Saturday, March 8, 2014
The man was clean cut, of late middle age, and looked not unlike one of our teachers. But his expression of friendliness was too studied and strained. As he made his way to our bench in the shaded part of the park we instinctively put down our sandwiches and stiffened our postures.
"So... what are you exactly anyway?"
"You know - Chinese, Japanese? Korean?"
"Umm..." I could see K's face twitch and turn red. She was born in Connecticut.
In the seconds of confused silence, he sat down next to us and leaned over chummily.
"Nice day!" He made a show of looking up at the sky, then glanced around furtively.
"Excuse me, but we came here to have a private talk..." I said this as friendly as possible, wile my eyes searched for passers-by.
"Hey, and what about you honey? French? You got a bit of an accent there."
I attempted a discouraging glare, but he continued.
"Polish? Knew a girl looked just like you once and she was Polish. Nice girl, very mature for her age. Strict parents though. Do you girls have strict parents?"
In the moments that followed I could almost hear the wheels turning in all three of our heads, crucial calculations taking place as the breeze tussled the leaves.
"You're quiet girls, aren't you?" he finally said. "I like that..."
In unison, K and I stood up.
"I'm Cambodian," she offered brightly, prolonging the breaking point.
We didn't run, but, leaving our lunches on the bench, moved quickly and with precision toward our bikes - rusty things propped up against a tree. Then we grabbed them, hopped on and pushed off just as the man's face contorted into an agitated snarl and he lunged after us.
"Dirty little sluts! You coupla whores!"
Safely out of reach we could still hear him yelling.
"I got a car you know! Gonna go after you all the way to your house!"
This made no sense, but nonetheless terrified us into riding circles around the neighbourhood for hours before going home. It was the summer after 8th grade and never had we been so glad to own bikes.
This was not the story I meant to come up with on Women's Day, but it popped into my head. The bicycle as escape tool. Not often talked about, but it has served that function for me and countless women I know.
Wednesday, March 5, 2014
But it's about more than the fun factor. For me there is great satisfaction in being able to make that "will I fit through this?" judgment correctly, quickly and with reasonable confidence - something that would have been out of the question a couple of years ago.
I've always had problems with proprioception (awareness of the body in space), and in turn, with spatial rotation. I'm the sort of person who routinely bumps into furniture. Who tries to kick a ball and misses. Who ducks for a tree branch that hangs nowhere near low enough to hit my head. Driving a car was always stressful because of this; the detached, abstracted feel of being inside a vehicle distorted my sense of movement in space even further.
There is a unique physicality to being on a bike, that communicates balance, motion and speed in a way that, however slowly, gets through to me. And it is doing more than teaching me new skills. Essentially it is repairing sensory motor deficiencies that I thought were permanent. It is a gradual process, not a quick fix. But year by year, and sometimes even month by month, the improvements are noticeable. Ironically, I would even feel more confident driving after these years of riding a bike.
There are times I think life is complicated. But then I fly through a gap in a fence without breaking stride and feel so happy, that I remember it is not that complicated after all.
Monday, March 3, 2014
The morning after I arrived, I got on my bike and took off without hesitation. After all, I knew this place well, I knew where I was going. But as I rode through the city it was as if my body was still tuned into one music station, while the streets played another. We were out of sync.
There is a frenzied, erratic, atonal feel to cycling here - or at least it strikes me that way after an absence.
There are skills and intuitions we develop through years of urban cycling. Quick reaction times. Keen peripheral vision. An instinct for evasive maneuvers. Anticipation of potential doorings, right hook turns and other rogue moves. The ability to "hover" and "creep" at intersections. We also grow desensitised to the scary fact of being, at all times, just inches away from a fleet of heavy moving vehicles that could easily squash us at any moment.
None of this has left me. I feel safe and comfortable riding in Boston. It's just that the rhythm of the city feels …foreign. And it insists upon itself, urging me to internalise it again.
My speed in the city is regulated by what the traffic patterns allow, more so than by my fitness level or by the kind of bike I ride. I had almost forgotten about this in rural Ireland, where changes in fitness translate into noticeable changes in speed, and where riding a faster bike cuts down on travel time considerably.
And maybe that is at the heart of what I'm struggling with here: Giving up control to the city and its fitful, fascinating rhythms.
Friday, February 14, 2014
Tuesday, February 11, 2014
Proper snowfall is so unusual here, that even when the first flakes began to float, landing on my coat and hat playfully, I did not think much of it and kept pedaling the eagerly creaking machine. These flurries would not last long.
The weathered cement lane, with its occasional outbursts of moss, became now a soft swooshy path, pristinely white. With my tire being the first to disturb it in this state, I felt a twinge of regret over ruining such unspoiled beauty. But this regret was short lived, as the bicycle took to the snowy surface as if they were meant for each other. The expression "like a ton of bricks" comes to mind. In a good way. Heavy and slow to react, the beast pushed onward persistently, its tattered tires gliding on fresh snow with an air of even-tempered striving. A complete unknown to me, this machine could have let me down, and I'd been fully prepared to walk it home. Instead, it almost seemed to savour the harsh weather conditions, enjoying the opportunity to show its mettle. "I am no novelty bike. Just look at what I can do!"
An hour later, the snowfall ended, the fog dissipated and the temperature rose. The snowdrops began to peek out again. The sun made a tentative re-appearance. Only the white caps of the mountains showed evidence of what had gone on. Soon, they too will melt, like the thin crust of snow now sliding off of the Triumph's spokes and chaincase, liquifying into puddles in the shed. A short, but intense winter burst that leaves me curious to ride this old bike in good weather.