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I’ve given up trying to change gears. On Tuesday, my bike downshifted violently without warning about two miles after I’d attempted to ease my ascent of San Francisco Street (before shifting back of its own free will less than a mile later) and I learned my lesson — the universe wants me to stay in fifth gear.
Once I accepted my fate, it became easier to ignore the mechanics of my commute and focus on a world I never paid attention to before. I’m so used to the insulation of my glass and steel internal combustion mode of transportation that I never saw the low-hanging telephone lines that drape between the houses in my neighborhood. I never saw the sapling pines sprouting in Switzer Canyon. I never heard the flutter of grasshopper wings over the sound of NPR or classic rock on the car radio.
You see, this week, I’m participating in Bike to Work Week, an annual Flagstaff event to raise awareness of health and environmental issues. It isn’t easy, but I’m too stubborn to quit now that I’ve started. Of course, there are advantages aside from the workout. For the first time in a long time, I feel intimately connected to my community. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in yourself behind the steering wheel, but on my bike, I can feel the heartbeat of Flagstaff in the pavement. The city is alive. Who knew?
My confidence is on the rise, too. When I get to work, I feel a sense of accomplishment that’s difficult to describe through my heavy breathing and spasming leg muscles. Beyond the pain, I’m reminded of the value of good, old fashioned sweat. Sure, it took me four times as long to get there, but I did it under my own power, with my own body. “There’s pride in that,” I tell my co-workers as I collapse into a chair and refuse to move for the next hour.
Since I started biking everywhere, I’ve been more content. I go to bed earlier, sleep better and wake up more easily (stiff joints, sore limbs and creaking bones aside). I read when I get home instead of firing up my laptop. I’m craving healthier foods. Things that seemed like tremendous disturbances in the Force now seem like minor annoyances. Everything is calm and orderly like the rotation of a wheel on an axle.
I may not be the athletic type, but I see the appeal of riding your bike instead of driving. The surge of adrenaline as your crest the top of a hill; the opportunity to observe the movements of town that I’m usually driving too fast to notice; the mindfulness that comes when you have to plan and schedule your day; the peace of a slower pace. It’s a beautiful thing.
Next week, I’ll probably go back to my car. But this week, I’m going to revel in the tearing feeling I get in my thighs when I try to pedal up a hill and the relief of finally getting off the bike and walking for a while. Most of all, I’m going to enjoy the chance to see the world in a different way.
I may be trapped in fifth gear, but in a strange way, it’s liberating.
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When I’m not cycling among the pines, I’m a writer, photographer and social media manager in Flagstaff, AZ. You can follow my exploits (plus my ruminations on life and tea) on Twitter at @jonnyeberle and you can leave your comments below.