Category Archives: Love

Dear Bicycles…

bike+burstIt occurred to me today, while riding a narrow fietspad flanked closely by tiny canals (don’t wobble if you want to stay dry), that if I hadn’t fallen in love with bicycles, I never would have come here. That the thread that led me here began with a hard entry into bicycle transportation, a sudden leap from zero to bike commuting 16 miles (each way) to work in #bikenyc on September 12, 2001.

That insane commute evolved into a passionate love affair that has at times threatened to eclipse most of my other interests. It grew into a steadfast (read: stubborn af) commitment to move about my daily world by bicycle.

It took me out of NYC (because gawd that was brutal) and to the U.S. “bike mecca” of Portland (not all it’s cracked up to be). It made the DC metro area (where I’d moved to be near family) an impossible devil’s bargain. It took me a hair’s breadth from moving to Minneapolis (but the stroads!), and finally it spurred me across an ocean, in a move born of desperation (but also of that same deep and abiding love for the bike).

Dear bicycles: I’m incredibly grateful to you.

Love always,

—L

Not losing my religion

ripplemonumentI suppose it is a measure of how much bicycling is still a fringe activity in the U.S. that the most commonly asked question of someone who rides is “What kind of bicyclist are you?” as if you’re meant to choose a team. The multiple choice options are generally something along the lines of: recreational, commuter, racer, fitness, “avid,” etc.

I hate that question. No one in the Netherlands gets asked that question, because there riding a bicycle is embraced as an ordinary part of life. Here, if you’re an adult on a bicycle, well, you’d better explain yourself. Preferably by choosing one of these little icons so we understand why you’re doing what you’re doing and can place you in your proper box.

The thing is, none of those boxes fit.

My real answer to this question is: observant. I am an observant bicyclist. No, I’m not talking about noticing natural beauty in my surroundings or being alert to potential dangers (although both of these are true). I mean observant in the religious sense. I am a practicing bicyclist. I am devout.

Before you scoff or assume that I’m exaggerating for emphasis, think for a moment about what religion is, the purpose it serves for people of faith. At its most basic, a religion is a basis for understanding life — both one’s own experience and the possible reason (if there is one) for existing. It’s a way to make sense of the world, and of one’s experience moving through it. Most of all, it’s a way to interact with our core selves, to make contact with the quintessential spark that makes it so obvious when a living creature is inhabiting her body, and when she’s left it.

Fundamentally (no pun intended), religions exist to connect us to and help us understand life — both within us and around us.

All of those things come to me and move through me when I’m on a bicycle. I make sense of my world by riding through it. When I am mired, confused, struggling through the difficulties of my daily existence like so much sticky pudding, I get on the bike and pedal my way clear.

swampfenceOn the bike I am both free of the world and part of it. I am distinctly, purely me, and yet I am also body, blood, and flesh of the land, water, and sky.

It is as natural for me as breathing, the most simple and mundane of activities, and yet I guard that time on the bike with a ferocity I cannot explain. It is sacred. It is for me and me alone that I ride, and you are not invited into that space.*

Nor will you ever take it from me. The very idea of being forced off-bike turns me savage. I resent intrusions, demands that I sacrifice this one thing I do for me. This one thing that makes sense, in all the world, and that — in the moment, at least — comes closest to making sense of the world.

If (more likely when) I flee this country, it will be as a refugee. No, that’s not a metaphor.

swampreflection*That’s not to say I don’t like riding with other people. But it is different, just as going to a church fete is different than solitary prayer.

Breathe

There are times when I need a break from the bike. Often it’s about having a break from being threatened by drivers. Sometimes it’s about not having to carefully layer myself against the elements. Sometimes I just feel like resting in the cocoon of the apartment.

As simple and logical as that sounds when I write it out like that, it’s usually a struggle to allow myself a day off, especially if, as was the case today, I’ve already had a day off this week.

I feel…disloyal.

It’s hard to explain my relationship to the bike. It’s a little like a lover, it’s a little like a limb, it’s a little like the bike is a part of my soul made steel.

All of those might well sound like hyperbole. Faith might be the closest word, and my faith in the bike might be the closest thing I have to a religion. That sounds even more hyperbolic.

I can’t explain it, but I know I’m not the only one who feels this kind of connection. I’ve seen it in people’s faces, I’ve heard it in the way they talk about riding or about bikes they’ve loved. I also see it in the way they ride, something about the way they move, the bike becoming the bones of a bird under their hands.

Every time I choose not to get on my bike, I have a secret fear. My fear is that I’ll be off permanently. That I’ll be exiled from my faith. That I won’t have the courage to get back on. Excommunication.

Why, then, do I do what I did today? Because I also need the break, the moment away, to feel what my legs feel like walking, that plain, smaller act. More arduous and more basic. To remember I can still breathe, even winnowed down to my bare feet.

Tomorrow I’ll get back on, I’ll be winged again. I’ll spin up on rainy streets or in the sun. I’ll look for birds, the raptors and the tiny swifts in their fractal swirls. I’ll gasp when a blackbird swoops suddenly across my path as they do. I’ll dream that I, too, can spread a feathered tail and glide across and over the fields.

Pedal revolutions

mistwashmonumentIt’s winter, which may have something to do with the big, twiney thoughts that are absorbing my attention most of the time, to the point where Jeezuschrist could you all just stop calling me, don’t call us we’ll call you, I AM ON THE BIKE AND I AM BUSY.

I’m not much of a phone person under ordinary circumstances, but lately, every time that little robot noise goes off, I want to fling it into the Potomac.

I read this a while back, and the ground-level truths of it took up residence in the corners of my consciousness, and they’ve been growing seedlings there. Like the kindergarten time-lapse movie of bean sprouts, I can almost see them growing, unfolding bright green leaves that shake me with little moments of realization. Oh. Oh. OH.

If it was a snake, it’d’ve bit me. All that frustration, all that deep perplexity over why our culture makes insane choices to value parking and traffic “flow” over minor things like, oh, human lives. Why didn’t I see it before? It’s capitalism. It’s not that we don’t know the consequences of these choices; it’s that we’ve trapped ourselves in a huge edifice that’s built on priorities other than keeping people alive and well — namely, money — usually expressed, in “stakeholder” meetings about bike & ped infrastructure, as “the needs of local businesses” (which, in a capitalist society, amounts to a sacrament).

Choose money over people, power over people, and what you get is death. Nearly 40,000 in 2015, the largest single-year increase in 50 years. We’ve institutionalized prioritizing profits over people, and this is the price. Well, this and the fact that one century very soon our planet will cease to be habitable.

You can see why I don’t want to answer the phone.

greenfencenearWhat can be done? Saving ourselves and our planet would require radical changes, and we all know what they are, and I’ll bet you every penny I will ever see that we’re not willing to make them.

So what I personally do, mostly, is ride my bike and try not to despair. I try to encourage other people to use their cars less. To consider that there are alternate ways of managing many of life’s day-to-day demands beyond the private metal box.

I wave at small kids on bikes and hope for the best. And I rage. I DM furiously with like-minded friends. I suspect the climate scientists are in a similar lather of despair and conscious deep-breathed getting on with daily living.

I didn’t intend to write this post. I meant to write the other post that’s been in my mind the last few months — the one about how much I love winter riding. Either I’d forgotten how I feel about winter riding while I was living in a place with mild winters, or it’s something that’s changed in me. Winter is the time with the best solitude, and on (or off) the bike that’s (almost) always what I crave. It’s an analog for how we move through life — alone with our thoughts. If we’re doing it well, we move gracefully, fluidly, birdlike. If not, we might stumble a bit, occasionally fall, but it’s not such a big deal to get back on and pedal away from those occasions.

I’m thinking of changing careers, just slightly, and I keep getting caught a little on the thought that all I really know how to do is ride. That’s not strictly true, of course, but I have increasing trouble sitting still for anything else. Maybe I’m just conscious of time passing, of fleeting moments being all I or anyone, or even the earth has anymore. I want to keep flying, breathing, shifting smoothly through the air because that is where I am me. If I could write while riding, I would. If I could take photographs to show you what I see without having to stop and maneuver a camera, even a damned-easy phone camera, I would do this constantly. But I can’t, so it’s rare that I hook myself into paragraphs, or stop to try and grab that little scene.

Mostly I just keep thinking and pedaling. Did I think I would be turning into a revolutionary as I aged? No, I did not. But the bicycle has many surprises.

PS. Do try not to troll me with your urgent political viewpoints and BUT BUT BUTs. I meant what I said, I have no desire to be capitalismsplained or any other splained, and I will throw you into the Potomac.

Floating down to earth

waterside

“Well, here I am,” said Jubal Early, floating out into space in the last few minutes of Firefly.

I’ve had that floating-in-space feeling for almost two months now, with occasional moments of landing on my feet, just for a minute or two, before I begin to feel unmoored again. It’s disconcerting, but I guess it’s just part of the process.

All that fretting and soul-searching and fretting some more, and drinking beer with friends in a mad rush to try and see everyone while I was even more madly packing up a house, draining it of its extraneous contents (many Portlanders are by now wearing my clothes or using my cast-off furnishings, with help from Goodwill).

cottonspintree

A dear friend said to me, on my last night there, “Even when it’s a change you’ve planned and worked toward for a long time, there’s always a moment when the change takes effect. And that feels sudden.” Damn right he was. It still feels sudden, as if I’d left in a madcap whirl: “Oh hey, I’ll think I’ll move to DC now. Zap!”

Well, here I am.

It’s not perfect in #bikedc, by any means, but if it seemed perfect I’d know not to trust it (see also: 3 years in PDX). I moved to Portland seeking a safe bike haven, and did not find one. I found other things — mostly people, who are always the best “things” to find. I found a little house, which I soon found I couldn’t afford to keep.

I found inspiration, and the ability to climb hills, and friends I hope to keep, and the very nicest bike shop, and a very loud voice (okay, I knew I had that, but it was interesting to hear it echo in a smaller place).

I found that I knew exactly who I was, away from everything and everyone I knew, and that was valuable. I also found that I missed my family, and my east coast people, and that it was okay to admit that, and to go when it seemed the time for going. And I’m glad I did. I think it’s going to be good. Imperfectly solidly good. As soon as my feet find the ground.

plantshadows

The way home

“You’re a runner,” she said, meaning I use my bike to escape things I don’t want to feel. She had a point.

But the opposite is also true. Sometimes I don’t know I’m feeling anything until I’m 12 miles out and have sloughed off the carapace that accumulates when I’m stationary, indoors, or around people.

My Twitter stream sounds like I’m constantly running errands. Like everyone’s, my daily life entails lots of little missions. But I also have a habit of lining up bike errands for myself nearly every day so I have an excuse to get on the bike.

The cat was out of wet food today (thank you, Cat!), so I rode out into a typical November day – rainy and cool. I started to go the most direct route…and then turned around. When I get the detouring instinct, I try to follow what it’s telling me, because it knows what I need better than I do, and that’s not necessarily cat food (though I did buy that, because: Cat). As I looped through one neighborhood, and another, and another (neighborhoods here are wee), the day began to be beautiful. I don’t mean that the sun came out. I mean that mine did.

goldleaves2

Over a golden carpet of heart-shaped leaves, through rows of rosy trees, and do you know how many different colors grey can be? You do if you live in the Pacific Northwest. They are all bewitching: bluish, purplish, like so many dove-wings hanging above you.

Rain falling on my nose, delicious.

Yesterday I’d gone for a long ride, one of those times when I don’t even pretend to be riding for a purpose, other than because I need to. I rode the bike that’s a part of me, as if we are a bird together. It’s the one I keep in the house, because it might be made of a piece of my heart. It’s steel.

For the first hour I was angry, tangled like some tough old cocoon. When I got to the farm just outside of Gresham and looked at the lambs, their little legs dark in the mud, a dream I’d had that morning came to me:

I had wings, but they were ugly, made of flesh, and only half-grown. I hadn’t even known they were there.

And then I was crying a bit, on the bike. It used to be I could only cry while riding through the park at night alone.

In that moment I understood that my wings were stunted because I’d been told they were something to be ashamed of. That was why they’d been hiding there all this time, half-grown against my back.

I rode 20 more miles then, through the hobo camps along the Springwater at dusk (ride fast, dodge but don’t stop), turned on my light, listened to the geese. At one point I thought a bike was coming up to pass, but it was the wind.

Stopped at the grocery store (sometimes the non-errand rides get errands thrown in). Carried a half-gallon of milk on my back. Fed the cat.

I’m not always home when I’m in my house, but if I ride I usually arrive at myself.

ridesky