I was recently listening to an episode of On Point about the rise of biking in the US. As a child I loved to bike, to be able to get from point A to point B without asking my mother for a ride, the excitement of racing down hills with the wind in my face and my ears full of the whirring of tires against the unforgiving tar. It was magic. I still ride my bike from time to time and when I do I'm amazed once more at how quickly the tires chew up the miles, and the satisfaction of feeling my body moving in rhythm with the machine.
Ernest Hemingway praised the advantages of the bicycle over the car by saying, “It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them." Anyone who has ever biked a road that they typically drive, has to agree. A road that seems pretty flat in a car, can be anything but when you're on a bike. If I may digress, isn't the image of Hemingway's bearlike frame balanced atop a bicycle priceless? For some reason in my mind's eye, the bike has a big wicker basket (a la Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz) in front. Anyway...
Biking, for the adult me, is simply another driving experience. I am part of the town traffic. My mind is alert to the motion of bikers and drivers around me. I'm thinking about how their next move will affect me and vice versa. I gave other vehicles little thought as a teen, riding helmet-less two and three
abreast down the middle of our neighborhood's streets. Cars better
watch out for us, was the attitude. Sometimes we used the appropriate
hand signals to indicate we were going to stop, but that was more for
the fun of communicating in code than any desire to inform drivers of
our intentions. Today when I strap on my helmet and start to ride,
every inch of me is aware of my proximity to cars and just how
inattentive drivers can be. I use hand signals religiously, I stick as
far right as possible and since my town is thick with bicyclists, I
try not to do anything sudden or unexpected that could throw them off as
Somewhere in my mind a calculation has been made and as much as I enjoy the feeling of flight that biking makes possible, the advantages of walking carry more weight. Today I walk a lot like I biked at age 8. I do it because it feels good to be moving, to be outside, to see new things. I stop or change direction when something attracts my senses, an unfamiliar sound in the trees, an interesting building in the distance, an unexpected scent. I'm a truly irritating person to take a walk with. A bridge, a wooded path, a weather vane, I can't resist taking a closer look. When I leave my house I rarely have a destination in mind, which has lead to all sorts of discoveries (and countless chances to get over my fear of being lost).
I keep a little notebook where I list things that make me happy. Some of them are big parts of my life, relationships and the like, but many of them are one time occurrences. Often they're things I see on my walks that I would have missed if I were traveling any other way: baby wild turkeys disappearing into the undergrowth, the laughter of a family eating dinner together, the first fireflies of the season. These sightings make my world new again, and turn every block into a land of potential discovery.
"Let us not take it for granted that life exists more
fully in what is commonly thought big than in what is commonly thought