Thursday, September 26, 2013

I've Heard These Bicycle Stories

I've heard these stories. Bicycle stories. Of riding straight into the setting sun so bright that you want to shield your eyes, but you keep riding because there's no other place you'd rather be. The one about the guy riding alone at night, along the canal, when an owl swooped so near to him he thought he felt its wings, as it vectored into a bunny running alongside. Icy rain rides. Art rides. Forgotten youth remembered rides: an instant gelled in the drops of water flung from a dog splashing out of the canal, mountain trails tunneling through cactus and mesquite. Creosote after a rain, citrus blossoms in the spring, rain that evaporates before it hits the ground in shimmering summer air. Wind that blows monster, rolling clouds of brown dust that swallow a city. An old man's dream of a bridge made real. Fish that dream. Kids who ask about how the bike works, and what a pump does, and you show them. Flat tires in inconvenient places. Seeming hallucinations: a burro wandering a city mountain park, a panda in the rain, fish rounded up by laughing wranglers, a giant squid painted on the wall of a dry canal, a hummingbird garden made of rough corten steel, foam cut up into tool shapes floating in the water. Drivers being nice to cyclists.

While commuting: gravity's cat, umbrelled with otherness, weird spinning bicyclists made from former traffic signs spinning in a space that asks why should I be sad when I have trees made of old denim, and giant wooden doors that sing when you move. One day: ice cold splashy drops splooshing out of a clear blue sky soaking the cyclist. Another day: someone's pet cat, just struck by a car, the light dimmed from its eyes within the last minute, held and stroked in the hands of another cyclist who stopped, as the owner came out, and we told him that she was gone. A clarity of mind, a woman met on the train on the way to the bike shop, hiking the bike up the side of a mountain trail too steep to ride up for mere mortals past a certain age, steel trench plates that are as ice to bicycle tires when wet, hot dogs of the gods met and gobbled up after long rides, bike swaps of surpassing variety and attainability of untold vastness of obscure but functional velo gear, a shop in Bisbee with lugged steel goodness lavishly displayed, tools that work as designed and parts that just work together for miles and miles and year and years. The efficacy of grease, and bearings, and gears, and spokes, and chains, and lightweight steel springy pingy planing road joy of just riding with a need for the bike. Miles I don't remember. Moments I can never forget. Blazing heat that soaks in like power. Salt rime. Ice rime. Goathead thorns stuck in the tire, then stuck in my finger, drawing blood and a sharp, dusty pain. 

Some too few moments. These. I've heard these bicycle stories, and I smile not because they happen so often that I can count on them, in fact quite the opposite, they are rare and unplanned and unpredictable and mostly I yearn for them to come back into my life now and now, but they can't be forced, and won't just appear on command. Many rides are just rides and I appreciate them, but they have no stories in them, at least none that I am bright or sensitive enough to ascertain. But, it should be clear, a requirement of gathering up one of these bicycle stories is to go for a bicycle ride. A short one to the store, or to coffee, or a medium length one to work, or to visit a friend, or a longer one slow for fun, or fast for workout, or any others, but the bike ride is the necessary step. A so-easy step. 

Run out, ride out, sprint for the hills, and open eyes to blazing skies, and the wind could be blowing non-stop straight into your face like it was tonight, but who cares, who cares...because once in a while, on a ride, some stranger unexpected and unknown lets you know that we humans have the distinct and real potential to bolster one another, to support and acknowledge one another, to very rarely but more often than never just know what the other one requires and share it. Sometimes we take a chance and the spinning wheels take us there. To see a new story that we've never seen before, or even to get smacked between the ears by a new dream that comes from who knows where in the cosmos and is more vivid and real than the thing that you just thought that you were in the moment before you dreamt it.

Sometimes when something breaks down we ask one another if we have everything. I've supplied a pump, a patch, a tube, a wrench, when the response came back that something was, indeed, needed. But do we have everything? How could we sustain that? Or know it, finite and narrowminded beings that we are, I doubt we could even understand that state if we achieved it. There are myths out there, and crazy bright lights, and awards for drivers who demonstrate that they truly don't have everything with their aggression and inattention. 

There also ineffable moments of cold breezes that come out of nowhere on a hot day, and wraiths that dance between cars at noon on a summer day, and the sweet singing sound of bicycle tires running down gravel desert paths at fun speed. All along the happy path, the stories lurk behind bushes and beneath lower overhanging culverts where the migrating bats roost in certain seasons and emerge just after sunset in the thousands to dine together in their crazy, glorious mass flying feast.

We can sell our cars and go without. We can all get cargo bikes and shop like human beings instead of gas powered robot consumers. We can ride tandems, and foldies, and tall bikes, and unicycles, and stingrays, and strap on electric booster motors that let us ride up mountain grades like ten giants. Or ride with the kid to the park with a makeshift picnic of organic stuff and fresh bread that doesn't seem logically compatible or assembleable until you realize that if you squish it altogether and SMASH it into a semi-blob shaped edible object it transforms into an edible wonder called a SMASHER that tastes better than anything except the crunchy pistachio biker bar with pistachio gelato on top at Le Grande Orange that you are going to split after you finish the SMASHERS.

I don't have everything; how could I, and how could I know if I did? But I know how to get more of these stories: go for a ride. Open up, relax, and spin. In sunshine, in rainfalls, in wind and mud. Oh the mud stories I should tell. Another time perhaps.The sunshine blazing straight into my eyes makes me see things and think things that aren't even there. Which I fully acknowledge, and am filled with joy at the thought that the bicycle stories which gestate from such material sustain and fill me and drive me forward. To tomorrow, and the ride which will happen then, with new stories made in it.



  1. This was beautiful, thanks.

    I know I love to ride for fun, for exercise, to get places, but I forgot about the great stories collected on the way. I have many, like you. Some are private, some shared with friends, some with my wife, or kids. Moments of serendipity to be treasured, surely!

    1. Thanks Jim! It's probably in the nature of the thing that we forget more than we remember. I think the title of this post has something to do with that lacuna, and the feeling of hearing yourself tell stories that you didn't remember until you heard them again.

  2. I wish my mountain bike wasn't a men's bike. A few years ago, I liked riding it but I need a women's bike now...I've been thinking of getting just a 3 speed to ride around the 'hood. If I read this again, I will for sure.

    (Don't forget the aluminum horses spouting water in a drenching downpour.)

    1. Poof! Magic John has granted your wish! Your men's bike is now a comfy mixte of an attractive shade.

  3. QOTM: "If we could take the 2.5 billion seconds that make up the average human life and assess a person's well-being at each point in time, the distinction between the 'experiencing self' and the 'remembering self' would disappear." --Sam Harris, "The Moral Landscape", reflecting on the ideas of Daniel Kahneman.


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