Last September, I dusted the cobwebs off Old Red and took her for the first spin I'd had in months. It was healing in a way I didn't expect. I couldn't bicycle commute to work anymore, since my new job was very far from home, so riding out to my sister's house was as close as I could get to the bicycle commuting glory days.
Little did I know then that a month later, I'd be living in a new house, in another city. And not only that – my new house would be only a mile away from my workplace, an even shorter distance than my former home was from my job at the elementary school.
It didn’t escape my notice that this was a somewhat total miracle. Like Dorothy, I’d been transported by terrifying and destructive tornado to a strange place, but there was something of home there, something that led me back to a part of my heart that had been lost. There wasn’t much to do about it, at first. It took me a very long time to adjust to my new home, and work through the struggle of accepting a temporary living situation. And it took me even longer to let go of my former home, a place that had become a part of my physical and emotional body. Plus, winter had just descended, and I had no interest in being the hard-core bicycle commuter I had once been, facing storm, snow, and freezing temperatures. I wasn’t ready for all that.
My bicycles stood patiently in the garage, as they had done for months in my last house, collecting a bit of dust and cobwebs. All through winter, I tinkered with Google Maps, trying to find the best, safest route between my home and work, though I made no move to actually get on a bike and pedal.
One night in Februrary, I braved the freezing cold garage, determined to change Madeleine’s flat tire – the same one she’d had for months. I forgot how hard it was. (Madeleine isn’t exactly “user friendly” the way some of the fancier bicycles are today.) I almost broke my stubby fingernails trying to dig the tire out of the rim. Fifteen minutes into this struggle, my hands streaked with grease and grime, I admit, I cried a bit, and railed a bit, because goddammit, Ex-Boyfriend used to help me with this sh*t, and why the hell was I stuck doing everything on my own again?
And suddenly, I got a better grip on the tire, was able to let the rest of the air out, and whoosh, it popped off. I changed the tire, nodded proudly at my work, grimaced over my feelings of abandonment, and went inside to pack my bags. I braved the freezing cold temperature the next morning, feeling like a child on her very first bicycle ride. I was nervous about riding in traffic, clumsy with the steering, and I lost my balance more than once. By the time I reached the office, I was drenched in sweat, despite the cold – the entire ride had been uphill, except for 2 half-block segments.
That was my re-initiation.
When I rode home, I was determined to take a ton of pictures that I intended to share on Facebook. I was so proud that I’d gotten back on my bicycle, and I wanted to share it with everyone. I knew I had a lot of people cheering on my efforts at bicycle commuting.
But as I snapped the pictures, I realized something: I wasn’t having fun. I hadn’t enjoyed the ride to work, and I wasn’t enjoying the ride home (downhill or not). I was riding through unfamiliar neighborhoods. I was headed to a workplace that I felt lukewarm about and back to a home I felt equally lukewarm about. I didn’t have a dog to rush out and greet me anymore, or Ex-Boyfriend to watch for me out the window and open the garage door as I rolled home. And you know what? The truth is, I’m not trying to save the world one bike ride at a time, anymore. I lost a lot of idealism these past few years, and I’ve gotten to the point of settling for “doing my best” when it comes to life, love, and the environment.
So into the garage Madeleine went, yet again. I returned to my routine of driving my car, and not thinking twice about it.
A month later, as the sun began rising earlier and earlier, I felt a strange hankering to take a slow bike ride to work. The desire seemed to come out of nowhere. But I listened, assuming it was a whim, and Madeleine and I traveled to work once more.
The world had turned beautiful in a way it hadn’t been a month before. Every tree was a riot of color – pinks, whites, yellows, purples, and greens. Petals showered over me, like snow, “blossoms disheveling,” as e.e. cummings would say. Each turn of the wheels moved me into clouds of scent, each one different than the last, but all with a sweetness that made the bees swoon and stumble, and made me feel like I’d just flung myself into a field of dandelions.
It was cold, and my ears suffered, but I didn’t care. I was struck with spring fever and I enjoyed every pedal, even going uphill.
That afternoon, I put Madeline away, dusting the blossoms off her fender, and smiling at the memory of a lovely commute. I was thankful I hadn’t missed that experience (something you miss in a car), but I had no intention of riding again the next day. Spring in these parts is violently unpredictable – from snow to 80 degree heat, all in a couple of hours.
But the next morning, I slipped my shoes on, stepped into the garage, and knew I couldn’t get into that car and close myself off to the scents and sights of spring. So I hopped onto Madeleine’s saddle and off I went.
On my way home, I didn’t stop to take pictures, but I did realize that I was enjoying myself. I was actually having fun. There are parts of this new neighborhood that remind me of the old route. There are bees, and ants, and butterflies to travel with me. The road there is all uphill, but the ride home is all coasting.
So yeah…I thought these two-wheeled days were over. But I finally found my way back into the saddle.