Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Bicycle! Bicycle! Bicycle!

I don't know where I acquired my deathly fear of biking, as I spent most of my childhood riding my bike around the streets of our suburban neighborhood, usually pretending it was a racehorse. My fear mostly pertains to biking in traffic, and I think, to some extent, that this is logical: bicycles require coordination, especially around cars, and I'm clumsy. This past week alone, I've randomly dropped the books I was carrying, spilled my classmate's coffee cup, fallen down a flight of stairs, and somehow gained nine (nine!) fairly substantial bruises on my shins and calves alone.

(I went to the doctor this morning, to complain about how my knees have been hurting for the last, oh, month. I offered, as evidence, the bruises surrounding each kneecap. "Mmmm-hmmm," the doctor said, skeptically, and we both looked at the bruises covering the rest of my legs. There was a long pause, and when I added, "then again, I bruise easily, so maybe the knee ones don't mean anything," the doctor was quick to agree.)

So maybe it's no wonder that I'm absolutely convinced that the instant I get on a bike I will fall into a pothole/be hit by a car/ride into an open car door/be struck by a meteor. Wonder or not, however, G.K. Chesterton's maxim that
"no man should leave anything in the world of which he is afraid" has been a guiding principle of my life since I first read it in The Man Who Was Thursday; because of it, I've taken multivariable calculus, ridden a motorcycle, gone to parties where I barely knew anyone, crossed busy third-world streets even after getting hit by a car on one of them, and killed countless cockroaches. And now, because of it, and because I live too far to walk, I will be biking to school every day.

(Okay, so I haven't eliminated all things I'm afraid of from the world, but I'm working on it. Today bicycling in traffic, tomorrow Australia, brain damage, and the highway underpass near my apartment!)

Frankly, conquering this fear has been far easier than I expected: after a tense first few ride, where I spent the entire time muttering under my breath, "Please don't kill me please don't kill me please don't kill me!", and after a few embarrassing moments, like, as I've mentioned, falling off my bicycle at a red light--where, of course, both motorists and pedestrians are gathered to watch and mock; sometimes I think I need a "student biker" sign, or maybe some flashing yellow lights, which could notify everyone that I'm a danger to myself and others right now--I'm beginning to relax and, strangely enough, enjoy myself. I'm still thinking about death, but now it's a mental game: how will that car try to kill me and make it look like an accident? What about that car over there? I remember why I spent so much time on my bike as a child: it's fun! It doesn't hurt, of course, that I've completely fallen in love with my bicycle. I think it's beautiful, absolutely beautiful; it's my baby, my darling, my one true love, and I tell it so every day--multiple times a day, even. Actually, every time I return to it after hours apart, during which time I'm usually stressing about whether it will get stolen or damaged. (I'm pretty sure I would cry.) I also greet it when I come home, and apologize to it when we go over bumpy portions of the road, though perhaps I should be apologizing to my butt instead, because, wow am I sore.

So I'm a bicycle commuter now, I guess, and I should hurry up and resign myself to the fact that I will never again arrive somewhere with cute hair. I should also, of course, develop more of a system for doing practical tasks on a bicycle, as I've had some, er, interesting experiences with that. This past Sunday morning, I woke up several hours before church dying to make zucchini bread; realizing that I didn't have eggs or flour or sugar, I decided zucchini bread was an ox in the mire and headed off to the grocery store nearby, where I bought my ingredients and picked up some cereal that was on sale. So the I walked out of the grocery store to my bike and realized, uh oh, I didn't quite think this one through: here I was with two plastic bags full of cereal, sugar, flour, and eggs, and I have no backpack or basket on my bike.

It was a tricky situation, but I figured out how to loop the handles of the plastic bags around the (curved) handlebars of my bike, and began very carefully riding home, with, of course, the bags swinging around and, of course, bringing the front of the bike with them. I'm lucky it was 7.30 on a Sunday morning, because I was wobbling and veering all over the road; that would have been a really easy moment to kill me and make it look like an accident. As I serpentined, too, the bags with the sugar, flour, and eggs hit against the front wheel. I didn't pay much attention to it, all my concentration instead on incorporating the rhythm of the bag hitting into the rhythm of my steering, but was forced to notice when the bag hit against the wheel and bam! exploded into a giant one-pound pile of sugar, right there in the street. When I stopped to deal with it, I looked back and realized that every hit against the wheel had torn the bag a little more, and that I had left a trail of sugar behind me for the last, oh, half-mile. That's me: a modern-day, biking Gretel. I just wanted to make sure I could find Safeway again, you know?

(The best part of this story? The eggs made it home perfectly intact.)

Ridiculous rides like this are raising my confidence, though, and I'm gradually improving on the road. Someday, maybe, I'll even be able to ride to school without imagining every passing car swerving, ever so gently, to bump me off.


Minnie said...

1) Did I read correctly that you are afraid of Australia?

2) After reading about your love for your bike, I think you really need to post a photo! (Huh--that sounded a bit sarcastic, but it wasn't meant to be...)

Petra said...


Dude, have you ever really read about Australia? It's terrifying! They've got pretty much every poisonous snake or spider or insect EVER, and they're all like a MILLION times more poisonous than the American or European versions (except, strangely enough, for bees--did you know that some Australian bees don't sting?) plus they've got all kinds of dangerous water creatures--sharks and jellyfish and stonefish and crocodiles and POISONOUS OCTOPI!! Plus most of the country is a desert, and deserts scare me (don't even get me started on Saudi Arabia's Rub' al-Khali, which I have nightmares about someitmes). Plus I read this story once about an exploratory expedition across the Outback where they ran out of food and then started eating this desert plant that kept them full but apparently didn't provide any actual nutrition, so they all slowly starved to death without ever once feeling hungry, and by the time they realized that this plant wasn't providing them nutrition, they were too weak to do anything but starve and die.

See?!?! SCARY!!!

(I guess all this only applies to the oceans and the Outback. I'm fine with the cities--in fact, the one I've been to, Perth, was very pleasant and not at all frightening.)

Petra said...

Update: I just found the Wikipedia article about that expedition here. Turns out that plant also depleted the body of Vitamin B1 and so was giving them all beriberi too. EXTRA SCARY.

Minnie said...

Okay! I stand corrected--your fears of Australia are warranted! That is actually really creepy about the ngardu plant.

Petra said...

And and AND I just yesterday read an article in National Geographic about Australia's red bulldog ants, which 1. eat bees (!), and can sometimes grab them out of the air (!), 2. can see up to two yards away, and will chase prey that they notice, including humans, 3. have super venemous stingers, 4. have large (for their size) jaws with sharp serrated teeth that they use to bite their prey as they're stinging it, 5. can grow up to 1 1/2 inches long, and 6. have actually killed humans with their stings.

Let's go over that again: AUSTRALIA HAS ANTS THAT CAN KILL PEOPLE. I think that pretty much means that everything in Australia can kill you.

Boy, I'm sure not helping myself get over my fear here. I'll focus on the positive: they have some really cool languages.

alea said...

So, imagine this: you get hit riding your bike under the freeway overpass. When you come to, you're brain damaged, only moderately though (just enough to know that it's happened) AND alone in the Rub' al Khali. I'm pretty sure that is, in a word, your hell.

eleka nahmen said...

I totally know what you mean here. I started biking for the first time since I was like 13, and riding with the cars is *frightening*! I completely agree on the need for a "student biker" notification.

Kaneeneenie said...

you're doing much better than i am with my fear of bikes. i bought a fairly dilapidated bike last year at the police bike sale, walked it to the bike store (the tires were flat) to be fixed up, and just left it there. it's been over a year, and they've never called to say it's done, which should tick me off, but i'm mostly relieved that know i don't have to ride it.

Tony said...

Riding a bike is fascinating because you have to constantly calculate who or what is most likely to kill you. At any given time, you can worry about four potential causes of death, even though there are far more than that out there. Your job is to determine which four are most dangerous at any given moment. This list constantly changes.

I will dedicate a post to this topic within the next few days. Maybe I'll even link to you ... maybe.

Ginsberg said...

Hey, is your title a reference to that Queen song? If so, may I add that fat-bottomed girls make the rockin' world go round?

Petra said...


And you would know, what with your most recent bike trip and all.


It is, you may, and they do.