Response Crafting

General reflections on riding: the first 3,000 miles

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A post from summer 2014:

Each time I approach the bike, the thought at the forefront is: “I get to ride today.” I know this before he does and each time I approach, there’s a moment where then he knows too.

I’ve got my helmet hanging from my left hand, my fingers clutching a clasped chinstrap I’m about to undo. In my right hand, my keys – my key – with the orange bottle opener still attached from when the seller handed them over like that to me.

The bike may not start for me today – there’s always that risk – but chances are pretty good that it will.

It is a relationship.

I love this bike. I like it more than anything – any thing – I have ever had (or not had) before.

I am not real big on possessions to begin with – and really, the whole concept of having “possession of” or “domain over” something is a bit of a construct anyway. But of the items I have “owned” in the way that we believe we “own” things, nothing has ever struck me in the ways this bike has.

It’s nothing fancy. (I guess I should’ve shared a photo of the bike by now, but it doesn’t really matter what it looks like. It’s not about the bike itself – the “thingness” here is independent of make and model.)

Before this summer, I was hard pressed to find an answer for that common, hypothetical question of what I would save if my place was on fire. (Pressed to answer, I sometimes cited my writing – the hard, paper stuff I’ve got floating around.)

Now, though, my answer is easy… I laugh and then I clarify: “is the garage on fire too?”

It is a practice.

Yes, like yoga. Or other meditation.

In yoga, you come to your mat at whatever skill level you have. And you begin. And each time you make that commitment, you get a little better; your poses solidify a bit or you find a new depth in some or you bring something else away. And though you may carve away at a particular pose, it may take years to really get there – there are yogis who spend ten years building the ability to nail Shirshasana – or unassisted Adho Mukha Vrksasana. But everyone starts somewhere; everyone’s practice is their own.

There are few real prerequisites to getting on a bike, in the grand scheme of things. And once you start riding, there is no real concrete endpoint of accomplishment – no final checkbox you can point to and say “I did it.” Sure, you might ride 1,000 miles in one day or ride from one coast to the other in a summer, but these are merely checkpoints in a bigger picture; stepping stones to move you along your way (I would imagine few people stop riding once they do these.) In reality, it’s an ongoing process – a commitment and an investment – and if you choose to approach it that way, the learning never stops.

If you do it a lot, you get better. If you step away, things soften and then get lost.

It is an investment.

Each time I ride, I make an investment. Even before I even get on, I choose to trust myself, trust the bike, trust other drivers and the road. I commit to a level of attentiveness and engagement, and I commit to taking care of him – and believe that he will take care of me, too.

It is vulnerable.

There is a stark physical vulnerability to riding that can feel a lot like nudity. Not nudity as crude exhibitionism, however, but rather nudity as in naturism. A state more for the naked rather than something for those who look on.

It is cold and it is hot.

When it’s hot out, heat builds at the nape of my neck, where the stiff leather collar of my jacket hangs. It slides down, across my shoulder blades, their edges shifting as I sit up at each red light; heat with its palm spread wide, pressing against my lower back. My ribcage expands against the leather and then falls.

Sometimes, at red lights long enough to gamble and make a move, I free myself from the top half of the jacket; heaving the armored leather off my shoulders and pulling it down, and back, and then sitting, bound now by my sleeves, with my shoulder blades pressed towards one another, and leaning back on my hands braced on the broad, hot leather seat just behind my hips. The heat rises up from underneath the jacket and the air around me pulls it from my upper body just as the sun finds my sun and replaces my heat, now surrendered, with its own.

It illuminates smell.

The air has a complexity; a vibration; a depth to it; the air has another plane of color. For brief moments at a time, I have insight into the moments of other people’s mornings, when their routines take them to reach for whatever bottles of things make up the topography of their bathroom counter.

Cologne. And perfume. These get such negative, not so good / bad raps, but the reality is: they’re actually sort of wonderful to experience – that layer of one’s life – and for someone typically does not smell things, suddenly smelling this scent rising off of a body is something sort of inexplicable.

“Smell” has such a negative connotation – just, simply, the word on its own. When I tell people that I have a weak sense of smell – that I, often put simply, “cannot” smell – the response is overwhelmingly: “you’re so lucky.” Cologne. And perfume. These get such negative / not-so-good / bad raps, but the reality is: they’re actually sort of wonderful to experience – that layer of one’s life – and for someone typically does not smell things, suddenly smelling this scent rising off of a body is something sort of inexplicable. Because it’s not just the cologne or the perfume. It’s a sudden, very sensual awareness, like being brushed in a subway or feeling the air shift around your frame as someone runs by you. It’s not just a smell, and for me, not an assessment of “good” cologne or “bad.” For me, it’s a sudden arousal; an awareness of proximity. Someone, suddenly, is close enough to smell. And I imagine the corners of their body where each spray hit; those corners, now pulsing with the heat of an existence and summer, the smell of a bottled scent rising off of them. And I am almost touching them. Or them me.



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