It’s too damn early, my breath is frosting my glasses and the bike is as cold as a popsicle. I’m out in the carport in two sweaters, sweat pants and polyester head-condom. On go the bike gloves, the helmet, and lastly the Road ID bracelet (for the time I might be too mangled to speak for myself). There is the usual fumble to get the 20 lb saddle bags (pre-packed the night before with a full set of office clothing, a towel, a bike pump, repair gear, my breakfast and my tinytop) over the back rack.
Whenever I ride without all this crap, I feel like Peter Pan.
A moment to switch on the running lights while glancing to the summit of Grandfather Pine – his top-whiskers are swirling, a silent indication of the frigid headwind I’ll face. Just great.
Then there is that pause when I listen to the rumble of traffic on the four lane warpath behind our house. Overloud exhausts, oversize tire-whine, and some knucklehead actually honking at another. Isn’t it a little early for road rage? I’m left to wonder why I do this. Why push out into the cold pre-dawn gloom, a guppy amid steel leviathans?
One reason; my health. At my annual checkup two days prior, my doctor raved at my progress. Since adapting my thrice-weekly nine-mile two-wheel commute, I’ve dropped ten pounds, my blood pressure is on the floor, and I’m backing off Lipitor. In general, I feel better. As Bike Snob put it, I can eat whatever I want, so there.
Another reason; I’m a whiny liberal pantywaist who does believe in global warming. Just as drivers of oversized FUVs pick a worldview that suits their lifestyle, so do I. Given all the scientific evidence and personal observation, I go with the logical bet that an expanding global population, all going consumer/industrial at once, is going to have an impact. And if I believe those things, I should act on those beliefs. And so I ride.
And ride I do, gliding out onto the street, the wind whispering around my sheathed ears, my eyes tearing in the cold, my exposed knuckles tingling. But it’s nice and quiet, and overall I’m pretty warm. I make the corner onto Merritt Park, cross Corrine Drive’s four lanes, as empty as a deserted bowling alley, and drop down the long descent to Lake Sue.
My third reason comes to mind as I roll around the wine-dark lake, its breeze-chopped surface throwing a confused reflection of Christmas lights and the coming dawn. It’s beautiful. The air is biting, the wind brisk, and the clouds glimmer like a gilded cathedral ceiling. Tucked in your car with the radio on, you won’t see this as your roll past. You might look out the window but you aren’t part of it. Yet high in my saddle, riding up the grips, I’ll take in the air and the colors of the scene I swim through.
All too soon, I put the beauty to my back and climb out of the Lock Haven basin, latching onto the sprawl of highway 17-92, leaning into the wind and over the bars, my pants crackling like a mainsail.
I’m just across a major intersection – as hard, flat and blasted as a nuclear test range, when I get the fourth and last reason for this daily alternative transport epic. The FUV rumbles past, its macho brand stamped on its back cargo door, something rugged and elite. I automatically flick my eyes to it, scanning the driver, reading his body language, the position his hands and shoulders, noting the glow of the cellphone pressed to his stockyard cheek . His free hand is repositioning counterclockwise on the wheel. I’m already on the handbrakes when his brake lights come on amid a snappy unsignaled turn into the bagel shop. Right across my bow. Focused on his call, I was forgotten the moment he’d passed me. I’m around his bumper, through his exhaust, keeping the momentum up, still alive and moving.
And that’s the final reason – I’m a matador.