12 September 13

I want to ride my bicycle

Over the course of the last 9 years or so, there have been a few times where I decided that this was the summer where I would ride my bike to work every day. I’m fortunate to live just a few miles from my job, and these few miles can be passed in a 15-minute car ride, a 30-minute bike ride, or a 1 to 1.5 hour train/train/bus ride, depending on traffic and schedules.

However, 9 years ago, at the very beginning of the summer. A friend was killed while riding her bike to work. It was an accident, a true accident. But it was horrifying. And not only was it hard to know that the world was now absent her kindness and brilliance, but to see those closest to her ripped apart emotionally, and knowing they’d never be the same scared me more. I hated the idea that I might be victim to that, more so for how it would affect the people closest to me. But I kept saying that next year I would get over that and ride to work.

Then a few years ago, I decided that I was ready for the challenge again. But a dear friend witnessed another horrifying bike accident that resulted in the loss of a young woman. I didn’t know her, but seeing how witnessing the accident affected my friend, all those fears and thoughts of leaving my loved ones behind came rushing back.

But this year, this year was the year where I decided that I would get past this. At the beginning of summer I got my 14-year-old steel hulk of a bike tuned up (although it is far from perfect) and I obsessed over how I would bike to work and avoid the major arteries, both the traffic kind and those that would pump adrenaline through my body. And I found a route I was comfortable with. In fact, I’ve found a few routes I’m comfortable with. I take the same route to work every morning. It is a 4.5 mile ride. I know where the potholes are, I know which corners tend to be gravelly and should be taken slower, and I know how to avoid all but 2 blocks of major roads.

When I began biking I decided my goals for biking were to: a) get over this fear; b) save money on train fare; c) get some exercise. And I have to admit that the reason I still do it every day (well except for a few days where I just haven’t been able to get up early, or the weather has been bad, or I had an event after work I couldn’t bike to), the reason isn’t because of any of my major goals. Maybe a little of the first one. Getting over that fear. Encountering a couple of scary situations and continuing to ride has made me feel more in control. But riding my bike and feeling my legs become stronger, strong enough to power me up what I call Mount Ridge (which I call it, no one else, because it is funny and makes no sense: Mount Ridge) without having to downshift, without having to stand to pedal, without breathing so hard at the top that I feel my vision blur, is pretty awesome.

Some of the excuses that I used for not riding to work was that it was the only time I had to read during the day, and I would miss that. And part of me does miss that, but now I find myself actually taking a lunch break more often to just eat my sandwich and read, instead of working through lunch at my desk. Winning on two counts, I think. Another excuse is that I kinda enjoyed some of what I call “Crazy Bus Interactions”, even if they happen on a train. The too-loud conversation that you just can’t help but overhear, the wide-eyed kid riding a train for the first time, the people who comment on the book I’m reading, the bus driver I used to call “the grumpy Sikh” until he stopped wearing his head covering after people at a gurdwara were shot. Now I call him “the sad Sikh in disguise.” The woman who doored a city bus. Yeah, really. She opened her driver’s door after a bus was half past her and it caught on the door frame for the back door.

And I miss some of that. But I just have different interactions now. There is an older Korean man who bikes the loop in the park in the morning in orange pants, a safety vest, and the largest bike helmet I’ve ever seen. Everytime we pass each other he waves and he shouts “Bike safe pretty American!” And I chuckle, every time. This happened 3 times this week. At the beginning of summer I was struggling to get up a slight hill at the end of my route and a VSB (Very Serious Biker) flew past me while saying “You can do it! Just keep going.” And I think I found a little strength I didn’t know I had. There was the high school doofus who thought it would be funny to smack me on the bum with his hand as his friend drove past me. I wasn’t hit, he missed me entirely. He thought it was hilarious. And it scared me so much that after the adrenaline subsided I wanted to throw up. But I kept biking, and I’m glad I did, because instead of making nicknames for people on the bus, I now make nicknames for people I see while I’m riding.

There is one woman I pass frequently at night if I go past the home where she lives. This large hotel-like building seems to house people with a variety of disabilities. I’m not sure what hers are, but she talks about French people every time she sees me. “They got the funniest hats, those French people.” “French people are so rude.” I call her the Anti-Franco-Alliance. Then there is a guy who smokes with one cigarette in each hand. But I don’t think he smokes, I think he just holds them. And he jumps back and forth from one square in the sidewalk to another while singing “1, 2 Freddy’s coming for you.” That’s it, just that line. He is the The Movie Extra With 1 Line. There is the bus driver I’ve only seen a few times. But because I wait behind the bus while he lets kids on (you know, following the law), he’s taken to smiling at me and telling me to “Have a blessed day” when I do pass him. He’s the Nice Bus Driver (not everyone gets a funny name). The older woman who is either sweeping off or housing down the sidewalk in front of her house waves at me while her white dog lounges in the grass. There are the two older Slavic women who sit in the park in lawn chairs, in snap-front house dresses, sandals, and knee-hi socks rolled down to their ankles and drink wine out of green plastic tumblers. I call them The Ladies Who Wine. The don’t even notice me, or anyone else. They’re too busy laughing and talking with each other. But I’ve seen them every day. I envy them, actually. I hope to be them someday.

But all this excitement aside, this isn’t even why I continue to bike to work. I bike because it is fun. There is something amazing about biking down a street that was covered in fresh blacktop just that day and hearing how much quieter fresh blacktop is, how much smoother, how much less effort it takes to roll down the street. Even on the days that have been wicked hot, when I’ve gotten to work and been glad I could shower off and change, even on those days it is fun. (This has only happened 1 time, actually. This summer was too cold.) It’s so much fun, that I fear I’ll miss it when the weather turns cold and inclement. I’m going to keep biking as long as I can stand it. But I’m cranky and whiny when I’m cold, so I don’t have high hopes. But it is fun. Lots of people, too many people, told me I would enjoy it. I doubted them, and I’m sorry. I’m not at the point where I’m making plans to bike across Iowa, or anything crazy like that. But I am thinking it really would be possible to take some longer bike rides. Probably next year due to scheduling issues. And I’ve spent zero time shopping for a new bike, or bike gear, or bike wardrobe, or any of the other things that Very Serious Bikers, and many Biking Is Fun Bikers, get into. And that may change, but for now. I’m just going to give myself a mental fist-bump every time I climb Mount Ridge. Just because I can. Just because it gets more fun every day.


  1. Bravo!

    Megan on Sep 13, 12:55 am

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