Sunday, April 15, 2012

Camaraderie on Two Wheels

Image from Salsa Cycles

We here in the Midwest have been enjoying an abnormally early and warm spring.  The 80 degree days in March (in MINNESOTA!) and now April's warm sunny days have brought the bikes out in full force.  A year after I broke my thumb falling off my brand new bike I now seem to understand its quirks.  This bike brings me back to that black ten-speed.  It's quick and nimble.  A gentle lean side to side is all that's needed to steer. Being out on this bike, in the spring, dodging the geese and road debris, reminds me that I can be an athlete.  That I can be healthy and strong.  And for me, being morbidly obese, that's important.
When I say morbidly obese, I am not exaggerating. I set a goal for myself this year:

  • Lose 52 pounds
  • Try 52 new recipes 
  • Read 52 novels
  • Read 12 books of non-fiction

At that rate, it will be the end of 2013 before I am down to a healthy weight. At Week 15 I am slightly ahead of pace on pounds, well ahead of pace on recipes, and on pace for both book categories.  

On my bike, especially when I'm riding by myself and don't have to compare my efforts with other riders, I feel like I look on the outside like I feel on the inside.  I feel active and powerful. I feel healthy.

What surprises me most about riding, though, is how friendly a community it is.  I don't know if it's the nature of Minnesotan cyclists, but we're an amazingly supportive bunch.  Sheltered in our cars, we rarely acknowledge the other drivers around us, except in anger or frustration.  As pedestrians, even on a leisurely stroll, we're much the same. On paths and sidewalks we may nod our heads in greeting, perhaps even flash a the bare minimum of a smile, but in general the social walker is consumed in conversation with their walking partner or the noise saturating their brain from their implanted ear buds.

But the cyclists, particularly the spandex-clad, solitary riders on quiet country roads, we greet each other. Hands are raised, grimacing smiles shared, helmeted heads are bobbed.  We know that person on the other side of the road.  S/he is me. Yesterday, when I stopped to adjust my under-helmet bandanna, another rider zipped by on the opposite side of the road.  Hands were raised in greeting and that other rider was assessing my situation. Was I stopped on the side of the road because I had damaged something on my bike (flat tires are a real and present danger)? Or was I merely resting?  And I'll bet you, dollars to doughnuts, that had I appeared to be having mechanical issues, that rider would have crossed the road to assist.

One time, having taken a knee-bloodying fall from the bike, Jon and I were on the boulevard patching me up.  Three people stopped to see if we needed assistance.  A cyclist, a mini-van with a bike in the back, and (after half an hour on the side of the road) a man who had seen me fall from his kitchen window. The mini-van? That driver saw us, but was going to fast to stop the first time. She went around the block and came back to check on us.

Another time I broke my bike chain while we were several miles from home.  I camped out on a grassy knoll by a church parking lot. The Saturday service let out and car after car passed by me as I sat on the grass waiting for Jon to ride home and return in the car to take me home.  Not a single head in a single exiting car turned to assess my situation, much less stop and see if I needed assistance.  Now, of course there could be many reasons for this.  I'm sure I seemed quite calm;  I knew assistance was on its way.  There were no signs of physical harm; despite my complete lack of grace, I didn't hurt myself when my chain gave way. Yet still, my presence didn't elicit any concern from the vehicle-clad people exiting the lot.

We cyclists tend to be a solitary and  independent lot.  We re-live that sense of freedom that came with the first bike ride every time we hop on our current bikes. I suspect many of us are introverts who shied away from team sports. But we take care of each other.  We acknowledge each other as part of the family.  We are comrades on pedals. We recognize our fellow cyclists as one of our own.

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