cyclist safety etiquette by keeping to the edge of the road, which had no dedicated bike lane or shoulder. She was alert and not listening to music or doing anything else that would have distracted her, she says.
The stretch of road was empty, she said; there was plenty of space to go around.
"It's almost like they deliberately were hitting me," she said. "Or literally didn't see me at all."
Anchorage police initially said they had little to go on because surveillance video revealed little and there were no witnesses to the hit-and-run.
But Minge said she received a call Monday saying that police from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson had identified a suspect. She gave a statement but doesn't know if the person was arrested.
The experience has shaken her trust in drivers, but also strengthened her faith in humanity. After the crash a couple drove by and helped Minge call police and get to a hospital.
"I'm so thankful to them," she said.
Competing in this weekend's Gold Nugget Triathlon is "seriously doubtful," she said. She might try if her body feels up to it. Minge says she'll get back on her bike, but with a new wariness.
"The scary part is it's not like I have control of being more sure this doesn't happen to me again," she said. "You absolutely have to trust other drivers, and you can't."
Alaska Dispatch Publishing