The (Murphy's) Law of Convergence
One curious phenomenon I've noticed, is what my friends and I have come to refer to as the Law of Convergence.
See if you've ever encountered something akin to the following:
It's a quiet day. I am cycling along a lovely, gently winding country road. I have not seen another vehicle for miles.
Along this empty road I pedal and pedal, till I finally notice something ahead: There is a delivery van pulled over on the side of the road in the opposite lane. The road has no shoulder, so the van takes up a good part of the actual traffic lane. Which affects me not at all, since it's the opposite side of the road. I keep riding.
Just then I spot something else up ahead. Another cyclist! I can just make out their figure in the distance, heading toward me in the opposite lane beyond where the van is parked.
As I squint at the cyclist to see whether I might recognise them, I then see yet another thing in the distance. It's just a dot on the horizon, in the opposite lane, beyond the parked van and beyond the approaching cyclist. An approaching car.
I can just about make out its shape, when I hear a faint sound behind me. I realise it's another car. Oh boy - we have gone from an empty road to a rural party in no time!
As I keep pedaling, the noise of the car behind me gets louder. The cyclist coming toward me grows more visible, as does the car behind the cyclist. And just as I am nearing that van on the side of the road in the opposite lane, it begins to dawn on me what's about to happen: We are all approaching that parked van at exactly the same time!
That is to say, the car behind me is going to catch up with me at the same moment as the car in the opposite lane is going to catch up with the cyclist pedaling toward me... the pairs of us will then intercept each other right in front of the parked van!
As I realise this, I try to take measures to avoid the bottleneck. I attempt to slow, so that the car behind me can pass me before we both reach the van at least. In fact it seems as if all four of us are now modulating our speeds to try to avoid all crossing paths at the same time. But it's almost as if these efforts only serve to enhance the inevitable. Here I am in front of the van now, face to face with the approaching cyclist, while the two cars have slowed to a crawl behind us, neither able to overtake.
In the end, we handle it all politely of course. Both cars stop completely, while me and the other cyclist proceed, crossing paths in front of the van. Then the car behind me lets the car in the opposite lane go first (they can't both fit with the van blocking part of the road). And finally, having passed the van, I am overtaken by the car that had followed behind me... after which the road remains empty again for miles.
Granted I am not great at explaining these types of scenarios. But I hope my highly technical drawing above was of help.
Now my question is this: How does it happen that 4 lone vehicles, traveling down an empty road, happen to cross paths not only at exactly the same time, but also in front of the only obstacle on an otherwise unobstructed swathe of land?!
I would dismiss it as a coincidence, except that it's happened on more that a few occasions. And I think the cause is a type of target fixation. With the presence of others being so rare on the empty road, all parties involved will naturally have a heightened awareness of each other, as well as of the stationary vehicle. Ironically, this awareness might unconsciously compel them to "gather" even as they try to avoid a bottleneck.
It's inherently a social instinct. And a rather endearing situation to find myself taking part in. We complain about congestion ...yet go out of our way to seek it out, when deprived of it entirely.