Saturday, August 9, 2014

i ride my bike because, well, i just have to.

I travel for my work now. And I don't just travel -- I travel with a guitar and sheet music and dress clothes. Which means that bringing along a folding bike is not terribly practical, at least for now.
In cities where I have a prolonged stay -- for a residency -- I can arrange for a loaner bicycle and trailer. My recurring gig in the Kansas City area has this actually written into my contract.
For cities where I fly in and out in a day or three, it's harder. I have a gig in the Phoenix area that will average roughly once a month during the school year, and have already been warned that the venue is in a suburb that is decidedly sprawled and bicycle-UNfriendly. So bicycling is sort of out anyway.

I just spent two weeks on the road, partly for work and partly for vacation. Flew in from one city and flew back to another city on the West Coast. Ended the trip by driving all the way home to Portland from the Bay Area. My last night on the road was mostly sleepless, fraught with anxieites about my work, my life, aging, menopause and a future without retirement. I got maybe three hours of sleep, and poor sleep at that. Still, I helped with the long drive home, unpacked and then tossed in a few loads of laundry upon arrival.

We got back early enough in the afternoon that I decided to take a bicycle ride around the neighborhood. I had really missed riding during this trip, even though I'd gotten in a couple of nice walks (including one hike up to the top of Indian Rock in Berkeley, which was great). It wasn't enough, and it wasn't the same at all. Basking in the heat of the late afternoon -- temps were in the mid-80s -- I picked up books at the library, did some grocery shopping, grabbed a big bag of recycled grounds from Starbucks for our compost bin, and made a mental note of where the best free box offerings were this weekend so I could return in the morning with the trailer.

And tonight I am truly tired and ready for sleep.

I can feel the difference that my little eight-mile ride has made. My head is more relaxed, far less anxious and more planted in the present -- the present week, anyway. Riding definitely makes a real, healthful difference for me, even though I no longer "train" or race and even though I am slow as molasses. So tomorrow, I will ride again.


In other bicycle news:

Tomorrow is the annual Bridge Pedal, one of the largest bicycle events of its kind in the country. An estimated 15,000 or more people will take to Portland's bridges and their connecting streets and cars will be blocked for a few hours in the morning. I rode the first five bridge Pedals, beginning in 1996, as a volunteer ride-along mechanic. It was fun at first, but as the crowds grew each year it got more and more stupid. My last volunteer ride ended when a little boy of no more than six couldn't hold his line and plowed broadside into my bicycle, hard enough to knock me down. The rest of his family, two parents and four more kids all under the age of ten, followed suit, making for a very nasty pileup.
I walked away with scraped shins, a gouged knee and a badly bent chainring, with the father's angry shouts echoing in my ear. He yelled at me for not staying out of his child's way. I shot back, "your kid's too young to ride his own bike in a crowd of ten thousand people and he belongs in a trailer or on a tandem till he can hold his f**king line!" -- in earshot of one of the organizers. I was taken aside and reminded that these people had paid to ride and that we needed to treat them like valued customers. Nothing about my damaged bike or my visible and still bleeding injuries. My bike was no longer rideable and I excused myself to walk it down off the bridge and to the nearest bus stop.

After that I decided Bridge Pedal no longer really needed my help. Or my money. I have never paid to ride in a Bridge Pedal and never will. This year the going rate for the middling eight-bridge ride is a cool $35 and it's $40 to ride all ten bridges within the city limits. Whatever. I'll go for a ride tomorrow, but I'm not paying for the privilege to do it.

A series of articles over at BikePortland discussed the idea of bicyclists paying their way for road usage -- through bicycle insurance, registration, sales taxes and even toll paths.
To these ideas and their proponents I say: Screw them all.
I ride because it's free. I ride because I can. I ride because, even though it probably doesn't make a real difference as far as congestion on our nation's car-centric roads is concerned, it's the one way in which I can thumb my nose/raise my middle finger at the status quo. Highly aware of the new struggle I have with questions of sustainability and carbon footprint thanks to the all the flying I must now do -- and it IS a real struggle, a crisis of conscience on my part -- I know that every time I can choose the bicycle I am making a difference in some way, no matter how small. Plus, it feels good.

So I ride.

Tomorrow it's supposed to be in the mid 90s. I will probably go out early and take the Columbia Slough route, then end up over at Velo Cult for the undemanding atmosphere. I'm giving myself a day before I dive back into the preparations for High Holy Days and beyond.

If you are doing the bridge Pedal tomorrow, ride safely and enjoy the view from the Fremont Bridge. If you want to ride but can't bring yourself to pay for it, remember that there is an equally awesome view from the St. Johns Bridge, which you can ride any damned day of the week for free. Happy riding!

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