Thursday, August 4, 2011

Saddle Time (formerly Seat Time)

Regularity without some metaphysical value behind it, some beauty of soul or character, was more disappointing – and indeed repulsive – than the honestly haphazard, the humanly messy. It was more disappointing because it promised something that was not there: it should engage the soul, but did not. It was shallow and meretricious.
44 Scotland Street, Alexander McCall Smith, p. 219

My first purchase was a guitar, the second a bicycle. The guitar is still stashed in the attic four decades later. The bike is gone. I remember it as a yellow, drop bar, ten-speed. I was a high school senior, living in my parents’ home at the top of Tiger Mountain. Like most teenagers, I was driven by a strong desire for independence and a total lack of funds. I didn’t have a car and there was no bus service, so I landed my first job at Clampitt’s Cleaners and bought a bike from the Issaquah Hardware Store. The summer after graduation I rode that bike seven miles to and from work along the narrow, rough shoulders of the Issaquah-Hobart Road with traffic whipping by at fifty. I don’t remember a helmet.

I’ve ridden a bit off and on through the years, but never considered myself a biker, never commuted to work by bike, never participated in long distance, organized rides. A lifetime has passed since that younger version of me rode a bike to her first job. Maybe two or three.

In late May, I was walking Alki Beach with a friend. It’s a weekly routine that we both cherish: a long walk followed by a beer at the local Irish pub.
“I’ve signed us up for the Seattle to Vancouver ride,” she said.

“Us?” I asked.

“The whole family.”

“Do they know it yet?”

“I thought it would be a good way to get in shape this summer,” she said, a laugh in her voice and a mischievous twinkle in her dark eyes.
She told me it was a two-day ride, similar to the well-known Seattle to Portland ride, but north bound instead of south and in August rather than July. I’d never heard of it.

“We’ll be riding every weekend,” she said. “Why don’t you join us?”

“Sounds like fun,” I said. “The weekend rides anyway. I’m not so sure about the whole group ride thing. And I’m definitely not up to riding two hundred miles.”

That evening I started googling. I wanted to learn what I could about the ride and about how to prepare for it. I found a training schedule that outlined regular rides three times weekly with target distances beginning in February. We were already four months behind schedule, and I was a good fifteen pounds overweight. Despite regular walks and gym workouts, I was out of shape. I knew that the two-day ride was out of the question, but the exercise sounded like a great idea.

After the first twenty-mile ride, my husband decided he was having none of it. A gentle ten miles on a designated path was fine, but accumulating miles and seat time for an artificial goal made no sense to him. He had better things to do with those hours. But I continued to ride three days a week through June and July.

Now it’s August and each challenge, every hill, has given me greater confidence. I no longer fear living at the top of a hill. I know I can ride it. My quads burn. My knees talk to me. I’ve found muscles and bones I didn’t know I had. But I keep riding.

I’ve always considered myself a very alert person, but with biking I am developing a level of awareness surpassing anything I’ve ever known. But still there are surprises.

A little girl stopped in front of me as I rode the Seattle waterfront. Pink dress, blond curls, she seemed no taller than my front tire.

Her family crossed in front of me from the parking lot to the waterfront attractions. Hands poised on my brakes, I slowed, but there was plenty of space. Then, something caught the child’s attention. She paused. I braked hard and landed on my handle bars. Skidding to a stop, the edge of my front tire grazed one sparkling sandal. Her eyes met mine, round and blue.

“Are you okay?” the father asked me through his cigarette smoke.
“Are you okay?” I asked the child. She nodded to me, and I rode off.

“Look what you did. You’ve got to watch where you’re going.” I heard the father scold the child as I rode away. I smiled thinking of her wide eyes, her nod. I hope she holds tight to her curiosity, to her understanding, to her forgiveness.

Each ride opens my eyes to the city in ways I’ve never seen it before. I often ride Alaskan Way from West Seattle to downtown. A towering wall of shipping containers line the rail tracks on one side, cranes tower above me on the other. The bike lane is rough, uneven and checkered with detours for road construction – a new off-ramp from the West Seattle Bridge, prep work for the tunnel designed to replace the unstable north-south viaduct by boring through the same unstable tide flats that the viaduct is built on.

I ride Alaskan Way through dust and exhaust fumes and think about my ride the day before along the Sammamish River, the sun warm on my back, the sweet fragrance of rugosa roses and fresh cut grass floating on a soft breeze. I remember the words of McCall Smith, words that made such an impression I copied them into the small notebook I use for those ideas that I don’t want to let slip away.

McCall Smith expressed a sentiment I was never able to put into my own words: that more beauty can be found in the haphazard grit and grime of hard work and daily life than in the idealized perfection of a materialized world. For while I loved the natural beauty of the slow moving Sammamish River with tall grasses lining its shores, the open fields once dotted with large dairy herds, and the musical call of a gold finch perched on an overhead branch, the picture perfect condos along certain strips of the trail and the looming reality of Redmond Town Centre, an upscale world of commercial materialism, just beyond the long row of tall cottonwoods swaying in the gentle breeze, made me uncomfortable.

As I wave a morning greeting to the immigrants fishing off the Harbor Island dock, as I ride past the homeless waking under the overpasses, some in semi-established tent homes, others under nothing more than a pile of ratty blankets, I feel the pulse – and messiness – of human life.

1 comment:

Holly said...

I will think of you as I walk up Volcan Agua--again!--on Monday. Talk about burning quads...
Jali (AKA Holly) :)