It’s not a long commute. About a mile and a half each way. But to paraphrase Miley, there’s always gonna be another pothole. And traffic. And narrow Philadelphia streets that leave mere inches between traffic and parked cars, leaving you no choice but to keep pace with traffic and pray for no more potholes.
Of course I knew none of this the morning of my maiden ride. My husband probably set aside an ER co-pay after watching me swerve down our block, wobbly from the weight of the purse hanging from my elbow (I’ve since discovered saddlebags). I’d taken long rides on trails and country roads. How hard could this be?
Turning from our residential street onto a cross-town thoroughfare, I drew a blank: Do I use my right arm to signal a left turn if I’m on the left side of the lane? Or does the extended left arm do the trick, even if traffic’s on the other side of me?
And what are all these people honking at?
Resources like BicycleCoalition helped. By day two, I was a little steadier and a lot less likely to die. I settled nicely into my daily commute, and in the eight months since, have noticed so much about the place where I live - probably my favorite benefit of biking. But a few other things have happened, too:
I care less about my looks. The same stats pointing to sports as confidence-builders in girls are probably at play: Put to physical and practical use, my body feels less like something to be decorated and preened and looked at and worried about, and more like the respected force it is.When I say hi to coworkers each morning, it’s with clunky saddle bag over one arm, my helmet under the other, and a high probability of helmet-head that surely distracts from any post-ride glow. I’m okay with that. On days when I’m not, it’s nothing five minutes in the bathroom can’t undo.
I save money. Not just on gas and car-related upkeep, but on things like coffee (can’t sip while riding) and mindless purchases (often tough to transport on two wheels). Something about riding each day awakened my inner DIYer, too. I feel more likely to take the sweaty-yet-scenic route than the path of least resistance. Packed lunches are the new norm. My library card is a little less shiny.
I realized how often people text and drive. And how much they smoke weed and drive. At stoplights, in traffic jams, and while cruising at 20 or 30 or 40 mph, lit up is the new alert. Be careful out there.
I feel that awesome post-workout burn every weekday. It’s faint, but it’s there - that ache that reminds you, “Yeah, girl. You exercised. Your body's still doing something with it.” In Ryan Gosling's voice, natch.
I awakened my inner Girl Scout. No quick release means my bike won’t fit in our car...which means I have to be prepared to ride home in rain or sleet or heat or snow. Extra lights fill my coat pockets and plastic bags (which double as seat covers) are hoarded like nuggets of gold. I’m even mentally prepared - I think - for the day when a tire blows or the whole dang thing gets stolen.
I want to play Paperboy again. Remember that awesome Nintendo game? I have more respect for that little dude with every passing day. Dogs that chase bikes really are a thing.
I realized I needed the thrill. The majority of my highs as a 30-something woman come from work strides, from great conversations, from painting the bathroom - all wonderful, but not exactly adrenaline-inducing. Hopping on my bike, feeling wind in my face and mud on my ankles, staying alert to stay alive...this was overdue. Cruising at a steady 8mph, I’m way more Vada Sultenfuss in My Girl than...wow, I just realized I don’t know the name of even one female cyclist. #NeedToChangeThat #NextBlog. But speed doesn’t matter. Pedaling to work in Center City Philly is thrilling, at times scary, and always makes me feel a little more alive.