Wednesday, October 22, 2008

On Two Wheels

“Hey man, why should I bike to school?”

The question is one that I have learned to laugh off. Since becoming a mild advocate of two-wheeled transportation among my peers, I have found this question to be most often asked as a set-up to some sort of “Well, I do my part by not mowing over cyclists as I drive past them” punch line (hilarious). Knowing that the friend who was currently asking is a five-day-a-week four-doored commuter, and given that we were both a few drinks deep into the night, I didn’t expect much else in this case.

“Why else: because it will make your legs look sexy.” My response was half-assed at best, but I figured that was half an ass more than he had invested in his question.

“No, I’m serious. I need you to tell me why I should bike to school. I need to hear why it’s a good a idea before I do it.”

Wait a second, was he actually asking me why he should bike to school? So in addition to learning a lesson about not making biased assumptions about what people are trying to say (thank you, Sesame Street), I was faced with the unenviable task of having to explain myself.

I started mulling over the benefits of the bike in my head, crossing off one-by-one those that – true as they may be - could be filed under preachy, obvious or hippie-centric. Less C02 being pumped into the atmosphere of our asphyxiating planet? Nah, he doesn’t need to hear that from me; everyone has seen Al Gore’s PowerPoint by now. Better for your health? That would sound odd, given that he appears to be in much better shape than me. Save a few bucks? I’m pretty sure he lives close enough to school that gas money is a negligible expense, and the semesterly parking pass is by this point a sunk cost.

This left me with a bit of a head-scratcher. Surely there must be more to it than that. I look forward to the ride every morning and afternoon for a reason, and it has to be more of a reason than the matter-of-fact practicalities listed above, right?

I gave my buddy what I thought was a decent answer but have continued pondering his question, to the point that it dominated my thought process early on as I weaved my way home through the sunset traffic this afternoon, four days later. It was on my mind as I exchanged pleasantries with the bikers on either side of me leaving campus. I mulled it over as I stopped at my first red light and dreamed about leaning over the handle bars to touch the snow-capped peaks of the Olympic Range, standing on their tippy-toes to see me above the clouds in the distance. I stopped thinking about it as I made my daily screaming descent down Foul Bay Road like an overgrown and unaccountably hairy eight-year old, and let my mind wander farther as I crunched my way over the Fall leaves at the bottom of the hill.

Concentration-deprived as I am, I let my mind wander for the rest of the ride home. Forgetting that I was supposed to be in some sort of period of intense self-examination, I succumbed to a free-form inner monologue that changed with each passing city block:

Fort Street – “Someone is baking cookies. Damn it smells good.”

Cook St. Village – “That new pizza place looks cozy.”

Broughton St. – “Wow, those new condos don’t seem to be in the ten bajillion dollar range. Imagine that.”

Downtown – “Oh snap, I can pick up Noodle Box on the ride home and it is going to be delicious. Sweet.” (sharp right turn onto the sidewalk in front of said eatery)

James Bay – “The water sounds a little choppy tonight.”

And with that I veered into my driveway, snapped back to the present moment and thought myself no closer to answering my friend’s question than I was when I left school.

Hold on, maybe not.

Some guy from Liverpool said that life is what happens when you are busy making other plans. As I bike to and from school, all I plan on doing is getting from point-A to point-B. Despite my limited intentions, however, I seem to come away almost daily with a deeper appreciation for the world that immediately surrounds me. Had I driven to school today (as I sometimes do), I would not have seen the detail in the Olympic Mountains. My youth would not have been recalled with the barreling descent of Foul Bay Road or the percussive treading on leaves at the bottom. From my enclosed perspective, cookies would have gone unsmelled, pizza places undiscovered, Noodle Box undevoured and the ocean unappreciated. Simple pleasures? Perhaps. But there is nothing simple in the sense of awareness and belonging we feel as we develop a deeper connection to the people and places that surround us. As transportation goes, there is no better way to nurture this connection than peacefully navigating the city on two wheels. Of this, I am certain.



P.S. I am hoping that moving forward from today I will be posting regularly again. Please stay tuned.