It’s a circus, this orchestrated morning commute. Unrehearsed, impromptu, unanticipated encounters with strangers. You never know who you will see, pass by, or almost collide with on your route. You never know which butt you will end up looking at, who’s looking at yours, or who will decide you’re going too slow and pass you on the bridge. Before the 9 o’clock hour, we are all on our way, anticipating the busyness of the day but enjoying the wind as it whips by in our hair and kisses our neck, exhilarating. Fellow commuters will seem to be leaking out of every possible corner, especially when you least expect it. Turning corners suddenly alone, revealed, before melting into the flow of traffic as easy and gracefully as the melodic “whir” of tires on wet asphalt.
Those of us who are exposed on our two-wheeled vehicles like feeling en plein air, aware of the world and its sights and smells. It is so easy to get lost in the insular world of cares, listening to the radio, surrounded by sheets of metal and glass, warm, dry, unencumbered. When I am commuting on my bike, I feel so close to it all, so connected to my route- smelling the aromas of bacon and roasting coffee, smells of the city at work. Even the stink of gasoline and the feel of grit in my eyes is a reminder of my proximity to the world, a reminder of my vulnerability.
On bikes, we are so ready to meet the world head-on, on our awares, vigilant, cautious. No glass separates us from our world, and we are forced to be engaged, watchful. This morning, a crow swooped across my path, barely missing my nose in its flight. I was jolted into the aliveness of the world as the cold air brushed my arms, breathing in deep. I turned the corner to cross under the bridge, I the inhabitant of both street and pedestrian zone.
On my afternoon commute, the lustre of the well-lived day serenades me as I ride under clouds of opal. Earlier in the day, they held buckets of rain, but they have ceased their downpour and now shine with the blessing of a weak sun. The moisture has inspired everything to glow with an even more saturated color than usual, as only rain can do. And as I make my way home, bikes seem to arrive from everywhere, gliding to meet each other, converging on the thoroughfares. Cherry blossoms line Salmon Street and the pink and white blossoms swirl in the air like bubblegum-colored snow. The air smells sweet and we bicyclists rejoice in our open-air ride home. I slow my pedaling, letting the sounds and smells of the spring day surround me. As I pedal between the patches of shade, I feel the fluctuations of temperature int the floating air: warm and cool, warm and cool, like the flickering of a light bulb.
When I ride along the river, all seems wide open and exposed, the virescent glow of the West Hills across the River, the ripples in the water, the open space between riverbed and sky. A Canada Goose lets out its distinctive honk, “Eh?” and lands on a broken tree skeleton, wings outstretched, flapping. This route is beautiful year round, especially after a snow storm. There is something about this ride, the wide bike path, the smoothness of the asphalt, the quiet of solitude, the presence of cars far away, that puts my mind and breath at ease as I pedal steadily along the wetlands. Poems and words materialize in my brain as steam rising from a simmering stew. Shimmering words and cadences rise to meet me as they tumble around in my head, arranging themselves. Sometimes I sing and hum to myself in these moments, never one to let an unproductive span of time go by.
And I bike back, the city appearing from around the bend. Buildings rising in the distance across the river, the banks of the Willamette green and lush at Tom McCall Waterfront Park and the West Hills rising behind. As I reach the Hawthorne Bridge, I take a deep breath. I know that it is a chute, spitting me into the depths of a metropolis, disappearing with other two-wheelers to the routes of streets like marbles in a marble race. The buildings on either side rise like the walls of a tunnel or a cave, embracing us. The city, a guide, steward, but still engulfing. Nothing can beat the free feeling of biking along the river.
There’s something truly remarkable about bike commuting that cannot be adequately explained in words. Maybe its the fact that we aren’t emitting toxic gases. Maybe it’s the cost of gas money. Maybe it’s the built-in exercise in a commute. Regardless of the reasons, I’m hooked. I used to be a transit-centric, walking fiend. But now I’m whizzing down bike lanes and straining up little hills while drivers sip their coffee in cashmere sweaters, warmed by heaters and jazz music. Here I am, wearing a reflective vest, rain coat and rain pants, rain dripping down from my visor onto my lap, backpack full, bumping over pot holes. I feel like I’m flying.