I entered this post in the My Ride Writing Contest at Austin on Two Wheels, and was named the winning entry for Week 6.
Four out of five weekdays, I stir myself from bed and tidily fold up my work clothes in my bike bag. Instead of donning the dress-code conforming shirt and khakis, I instead slip into a loose sweat-wicking t-shirt and shorts. No spandex for me, though; that’s a privilege, not a right, and one my chunky behind has yet to earn.
The morning is misty, not too warm, but the warmest yet this year. I greet Syphy (short for Sisyphus, as their tasks are much alike), my grey two-wheeled steed, as I wheel him out of the backyard shed and check on the tires’ pressure. I close the shed and then the gate before I step onto the driveway to don my helmet and switch on my blinkenlights. Pausing a moment after I throw my leg over the seat to listen to the stillness of the neighborhood against the muted roar of traffic on nearby Metric Blvd, I can hear the urgent blast of the Red Line’s horn. I know that if I hear it now, I’ll most likely beat it to the crossing at Gracy Farms Ln.
I coast down the drive, then pedal into second gear. Approaching Metric, I can hear the sizzling of water vapor on the high voltage lines overhead, harmless but curiously unsettling. The bike lane on the boulevard is of comfortable width, but studded with the most random of obstacles: a sippy cup, a box cutter, a dead grackle, a disrespectful squirrel. In the top of my three gears, I glance in my mirror, then look back to find smooth sailing as I glide across the main lanes to the left turn.
It’s been almost a year now, and what once seemed terrifying – riding on the road, changing lanes, climbing hills – is now merely my way to work and back. The awkward perambulations I once used to avoid such tasks are gone. I no longer cruise the sidewalk, no longer turn right to go left, no longer walk or bus my way up a hill.
I turn wide and take the right lane for myself, and the cars behind me politely pass in the left lane, as they should. The next light is green, and then I’m at the top of an unnamed hill I’ve dubbed Mt Crumpet because last summer it made me feel like Max, the Grinch’s sleigh-pulling dog, as I struggled to conquer it every afternoon. I slowly tip over into the gravity well from which I’ll have to climb on my way home and rush toward the tracks at the base of Mt Crumpet. In deference to the residents of the trackside condominiums, Capital Metro has silenced its train whistles as they approach this intersection. Therefore, there is no warning that a load of commuters is on its way to downtown or Cedar Park until the bells, lights and guard arms start going. I stand on my pedals , rumbling across the tracks at full speed even as the car next to me slows to a crawl to save suspension wear. Just as we both begin to climb the slight rise on the far side of the tracks, the familiar ding-ding-ding starts up, and I see the red flashing lights in my mirror. It’s a little exhilarating, really, although I know the train is still several seconds away. The car passes me, and I change lanes to turn left again.
The habits picked up over a year in the saddle have not all been great ones. I do look before each lane change and turn, and I honor stop lights religiously. However, the octagonal momentum thief and I have a love-hate relationship. I love it when it appears at the end of the long, slow incline that I tackle after surmounting Mt Crumpet each day, allowing me to catch my breath and rest my legs for a moment before crossing a busy intersection. I hate it when it nags me to halt when no other vehicle is anywhere in sight or earshot. I have, therefore, taken to ignoring them except in the presence of oncoming traffic, and only grudgingly slowing to a crawl at most other times. Only when confronted with multiple cars do I come to a complete stop and touch the ground with my foot.
I modulate my speed so that the few cars coming down the road have passed by the time I reach the stop sign, and I glide on through and up the rise, pulling a slower but similar trick with the next sign before pedaling up to the light at Burnet Rd. I encourage the few commuters on the two-lane street to pass me, so as to more readily trigger the sensor loops at the intersection. Soon, it’s green, and I go up and over the crown of the road, then down into the parking garage where my u-lock and cable await on the bike rack. Nine hours to rest the body and work the mind before I do it all in reverse.