SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. - Aria Benham pedaled her bright orange bike east on Highway 50 to work at Sprouts on Oct. 17, just like she had nearly every day of the spring, summer and fall up until then. It was a bright and sunny day. She wasn't wearing a helmet.
She passed Sierra Boulevard, then Reno Avenue, then Carson Avenue. A line of cars was backed up by lane closures near Al Tahoe. As she neared the entrance to the Whiskey Dick's parking lot, a vehicle came through the line, right at her.
Benham collided with the front right fender of the Toyota Forerunner, launching her over the handlebars.
"All I remember is having my hands hit the hood," Benham said. "Then I closed my eyes and hit the ground."
Pain shot through her feet, knees and elbows. She kept her eyes closed. Police and emergency response teams were on the scene within minutes. The driver, South Lake Tahoe resident Andrew Kirkland, a cyclist himself, waited at the scene.
"If traffic wasn't there it wouldn't have happened," Kirkland said. "If I could've seen her and if she could've seen me, it wouldn't have happened."
As construction winds down this week, dangerous conditions for cyclists along Highway 50 will also come to an end. Ironically, the road work, meant to improve conditions for bike riders in the long term, and the ensuing traffic has made the stretch less safe while underway according to local cyclists.
"There has been some grumbling among cyclists," said Ty Polastri, president of the Lake Tahoe Bike Coalition. "Obviously, the response has been that it is unsafe."
Benham's friend Jacob Ells was driving by at the time of the accident.
"As I drove by I just saw her laying there completely still with the most agonized look on her face," he said. "After I realized it was her, I pulled over and ran back to see what had happened."
Benham couldn't stop the tears.
"I was crying so hard because I thought I'd never walk again," she said.
After a trip to the emergency room, Benham found out she had bone fractures and contusions in her left leg, a broken toe and had sprained ligaments in her knee.
Next spring when construction resumes Benham will avoid the Highway 50 route, she said.
"I would recommend staying on the bike paths, staying off the highway as much as possible," she said.
Riding on the highway when there's construction and heavy equipment moving could be unsafe, Polastri agreed.
"Given the situation, find alternate routes," he said. "There are ways to circumnavigate the area."