I arrived in Overland Park, KS on Monday afternoon. After lunch, I was dropped at the synagogue, where I'd shipped my bicycle (the Kansas Bike, see previous posts on is topic for photos). The bike box had come through mostly not too worse for the wear, though the axles burst clean through their beefed-up cardboard siding (admittedly, I did a pretty quick hack job of boxing this thing). The hard plastic covering I'd improvised for the rear derailleur had done its job and the rear derailleur and its hanger came through intact and working fine.
It took me about half an hour to unbox, re-accessorize and test-ride the bike and dispose of the garbage and reecycleables. Then I hooked it up to the loaner trailer, the very same one I've used on every previous visit here (thank you, kind K Family!), and rode to my homestay, a nice two-mile ride away. The couple who are my hosts this time are around my age, and find themselves very suddenly empty nesters as they have just sent their twin daughters off to college (double your tuition, double your fun, right?).
The back-forth rides between home and temple have been pleasant so far. Of course, this being Overland Park, I mostly have to ride on the expansively wide sidewalks -- in fact, a friendly policeman urged me to for my own safety and pleasure. I do take the lane once I turn off the main road and onto slightly quieter residential streets, except during the hour or so window they call "rush hour" here. By and large car drivers here are friendly, and often back up to allow me to ride the ramps from one sidewalk to the other at intersections. I have encountered exactly ONE rude river so far, not a bad track record for so car-centric and community. The other night, towing my guitar home from a late rehearsal, I spotted my first Other Bicycle Rider, a guy clad in lycra and a reflective vest on his road bike, apparently out for an evening training ride (the roads do quiet down a lot after dark here so it makes some sense).
Nicest of all, besides the gentle reminders from friends to "be careful out there" -- these people have never ridden bikes in a big city -- is the news that the city council of Overland Park will begin adding in bicycle amenities in order to boost walking and bicycling among residents, and especially among schoolkids. Their plan is to add amenities like bike lanes and shared-use paths as roads go through their constant cycle of repair and paving, so that over the next several to ten years there will become noticable changes for bike riders here:
As you can imagine, assuming I am invited back in the future, it will get nicer and nicer to ride a bicycle here. It's the most positive thing about bicycling I've seen in all my visits here, and a step in a very good direction.
Next weekend I've been signed up to join a friend on a charity ride called Tour de BBQ, a fundraiser for children's cancer research and patient services in the Kansas City area. I asked to do the shortest route, 15-20 miles, so I could take my time and conserve my energy for the real reason I came here -- to sing a whole lot of music. Still, it will be nice to take a longer ride and I look forward to it.
Today, a few days before I head to Kansas for my first out-of-town High Holy Days pulpit as a cantorial soloist, I had a bad case of the jitters. I've prepared, of course -- had a productive practice session today, even -- but I am feeling at loose ends, not connected here or there or anywhere really. So I went for a little bike ride. Within a few blocks of home it became a scavenging mission, and when I was done I'd added three wheels to my collection of found parts. One front wheel was trashed, save for the skewer, which became the skewer for the other front wheel which was actually okay. The one rear wheel in the bunch was semi-taco'ed, with obvious bends in the rim. I figured I'd try and make it at least ridable if not near-perfect again. I set about, first loosening the spokes a bit, then whacking the rim against my stool in the worst-bent spots, then readjusting the spoke tension until the wheel was true enough and tensioned consistently enough to be ridable again. In a week where I felt unsure of the work ahead and my ability to do right by it, I needed to step back for a little while into tasks I knew I was fully capable of, if only to remind myself that I can learn, and grow, and do some good in the world.
Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the two holiest days of the Jewish year, give Jews an opportunity to get clear of past mistakes and to think about how to let go of old behaviors and thought patterns that no longer serve us well. Like a bicycle wheel, a person is prone to damage, to regular dings and dents from traveling under load and over many miles. A wheel can be trued again, made straight so it can be ridden again. The wheel isn't ever as good as new; molecules change their position in the metal's composition as dents and bumps affect the rim. But the wheel can be repaired and made serviceable for many more miles.
Maybe it's like that for the human heart. Life will hit us all, hard sometimes; and we will be changed by those jolts and bumps along the way. Our molecules will change position slightly as we grow and age. Skin loses elasticity; hair turns gray, wrinkles line the corners of our mouths and eyes. And our hearts bear the marks of a life lived, embracing both pain and joy as we travel down the road. Some believe that the heart can be made good as new through repentance, through returning and making amends where we have missed the mark. Others believe that a broken, contrite heart is holier than one that has not yet been broken. Whatever the case, I am old enough that I find I need this time of year, to take stock, make repairs in my life choices and relationships with those around me, and to begin again, straightened (perfectly ridable, though far from perfect) and ready to move forward towards whatever lessons this next year may bring.
If you inhabit the always interesting intersection between Judaism and bikes, I wish you and yours a Shanah Tovah. May you be inscribed for a sweet year.
For the rest, enjoy the beauty of this autumn and safe, happy riding always!
Bikelovejones lives the bicycle life in Portland, Oregon: car-free since 1990, she gets around town by a combination of bicycle and transit, occasionally towing her guitar to gigs with an old kiddie trailer. After two decades in the bicycle industry as a shop owner, mechanic and purchaser, she retired to pursue other creative projects. She still keeps a hand in bikey things by taking in repairs and tune-ups by appointment at her own tiny workshop; and by volunteering her mechanical services at bicycle races and citizen events like Sunday Parkways. Beth is also the driving force behind a little project called Refugee Bikes; she collects donated adult bikes and accessories, tunes them up and hands them off to an organization that helps newly-arrived refugees learn their way around Portland. If you live in PDX and want some experienced, very affordable mechanical love thrown at your bike -- or you want to help Beth's Refugee Bike Project keep moving along, drop a line here.