Bicycling: An Impression in 4 Pieces

I

Our old house was located in a hilly neighborhood. It sat at the crest of one of the rolling hills. This meant you could ride your bicycle down the hill and get going pretty fast before you had to start peddling up hill again. I did exactly that except I came up with a strategy by which I could avoid the taxing uphill climb: fall off your bike and hurt yourself on the downhill. It was the first and only time I’ve broken a bone: a tiny little metatarsal in my left foot. I remember limping back up the hill, walking myself and my bike home. It’s funny how it takes a little while to sink in that you’ve actually hurt yourself.

II

When I was in high school the drama students put on occasional evenings of skits, songs, monologues and other acts. These were called Coffee Houses. The selection of acts was student controlled and allowed for a wide variety of offerings, with disparate levels of, shall we say, polish. One of the acts, at one of the Coffee Houses, was two brothers (twins, in fact) who wheeled bicycles up on to the stage and rode them in a tightly circumscribed circle. While they rode they sang “Bicycle Race” by Queen. But they sang one of the repeating lines, “I like to ride my bicycle,” in Spanish: “Me gusta montar en bicicleta.” As I remember, they received extra credit in Spanish class for their performance. Say what you will about the public schools, they sure are rigorous.

III

This past weekend I participated in the 1th annual Worst Day of the Year Ride. It’s so named because, statistically, the second week in February is supposed to have the highest likelihood of bad weather of any week of the year. In fact, the weather was great. 3,200 cyclists peddled through the streets of Portland, wearing costumes, towing children, blasting 80s dance music out of speakers and generally “whooping it up.” It was so.much.fun.! We peddled through the NW, by the REI, into the NE and onto Alberta Street past the Community Cycling Center, down Sandy and then through the neighborhoods of the SE. The event ended at the Lucky Lab on Hawthorne where we drank some pints and enjoyed the atmosphere. As one of the ride volunteers said, “Pretty good for the worst day of the year, right?’

IV

Recently I’ve been biking home from school. I take the Springwater Trail, a long multi-use trail which passes marshes, farms and Johnson Creek on its path through SE Portland. Far cry from wilderness though it is, I feel lucky each day to be able to bike through some nature on my way from school to home. Yesterday I decided to bike home on the street instead, a shorter route. As I approached an intersection I saw a woman lying on the ground, crying and yelling. Her mechanical wheelchair was on its back, 5-10 feet away, wheels still spinning futilely in the air. She had been hit by a car. The car which had hit her was parked nearby, the driver waiting for police to arrive. Several passersby had assembled and were assisting her too. I helped her call her sister and held an umbrella over her and the EMTs (when they arrived.) Witnessing the scene made me feel the indignity of life, sometimes — we can be pulled off our planned path and into situations we don’t feel capable of dealing with very quickly and unexpectedly. Then, we may be at the mercy of a passer by. I was glad so many people came to her aid. I’m taking the Springwater Trail home today.

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