HildaMay 7, 2014
I got a bike.
Lala thought I wasn’t a big bicycle person. After all, when she's talked about how great bikes are, my eyes have glazed over. During our ten years together, I’ve only owned a bike once. When I bought that last bike, I rode it approximately five times. I eventually got so tired of it taking up space that I gave it to the neighbor girl next door.
In my head, I thought I wasn’t a big bike person. If I were, I’d have been riding that bike, right?
I bought that last bike because it was adorable. It was an automatic 3-speed (pedaling powered the computer that changed the gears). But where I live there are hills. You need a lot more than three gears. It had back brakes, you know, the kind you had when you were a kid—the kind that take pedaling backward to stop. That’s totally fine, but only if your legs are in exactly the right position at the exact time you want (or need) to stop. Add to that the fact it was the wrong size, too, way too tall for my freakishly short legs, it meant that I fell over a lot. It wasn’t fun to ride. It should have been. I wanted it to be. But it wasn’t.
That proved that I wasn’t a bike person, I thought. I had bike guilt.
But that was wrong. I just had the wrong bike.
What prompted me in this strange, new quest for a bike? I’ve been fascinated by money lately, about how to pay off debt and use it to build the life you want. Now that I know how little I knew about finances (my own included), I’ve been studying investing and interest and retirement funds and all that sexy frightening stuff. Dear blog reader K turned me on to Mr. Money Mustache, and now I can’t get enough of his blog. He retired at thirty! He tells you how to do it! (No, seriously.) One of his big tips is to ride a bike. Not only are you NOT spending fifty cents a mile on gas and wear and tear, but you’re extending your life span. That five bucks you didn’t spend on your car? Save it. Make those dollars work for YOU. I like this advice, and I suddenly found myself super attracted to getting a bike.
It was all I could think about. One weekend I went to every bike shop in the Bay Area (all forty-three thousand of them) and I fell in like with a couple of new bikes, but I didn’t want to spend five hundred dollars or more in order to save money. Then I went to the Bikery, a nonprofit in Oakland that teaches kids how to fix bikes as well as the skills needed to run a business. I test rode a red bike that was SO CUTE. It did nothing for me. Then Lala pointed out the old Peugeot stuck in a corner. It was rusting. It squeaked. And by the time I reached the corner on my test ride, we were in love. $140 later, she was mine.
I’d forgotten that feeling. I haven’t my own Bike of Love since I was ten. I wanted a ten-speed so badly I couldn’t sleep at night. My parents didn’t have the money to buy me a new bike (either that or they were teaching me the value of a dollar—either way it was good), so I babysat every spare minute I had (omg, I just yesterday heard from one of my old clients who read Pack Up the Moon. How awesome is THAT?). When I finally had the ninety-nine dollars I needed, I went to the bike store in Arroyo Grande and bought the blue Schwinn that had been calling my name for six months.
I lived on that bike. We rode the hills together, me and that Schwinn. I was free in a way I’d never felt before. This was the old days, so Mom didn’t keep track of where we were after school as long as she knew whose house we were headed to (I made friends based on whether 1) they were given sugar and 2) whether they had TV, two things we didn’t have at home). Before I had my bike, I could only get as far as I was willing to walk, maybe a mile or two. After my bike? I could go anywhere. I have a distinct memory of flying down a steep hill at least eight miles away from my parents’ house (I also have the memory of hitting the rock I’d seen too late and eating it but let’s not talk about the wipe-outs).
I rode that bike constantly. I didn’t give it up until I turned sixteen and got my first set of car wheels (an unbelievably crappy Fiat that I bought for a dollar and paid too much for), and then I turned my back on that poor bike forever.
I spent the next twenty-five years in a car (minus the time I spent on a mountain bike a boyfriend bought me, sobbing as I rode behind him in terror—don’t send me over rocks, please—and minus the time I borrowed a different boyfriend’s bike to ride to new job as a Perkins waitress and my backpack strap broke and knocked out the front wheel from in front of me and I ate it in front of a million cars and no one stopped and I had to limp into my new waitressing job and introduce my bloody self to my new coworkers and ask them for bandages). Since sixteen, it’s been me and cars. So this new(old) joy is new again and so joyful.
Taking Hilda to get fitted for panniers.
This is what I’ve learned in the last ten days:
* When you’re riding a bike, you’re traffic. Today, for the first time, I kept pace with cars who had to keep stopping at stoplights and stop signs (I did, too—I follow the rules, but I didn’t have to queue like they did). I passed them, they passed me. Repeat. It was fun. A weird, rather dangerous but addictive dance.
* You talk to people more on a bike. You say hi to pedestrians and other bicyclists. You thank drivers who stop for you, whose windows are open.
* You smell more things. Basically, I have a dog’s nose (which is why I love my convertible SmartCar). On a bike you get all the smells, too. I love that. I love smelling jasmine and barbecue and lint filters from dryer vents. I love smelling garlic and coffee and exhaust and new paint. All the smells, even the bad ones. I love them.
* You’re using your BODY. Dude, I’ve spent the last four months chained to a desk writing Splinters of Light. I needed to move. (I gave up sugar—again—and it feels good to listen to what my body wants. It wants fruits and vegetables and motion. And no more g.d. Cadbury Creme Eggs.)
This is a long enough post. Just this: I’m in love with my bike. Lala was right—she usually is about these things. It just took me a while to figure that out, that’s all. This obsession, like many of mine, might wear off, but I’m thinking this might be one of the few that sticks with me. So far, since getting Hilda (that's her name) a little more than a week ago, I've: gotten groceries twice, gone to the cafe twice and to the Mills tea shop twice. I've ridden to Alameda and gotten ice cream with my sister (ice cream is my sugar allowance, and it's low glycemic and step off if you think I shouldn't eat it--I SHOULD) and I've found a mural in Oakland that was amazing. I've accidentally found a street fair. I've gotten tacos from the taco truck and filled my panniers with a burrito as big as a baby. I've smiled at lots of people.
Can you see me next to the elephant's leg?
And I remembered this: There’s nothing like going down a hill as fast as you can. Nothing.