Inspired by today’s ride through a perfect Northeast Iowa summer evening, things I learn and relearn from my simple old machine:
1) If I just get started, it will get easier from there. This applies to everything.
2) From a bike, the world wakes up my senses: flowering vetch, wild lilies, Queen Anne’s lace, black-eyed susans, wild bee balm wave from the ditch, my thighs twang, my wrists tingle and go to sleep and come back to life, I ride through clouds of smell (something dead, newly cut hay, the intent thoughtful green smell of growing corn, the wondrous sweetness of clover), sweat dries to a salt-and-dust film on my skin. “That sheaf of powers to which we have been unable to give a better name than ‘the senses,'” wrote Colette. “The senses? Why not the sense?” How often I let my body go dull, sleepwalking through the day.
3) 26 miles is not that much more than 22, which is not that much more than 18, which is not that much more than 15, which is not that much more than the dozen miles that used to absolutely exhaust me when I started riding. When was that, five years ago? Seems like I’ve always been a cyclist. Seems like I always will.
4) I can do more than I think. Despite my self-consciousness about my body in biking clothes, I am tougher than I think — tougher in every way than I was when I began my journeys toward physical and financial health four years ago — and I have learned to be grateful for my body’s health and strength: sturdy uncomplaining legs, arms that hold me up, ears that warn me of approaching cars, eyes that see and marvel at the slant of this particular evening’s sunlight on this particular fringe of trees at a pasture’s edge. I learn, and relearn, gratitude, and grace.
5) Sorry, but it’s true: the more visibly Republican and/or Christian the vehicle, the ruder and sloppier the driver, almost every single time. Ditto for the proud bike-haters, who, when they step out of their vehicles decal-ed with “I Don’t Drive On Your Sidewalk – Don’t Bike or Run On My Street” at the store they have roared past us to reach 2.5 seconds earlier, limp and heave and sigh with pale fat, lapping over their belts and the sides of their shoes. Sometimes they flick cigarette butts onto the shoulder of the road, just ahead of us, or just behind us, as they pass. Why do you hate us? We don’t hate you. My taxes, like yours, pay for these roads. And for your Medicare.
6) A car is such an expensive and dinosaur-bone-burning device to carry one person and a lot of empty space. And it so easily casts its driver into a complete, barely conscious illusion of invulnerability. You can’t see how your tires skid sideways on the gravel curve you are taking about ten miles an hour too fast while you are talking on your cell phone, or sometimes, looking down to text. You’ve flicked your eyes over at us bikers hugging the ditch on the other side, congratulated yourself that we’re out of your way, and let your mind jump away from us. You can’t see what we do — how big and lumbering a machine this is, how shifty the ground is underneath you, how every additional five mph of speed puts you closer to a skid, how the stretch and web of mechanical connections underneath you bears you up and keeps you going and for now is not breaking but someday might, how small you really are behind that wheel. Cycling a lot improves a person’s driving: this is why, because it confronts us with the reality of carefulness, awareness or the lack thereof, contingency, and accident.
7) A bike is a fabulous place to hatch grand designs, to make plans, to strategize and scheme. A working body, powering itself forward through the landscape, churns up ideas too.
8) Water is pure miracle.
9) Waving at people on tractors is the right thing to do.
10) Talking in a friendly voice to that dog lifting his ears in that front yard can sometimes keep him there.
11) Friends keep you going, helping you do more than you think you can.
12) The feeling of pride in having done something difficult makes that difficulty — even in the moment — easier to stand.
I can always do more than I think, even when it doesn’t seem that way. There’s always one more hill to climb, and one more view I’ve yet to see.