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The Reluctant Cyclist



Part 6

Number of miles ridden: 7.5 Number of times feared for life: 1

Number of times stopped to admire the beauty: 2

Number of unicycles shared an intersection with: 1

Look, I've missed it, okay? And people have started asking me, "Hey, did you ride your bike today?" Guilt colors my voice every time I have to answer, "No." But I had reasons! One of which involved dental work that left my jaw increasingly sore and me curled up on my futon, groaning in pain. Not ideal biking conditions. Or anything else conditions. I also lack the mindset of a regular bicycle commuter: I make my schedule and then see if biking works, instead of scheduling commitments so that I'm able to meet them by bike. 

Not being able to ride my bike drove home a couple things — most immediately that I really needed to go back to the dentist. More big-picture, the fact that I don't live life at a pace that affords much opportunity for commuting via bike. With a long daily to-do list, the time factor is a frequent deal-breaker. Perhaps I should reevaluate my lifestyle. 

In the meantime, I managed to ride instead of drive to the Friday morning class I'm teaching at Humboldt State University. 

The day dawned bright. I packed my pannier in record speed. I forgot nothing, not even the antibiotics for the aforementioned jaw issue. I pedaled through Manila without incident, stopped on the bridge over Mad River Slough to take some photos of godwits seeking breakfast in the shallow water and continued on, pleased to be immersed in our beautiful part of the world.

Just as I was admiring the blue snaking through the green field and the way the water reflected the cows standing alongside it, a semi-truck thundered up behind me and blew past so closely that the gust of air blew my hair forward, pulled my bike toward the truck and scared the hell out of me. This, of course, was on the chunk of highway just east of Mad River Slough, the part where the shoulder narrows to about the width of bicycle handlebars. If that truck had been a foot closer, I'd have been smeared into the poppies, brambles and rocks that line the roadside. 

I wish I'd caught the business name or license plate so I could have asked the driver what it was he hated. Bicyclists in general? Blondes? The song on the radio? His own life?

Frazzled but fine, I continued onward through the bottoms and up to HSU. With a few minutes to spare, I locked up my bike, dashed into the Forestry Building locker room, swapped my bike pants and shirt for a dress, my helmet for a hair tie. Made it to class on the nose. 

Do you ever experience that thing where you're not that sweaty while you're exercising but once you stop, the glands go into hyper-drive? Because that's what happened. As I turned to write notes on the whiteboard, I could feel the sweat pooling down my back. The lack of hydration kicked in — why do I always think it's a good idea to down a cup of coffee before I go get active? Making matters worse, I needed the lip balm that was buried in the bottom of my pannier. With all the sweating and lip-licking and desperate gulps of water, I am pretty sure the students assumed I was coming off a coke binge. 

Class dismissed, I returned to my bike. The jaunt from HSU to my office is mostly downhill, just over a mile. Easy enough, except for the sheer magnitude of action happening on campus: drivers, bicyclists, skateboarders and pedestrians. When my brother lived in San Francisco, I once remarked how much I hated driving in that city. Too complicated, all those streets at weird angles, the overwhelming variety of traffic. "But it's great," he replied. "It's like regular laws don't apply and you have to live by your wits."

That attitude kicked right in as I made my way down and around to B Street. I looked for an opening, dodged around people, focused on getting through. It worked. The only other encounter of note: the unicyclist flying down G Street, waving his way through the intersection at 11th Street with nary a blink. 


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