“You gotta have some nerve, don’t’cha?” says the gentleman in the Toyota Camry as he politely tries to be “nice to the lady on the bike” in all the least useful ways.
If I’m in an intersection with my arm out indicating my desire to turn, and you are an oncoming car, please pretend I am a car. (In fact, I’ll follow the rules of the road if you’ll do the same. How’s that?) You have the right of way, I will turn after you. Please don’t wave me on, especially if you are turning; I promise, I see you (you are big and loud and smelly and shiny; I am small and sparkly and quiet and more intelligent than you might think). I passed trigonometry in high school, and while I can’t tell you the exact formulae anymore, I am controlling my momentum and speed to turn when the way is clear. Please, don’t tail-gate me. And please, please, please, don’t toot your horn to say hi, or roll down your window to talk with when we are both in traffic.
Oh, and if you could hang up and drive (yes, two hands on the wheel eyes on the road, not your sound-system, cell phone, or cosmetic kit) that would be lovely.
I have a lot of empathy for drivers; behind the wheel I know the crud I pull, and I know what happens to my sense of time space, and priority. There are places to go and things to do. And, there is this gnawing isolation found by being confined behind the wheel of a car; you are inside your neat box of metal and glass, moving at a pace that makes things blurry around the edges, totally disconnected from the world around you.
Folks, this is why I sold my car. This is why I’m so delighted to have Mata Kali (my groovy orange bike) back in my life. This is why, while I can’t comprehend how this will work long term here I really, really, really want to find a way to thrive in this world without my own car or doing some sort of “commuter thing.”
The Dream around here (be that NEPA, the East Coast, Suburbia, the United States) is so car centric that I nearly jumped over the counter to hug the guy at the bike shop yesterday when he casually said he commuted to work at the shop three days a week…from White Haven…40 miles…each way.
I said, “Say that again.” 40 miles. Each way. And it’s 5pm, drizzling, and he’s smiling.
“It’s an easy 40 in the morning, up and through three river valleys—the Susquehanna, the Lackawanna, and the Schuylkill—and a hard 40 home at night. No big deal.”
No big deal. I felt that ripple out into my mental body. This was after I had the audacity to reject a possible route into Scranton because of the size of one of the hills. (The Morgan Highway may or may not be the hill mentioned in the old folk song about the 1000 tons of bananas).
Honestly, it’s neither the miles nor the hills around here that is hardest. It’s not the state of the shoulders (what shoulders?). It is not the amazing density of pot holes (number of expanses of road over 3 feet not bearing at least one pot hole encountered to date: approximately zero). It’s the fact that I’ve never ridden on any of the roads I’m now considering for my territory.
It takes a great deal of mental energy to learn on a body/nervous system level where to shift and where to pace myself while also mapping unique features of the road (like storm drains, drop offs, manholes, blind spots, and yards with hyper-friendly dogs). It takes even more energy to break through the expectations that it’s not possible to “get thar from heer” or to live without a car…or that one must be super-human to be fit, healthy, or stark-raving-mad enough to try it. “Got some nerve, got some nerve.” Pul-e-eze.
The energy of cutting through the limiting beliefs within and around me is like the anthracite coal for which this region is noted; black gold, black diamonds, anthracite is just softer diamonds and swallows light as thoroughly as a well cut gem refracts it. It’s like running through the surf at rip-tide or slogging up an arroyo in a flash flood. I am rethinking reality just by considering riding. By considering it fun and a joy rather than a hardship. By not being afraid to get wet or muddy or tired. By not assuming I need to have a car. To break through, I have to actually get out and ride—the hard riding of a first ride—in order to convince myself it’s not a big deal. I have a lot of territory to cover, and the inertia is denser than the dust in an old miner’s lung.
Objects in mirror may be closer than they appear.
I’ll join one of the local road rides and get the group energy to help me ease into 20mi over big hills. I’ll also keep trying to arrange car-pooling and ride-sharing, holding the vision of community.
Maybe I do have some nerve. This suburban isolation isn’t my dream. Sitting at home or in the bike-shop coffee-joint watching all these isolated souls rush by the flowers on the trees isn’t what drew me home. My dream isn’t to need resources to fill my emptiness. It is to dive into the emptiness and discover wholeness. It is to live with joy and grace and freedom all the days of my life.
Dude, lay off your horn. Can’t you see I’m gathering the momentum to keep riding up hill? I signed on for the heart pounding, heavy breathing, bone weary bliss that comes with being alive, not just the downhill at the end. If that shakes your world, at least have the courtesy to share the road.