About two weeks ago I bought a bike. Brand new, cute as can be, even with a name, “Fiona”. I also got the cutest panier ever, with a lime green flower and orange straps.
On my very first ride, I got a flat tire. A complete blow out, requiring me to walk it home for about two miles. Luckily it was a particularly beautiful sunset on the ocean, and I got to look up, twisting my head slowly to savor the powder blue sky and cotton candy pink clouds spreading in all directions around me.
Still, I was a little shaken by the fact that the road looked so innocent – no broken glass or bed of nails in sight. Just smooth blacktop for as far as the eye could see. Except for whatever jumped into my back tire that evening.
It turned into a perfect opportunity to have one of my coworkers show me how to change a flat. Somewhere around step 9 of the process, my eyes started to glaze over, but I kept taking notes as he explained and demonstrated patiently. He taught me about tire protectors and now I own some. If you don’t have them, go get some!
I’ve been riding almost every day since. On the sunny ones, I’m riding chin up, smiling from ear to ear, and taking in the sounds of the rolling waves and the expansiveness of the ocean stretching out to the horizon. I note the particular shade of blue in the sky and on the water each day, because they are never repeated exactly.
Riding my bike has transformed a routine errand – hopping in my car to drive two miles to the local market for food each day – into a celebration of life. I breathe in the scent of cypress, I feel the warm sunshine on my cheeks, and I experience my own body propelling this amazing machine beneath me.
I wonder, “How the bicycle must have transformed human experience when it first appeared on this planet!”
And then I think, “What made us dream of a bigger machine that would multiply our speed of transit even more, but not require us to move our bodies at all?”
When I’m sitting on my bike, gliding along the paved path near the ocean, I think about these things. I am relaxed and confident, because this is a bike’s territory. Pedestrians and dogs must yield.
A different story begins the minute I cross from the path to the road. The very last stretch of ride between my house and the market involves crossing a major intersection with a stoplight. Four lanes of traffic, three strip malls, a gas station, a high school, all converge at one point. I have two streets to cross each time I reach this intersection. I walk across one way, and ride across the other, my body often tense with resolve to “get through” without any close encounters with cars or mishaps with my own machine beneath me.
One day last week, I was feeling particularly vulnerable. It was drizzling lightly. I liked being alone on the path, feeling the cool breeze in my ears, and the tiny fuzzy droplets of mist gathering on my eyelashes. I was cautious, using the brakes a bit more on the turns, controlling my speed, as I had no idea how Fiona would respond in wet conditions. Continue reading