Friday, July 6, 2012

A Short Journey by Bicycle


One fine June day I get on my bike and ride up the street to where a pedestrian bridge goes over the highway. While approaching the ramp, I check on the baby bur oak someone has planted there; stealth gardening by the same person, I guess, who has in previous years planted other young oaks in the parkway of this street bordering the expressway. Who does this? Where did they collect the acorns? Do they have access to a greenhouse or do something at home involving grow lights or a sunny windowsill? I may never know—the oaks just appear: one day plain grass, the next day baby oak, marked by a white ribbon, left alone by whoever mows, watered when needed.

My job is a little more than five miles from home, and I’ve started biking regularly. This is an extension of an already established habit, so every morning I must make the decision again: today I’m going to put my lunch and other necessities in my backpack, sling it on, put on my helmet, roll my bike out of the hall and through the door, carry it down the steps, get on and go.

It’s been eight years since (regarding biking) I last found myself inhabiting this uncomfortable space between intention and action that new habits require we negotiate—at least the ones involving effort and will. I’ve always had a bike, I enjoy biking, so what could be easier than deciding that cycling or walking would be my main transportation around our community, with public transit if at all possible, for longer distances? On setting out to do this, I didn’t realize that I would have to keep re-making that same decision every single time I went somewhere. Instead of simply walking outside and getting in the car, I had to plan ahead—for extra time, for the weather, for clothing—and then overcome internal resistance. “Driving is so much easier,” the voice of old habit whispered. “Aren’t you too tired and in too much of a rush? It might rain. You’ll get hot (or cold). Come on, take the car.” Gradually, very gradually, the bike became my natural and preferred mode of transit; but this took much longer than one would expect.

I head over the bridge and ride a couple of quiet blocks to the first busy intersection, with its gas station, Jiffy Lube, cars, trucks, noise— so boring in its jarring ordinariness I can’t even call it to mind later on—I’ve blocked it out. If you are in a car, you maybe roll up the windows, put on the radio, turn on the air—you wouldn’t notice the smell, glare, noise; but on a bike these things hit you from all sides. In a car, you could be said, sometimes, to not be where you are.

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