WILD SPACES: The Joy Ride
Wake up. Things are scattered about the house. Where is your helmet? Do you need an extra layer? What time is sunset? Do you need lights?
Step outside. You hear the first bird. Look up to the sky. One star still clings to the fading wall of dark. Temps are beginning to drop overnight. The tips of everything are frosted. Car windshields. Street signs. Tomato plants. Soon snow will cover the landscape. Another set change lined up in the wings.
Change. You’ve grown to see it everywhere. It is a constant. Order, constantly being reordered. You now see yourself among it. But this hasn’t always been your perspective or experience.
Porch door locks behind you. Fence gate swings closed. On the street, leaves wet and burning with color. Passing a line of cars stuck at the stoplight all waiting to get on the freeway, a voice in back of your head wonders, “How did you end up here? So comfortable on two wheels following your breath in the early mornings chasing this corridor of green through the guts of the city?”
Most days you identify with the animals more than you do the civilized humans. It feels like parallel universes. The civilized occupying a universe of squares, metal and recirculated air; where normal is unchanging. Normal is routine. Normal is consistency and repetition.
Your universe is made up of the river you ride along each day and the animals you encounter near it. Ever rising and falling water marks on the bridge stanchions, the meandering path of a rabbit down the alleyway and the robins changing branches. This all speaks to the truth that change is the only constant, the only normal.
At work, or in the coffee shops you hear people say, “I wish I could do what you do, but I just don’t have the time.” Some people don’t have bikes anymore. Some don’t know if their bike is even rideable. Some people want to ride but there is nowhere at work to lock or store their bikes. Others have nowhere to change or shower. Some people have legitimate reasons for not riding, and some just haven’t made the leap.
Inevitably everyday, particularly in the winter, someone will say, “You make me feel so bad about myself.” Time and again this leaves you to wonder, how it is possible for something that brings you so much joy to make someone else feel bad about themselves?
So, how did you get here? It was like a fire right? You started with small sticks. You were intentional, but not always successful. You blew on it. You added slightly larger pieces and worked your way up. In the end you made a blaze that provided you with light in the dark and warmth in the cold.
Like the forgotten clumps of trees in the city, you found a piece of wildness within you and then began to tend it. Feed it, listen to it. You met blizzards, rain storms, bright August sun and the extended families of crows, cliff sparrows and eagles.
You can remember back when you first started riding. Out of breath after 5 miles. You’d eat the cupboards bare. You’d fall asleep staring at the bike map if only to remember your way in the morning.
Now, you know all the shortcuts and on the rare occasion that you drive a car, you drive it like you ride a bike. Taking the back ways to avoid traffic and stop lights.
Your relationship to the city has changed. You know the vacant lots. You know the cafes, bars, and parks off the beaten path. You ride in the rain and the snow. You aren’t afraid of the weather. In fact the weather has become your friend. You no longer look at the forecast because you welcome whatever comes.
All the miles riding to work have led you to seek more miles. You take overnight camping trips and long tours. At first you only felt comfortable sleeping in state parks or other designated camping areas. Once that became familiar you realized you could sleep anywhere and started exploring other places to lay your head for the night. The world continued to open itself to you the more you opened yourself to it.
When you come back into the city from these trips you see how it catches people. How it traps them. So how did you escape? How do you stay free?
Little by little. Bit by bit. Exploring and exploring.
People ask if it was the bike that set you free. You try and explain that it’s not the bike, it’s what you’ve seen on the bike that has set you free. It’s the relationships you have made, who the bike introduced you to. The tactlessness of riding. The way you feel the landscape in your bones and the weather on your face as you pass through it.
That old story that normal is consistency and routine, it didn’t serve you anymore. So you stopped believing it and ceased to participate in telling it. Mile by mile and day by day you feed a wild part of yourself. It keeps growing branches. What comes to live in those branches is what keeps you free.
Life is more interesting when you write your own story. How the river chases its tail. The sun never sets on the horizon in the same place twice. Change, is our routine. Change is our constant. Change is the joy of riding.