With the Mayan apocalypse now firmly behind us, it feels a little safer to come up out of the RKP survival shelter into the rain-swept, gray-light of a new day. And as these trying times slouch toward the New Year, I find myself looking for new sources of hope.
From the Lancepocalypse, which now strikes me as tantamount to a teenage acne problem, to the divisiveness of our national election, the unstoppable force of Hurricane Sandy and then to the reality-warping attack in Connecticut and the “fiscal cliff,” it feels easy, just lately, to sit and wonder what the hell is wrong with us collectively.
To quote Marvin Gaye, “What’s going on?”
As a bike person, I take great comfort in the sure knowledge that, no matter what happens out in the larger world, I can mostly pedal my way to a better (mental) place. And so when I’ve cast about in search of some sign that the apocalypse isn’t actually nigh and come up empty, I look to my garage for evidence that things will get better.
I guess I do it like anyone fortunate enough to have a thing called a garage. I hang my bikes from hooks, rear wheel up and evenly spaced, right in a line down one wall, and just seeing them dangling there stirs something warm in my chest.
Hung there (and carefully aligned, if only after the garage’s quarterly cleaning) they seem so perfect. In their inert state, I am not yet riding them badly. Striving and straining and second-guessing aren’t happening. Their energy accrues potentially, each bike limning the happiness still to come.
The kids’ bikes hang in between mine, their shorter wheel-bases making them perfect for space-filling. And there too I see deep wells of potential energy, future me on my road bike slowly slaloming behind one or both of my boys as they thrash away at their plastic platform pedals. This is idealized familial bliss, the making of memories to be cherished in advance. I find I need this theoretical future positive when the careening present seems at its most chaotic and dark.
Phrases like “stay in the moment” and “be here now” have all kinds of new-agey currency at the moment, and certainly as a general rule, it seems best not to dwell too long on the past nor to obsess too much about a theoretical future. But what is hope made of if not the notion of a better tomorrow, and what image conveys the feeling of that incipient change in our fortunes quite as well as a bicycle, cleaned and ready to roll?
Image: Matt O’Keefe
Standing in the loom of the garage door with rain dripping from the wide jamb. Water pooling in oblong puddles in the road, small mirrors to the gray sky and power lines. The autumnal breeze sweeps the street and shuffles the few leaves not already stuck to the ground. It’s a fitful rain. Hard to tell whether what makes it to ground is from the clouds or just heavy globs stirred from the trees by the wind.
I stand there in my pristine kit, gloves still warm from the dryer, one hand on the bars, one on the saddle. This is the testing moment.
Dressed by the bedside in the shade-drawn bedroom, only the digital forecast beamed in through the phone to guide my clothing choices, now I wonder, have I gotten it right. I pull up my arm warmers, re-layer the jersey where they overlap. Snug up my light rain jacket at the collar. I try to imagine myself riding out into the maw of the weather. Without moving, I can feel the first fat, cold drops landing on my back.
I know that in an hour I will be wholly wet and not care. I will have been soaked by the rain and also from the upspray, my front wheel spitting against the downtube, the rear cascading water up my back, my chamois soaking through, cold at first, but then body-warm.
Even in this leaves-down cold I will sweat, my core temperature rising to meet the challenge of the weather. And everything will be fine and comfortable as long as I am moving, the effort drawing all my attention away from sodden socks and that one dangling drop at the front of my cap.
But in this testing moment I always waver. Those first minutes of soak-through and of real body cold are deeply imprinted. I know them like I know their opposites, the first sip of hot coffee on the other end of the ride, or the steamy warmth of the shower with road grime streaming off my legs.
I could not be doing this. I could turn and hang the bike from its hook and walk straight back up the stairs into the dry, warm kitchen. The wife would hardly bat an eye. The kids, anaesthetized by Saturday cartoons, never knew I left, wouldn’t register my return. No one is forcing me out. There is no noble purpose. This is a practical matter.
This is how I go to meet myself. This is how I reconnect to the world after I’ve spent the week with abstraction and distraction, gazing into this glowing rectangle, trying to make it pay. The way is cold and wet today, but it is the only way to get where I need to go.
It all comes full circle in my head, and then I’m just standing there in the half shelter of the garage. I throw my leg over and push out into the ride, cleats snapping into pedals, pedals turning over, the trees shaking their leaves in a warning I ignore.
Follow me on Twitter: @thebicyclerobot.