August 2008


I was counting up the weeks since I started bike commuting, and it has been 5 weeks, amazingly. I feel like I’ve only just gotten started, it doesn’t feel like I could have been doing this for a month already!

Maybe I feel that way because I’m still getting in shape. Last week was the third week I rode 3 days, but the first week I rode those three days all in a row. I could feel the difference. This week I am aiming for 4 days in a row, and given that I’ve already done 3, looks like I’m going to meet this goal.

The bike computer has been on the bike almost 2 weeks now, and it will bump over its 200th mile tomorow on the way home. That’s a bit more than 8 gallons of gas, for my truck. And that’s sort of cool, that in 2 weeks, I’ve already saved that much gas. Half a tank, really.

My legs are tired, but not unreasonably so. They’re not really sore, just not in quite good enough shape to take all this riding in stride…yet. It has surprised me, that it is taking this long. I think it is the hills. I rode fairly consistently one summer in Denver, on MUP along a river, and it was almost entirely flat. 30 miles was a piece of cake. Not so now! Some of my hills have me working hard to not dip below 5 mph.

I have been seeing more bike commuters, which has been exciting for me. I think the weather has cooled down, and they’re out more now. Or something like that. I seem to count between five and seven other bike commuters in the mornings. Less in the afternoon, for some reason.

Today I was actually passed by a bike commuter, and yes, this was exciting as well! He was much MUCH faster than me, and I could only sigh with envy as he powered away going up something of a hill. He said “hey” as he passed me.

Being on the bike is like gaining instant community, at least with many of the bikers I see.

Sadly, I have only seen one other woman on my commute, and just one time. I’m not sure if she was commuting, or perhaps making a shorter trip to the store – she was riding a very nicely functional looking comfort bike, which I tend to think would be tiring for long rides. She was definitely riding for transport, not sport, so I figure it counts in my “bike commuter” tally. I really am interested in the utility biking, the transport, rather than the sport viewpoint. Not to say that the sport biking isn’t fun, but in this country there is such a different mindset with biking that those of us who bike for transport are the odd ones out.

I really wish I’d see more women out there.

This past weekend I was driving to and from Philly, and it was pretty much traffic hell in each direction. 3.5 hrs up, 4 hrs down, and it normally would take more like 2.5 hrs.

note that there is no motion blur

note that there is no motion blur

no motion = no motion blur

no motion = no motion blur

I’d look at the bikes attached to many of the cars and have fantasies of ditching my truck, grabbing a bike, and pedaling off the awful highway and into a place of sanity.

Remember in “Princess Bride” the way the evil dude kept saying that it was “inconceivable” that someone was following them? And Indigo finally said, “I do not think that word means what you think it means.”

That’s how I feel about the word “normal”.

In the end, there isn’t really such a thing as “normal”, there is only average, but I’ll lump that general concept into what we call “mainstream.” Mainstream is pretty obvious. That is, the things that are “mainstream” about you are the things you don’t notice one way or another in your life or other people’s lives.

  • Do you notice that someone has a TV in their living room, or do you notice that they don’t?
  • Do you notice that someone eats meat, or do you notice that they don’t?
  • Do you notice that someone gardens, or do you notice that they don’t?
  • Do you notice that someone drives to do all their errands, or do you notice that they don’t?

This is a trick question, actually, because it depends on the environment you live in.

If you live in Winchester or Portland or Amsterdam, for example, you’ll have different answers than if you live in, let’s say, Jupiter or Aurora or Rome.

(And yeah, I’m being vague about what state or country I’m talking about.)

And even the questions I chose make the issue tricky, because those questions are ones that are relevant to my life. It was pointed out to me today (as I sighed about how it is tiring going against the tide, being hassled by coworkers and strangers and police and motorists for my very legal and peaceful choices) that no matter how many non-mainstream things there are about me, there are just as many mainstream things I could point out.

  • I’m white, and that’s a big one in this society.
  • I’m a pretty average weight.
  • I do not have hearing, vision or mobility impairment, nor major health issues.
  • I don’t have any food allergies.

This is veering off into stuff that is really more along the lines of what I talk about in a different environment, and I can’t claim that I meant to go here when I started this post. Yet I might as well continue at this point!

Some of the core things of my life that are not mainstream (veganism, bike commuting, living TV-less) are my choices, no matter the deep-seated ethics behind them (well, behind the veganism and environmentalism, anyway) that make them feel more like a necessity than a choice to me. Even if I say that I would choose to starve to death rather than cause the death of another (no matter how melodramatic that sounds, it is my reality), that is itself still a choice.

The color of my skin is not a choice. Neither is the atmosphere I was raised in. The privilege I grew up with and live with now is (mostly) not.

And though the veganism and environmentalism are ethics rooted so deeply in me that I can’t conceive of being separated from them, they are pieces of me visible only when I share those pieces to those around me. That, perhaps, is where choice comes into the picture in my own reality.

I might be tired sometimes of this inclination that seems to take me against the current, but I can take a breather any time I choose. The color of my skin makes a great camouflage.

And that, no matter how hard I can try to put myself in the shoes of those who don’t have the luxury of being oblivious to white privilege, is something I make use of so unconsciously that needing to put effort into recognizing it merely highlights how deep white privilege goes.

On a blog I just recently discovered, an aid that aired in South Africa was posted which really slams home what racism would look like and feel like for those of us who are “white”, and how arbitrary it is. This is the kind of thing that I think “white” Americans really need to think about and absorb. We have a lot of learning to do. We talk the good talk much of the time, but that doesn’t excuse us from the real effort that needs to be made to uproot the unconscious prejudices that are planted in us pretty much from birth. Even if that prejudice is expressed primarily by an unquestioning acceptance of white privilege, it is there, thriving, until and unless we make the effort to see it, recognize it, and uproot it.

I’d also love to see videos like this done to show other kinds of arbitrary oppression. Like one that shows what it would be like if men were the victims of sexism, or if heterosexuals were denied basic rights given automatically to GLTBS/GLTTBS (I recently learned that there is a debate as to whether there should be one T or two (transexual/transgender), so I’ll use both abbreviations), and really that list could go on for a long time.

Well, make of it what you will! I found it powerful, myself.

It wasn’t me, it was an SUV.

I was at a light, paying no attention to the cages around me, just waiting for my turn to cross the intersection.

I heard a beep, and looked toward the car that beeped, which was in the left turn lane of the road I was waiting to cross.

*bump*

*SMASH*

The car waiting to turn left had beeped at a SUV going through the intersection. I hadn’t noticed anything amiss, not that I’d been paying much attention, nor do I think I would have been able to see something wrong from the angle I was at. The SUV going through the intersection smashed into a streetlight on the right side of the road, just past the crosswalk.

I stared with my jaw dropped at the SUV not 15 yards away from me, laying on its driver’s side, the passenger side front corner smashed in, and watched as bits and pieces of SUV rained down on the pedestrian who’d been waiting at the crosswalk for the walk signal.

It must have missed her by a foot.

She was hit a tiny bit by the bumper, I believe, but only after it was falling from the sky, not while it was attached to the SUV.

I wheeled my bike to the side of the road, got out my cell phone, asked the woman if she was okay. She indicated that something had hit the back of her head, but that she was fine. I dialed 911, and before I had a chance to hit “send”, there was a cop car, lights flashing and siren blaring coming through the intersection.

That was surreal, actually. I know they must have been nearby, but it was like 20 seconds after the crash that the first cop was there, followed quickly by the second. They blocked the whole road in that direction, and it seemed like I’d hardly blinked before there was a cop on top of the SUV trying to get the passenger door open.

“Ma’am, look down! I’m going to try to smash the window. Protect your face. Look down!”

So, I’m guessing that she was awake, more or less okay, and more or less lucid.

Soon there were four cop cars and two fire trucks.

I never did see them get the woman out of the SUV. With all the cop cars and fire trucks on their way, I had to wait for about four light cycles before I could get across that intersection.

I did three days on the bike this week, and it felt great.

I really love commuting by bike, and it has made me feel better in so many ways. First of all, it’s just more fun than driving. Second of all, I’m getting in shape. I enjoy feeling strong and fit, and while you’d think that would be enough to ensure that I stay strong and fit, it isn’t. I go months at a time without really working out, and then I might go years where I maintain a pretty good level of fitness.

And then there are all the mental/emotional ways I feel better. I feel better about doing less harm to the earth. I am more relaxed, less stressed, and happier, even at work. I was talking to my therapist this week about how surprising it has been at what an intense difference the biking has made. We concluded that a big part of it was that when I’m on my bike, I’m living in the moment. It is a form of meditation, in many ways. And so I suddenly have almost 3 hours of meditation on the days I commute. No wonder I feel better!

I was also surprised at how quickly my recovery is improving. It is 14 miles each way, and I’m still pretty slow at it. (There are also a lot of lights.) I’m not worrying about how slow I am, even though I do have a goal of doing the commute in an hour or less. Right now I’m doing it in 1:15 – 1:20. And I’m okay with that, for now.

I rode on Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday. I wanted to see how my legs would do with 2 days back to back. They did much better than I anticipated, especially given that I had a bike class on Wednesday evening that had us riding for at least an hour, and my legs were screaming. They were tired on Thursday, but actually improved throughout the day. On the ride home, I felt a little extra fatigue on the hills, but that was it. On Friday they felt only a little tired. I expected to be hurting, bad.

Tomorrow I’m riding with a friend. She’s a triathalete, but has promised to ride at whatever pace I want. We’ll be out in the country somewhere, with no traffic lights, but still plenty of hills. It will be interesting to see how that feels. And of course I’ll be riding to work again on Monday.

I have pushed myself throughout this beginning, but my body has repeatedly surprised me. I’ve got a lot more strength, and a lot more reserves than I was giving myself credit for.

And isn’t that true of us in life, in general?

They had a nest right near my patio, and it seemed like whenever I was outside (and if I paid attention, even if I was inside) I would hear a constant insistent chirping. Hungry babies!

The bush their nest was in was too dense for me to see through, and it was up too high for me to have a good view of, so I would only see the parents as they’d fly in and out, delivering the food for the babies.

The other day I heard the chirping coming from a slightly different place. And on a nearby fence were two birds. I watched them for a while, and one seemed sort of unsteady, and that was the one that was making all the noise. I got the impression that it was one of the babies, and one of the parents.

A bit later that was confirmed, when they were on the steps, and I got to see the parent feeding something to the baby.

It was interesting. I don’t know all that much about the transition from out-of-the-nest to independent adult, but at least for these birds, it seemed clear that that’s what I was witnessing. I did see the baby hop around on the grass and pick up some things, so he or she must be in the process of being “weaned”.