Monday, January 9, 2012
Riding in the Rain
For me, there is something about a bike, and particularly this configuration of bike, that helps me to become fully alive and present. I also own an absolutely stunning, top of the line, Cinelli (exquisite really, in its craftsmanship and lines. I will post some detail photos of it when I get a moment), but this humble Trek, that began its useful life as a rental at Maine Sport, has a particular magic. It is fast and smooth and its shifters reveal a wonderfully advanced machining precision. But no one would confuse me with a racer. The other afternoon a fluorescent-clad racer, all carbon fiber and wrap-sunglasses, blew by me on his training ride. He certainly felt no flicker of testosterone competitiveness from me, though I did chug away on my plastic pedals, behind my Wal-Mart headlight, seeing if I could keep his pace until my turn off to the Samoset road. No, this is not hip, or retro, and no one would mistake me for an extremist, log jumping, hootenanny hollering mountain biker. Rather, I feel a clear connection to my steed in Thailand, so there is that nostalgic bit, but more widely, I feel very much a commuter. I feel a certain solidarity with the millions across the globe for whom a bike is a lovely and practical way to get from home to work and back again. I think of the factory workers in Shanghai, or the groundskeepers in Angor Wat with their handmade brooms in Cambodia. I think of the office workers in Helsinki, who, according to my young friend Alex Bucholz, ride through the winter on studded Nokia tires. My short commute takes but 12 minutes or so, and there are some small variations that offer me the possibility of slight change- I can take Pine and pass the dilapidated small house for sale for 50K, or I can head straight down Spruce to swing by the natural foods coop. It is a quiet ride, especially in the mornings, and especially on those mornings when I have to be at school at 6:40 am for meetings. And it has gotten progressively colder and darker, naturally. In September I used to have some companionship in the bike rack at school. I never did see who the other bikes belonged to, but I did feel some sense of kinship. Nowadays the Trek awaits me alone. The students are slightly confounded by my choice. You must be cold as hell! But, really, it isn't so different from skiing or skating or just walking outside. The wind does factor in, but it does not penetrate my mittens or coat. It is hard for them (or my principal in his very cool, hopped up Jeep, who often roars by me in the dark morning) to believe that I like it. Of course, my choice is driven partly by my poverty. If I had the money for a second car, I probably would have bought one. If I had a car it might be very tempting to get in it on a freezing black morning (so far 20 degrees is the chilliest). But to shut myself in that cocoon would be to deprive myself of the air rushing across my cheeks, the sun's rays breaking up over the far horizon, the chugging of the motors lined up a the McDonald's drive through. It would deprive me of the strain of my thighs and the chest expansion of my breathing. Riding provides me with 12 minutes of existing. It bookends the arrival and departure from teaching so beautifully because I go from the physical to the intellectual and then back to the physical. Even if brief, it serves as a helpful reconnoitering with my non-mental self and with the physical world. And even on rainy days- like the one above, I inevitably respond with simple gratitude. There really isn't any other word to describe it. It isn't gratitude for anything specific- my health or the wind or the beauty of the geese floating on the edge of the harbor- it is more of a zone of blessedness. The thing is, I know my Trek is much nicer than the shitty bikes many people commuting must endure. And I think the leap to this level of bike- that is not so much to ask is it, for everyone? Just a functional, practical, sturdy friend?
After my ride I ran in, stripped down, and dried myself and my clothes by the heater. It was perfect.