Yesterday morning, I embarked on my first bike commute of the year. It was through what we in San Diego call the marine layer, that fog that rolls in over the coast and the city from the Pacific Ocean. Some parts of the ride was thick with ground level clouds while a clear path was seen further out. It’s just one part of my cycling journey.
Last year, it was off and on with the bike riding for me. A year ago, I was recovering from prostate cancer surgery, so there was no riding a bike for a while. I could barely walk for the first three months, but I managed to do so with a cane and I took public transportation. I even managed to fly to the AWP conference in Washington DC in my condition. I would have loved to have experienced riding around this city on a bike, but it wasn’t the time.
It would be in the late spring I was able to ride. I could no longer throw my leg over the topbar of a traditional men’s bike, so I bought what is traditionally seen as the women’s model, a stepover Linus model from my favorite bike shop. It helped that she was bold and beautifully black. Elke, as Spot the bike mechanic christened her, even inspired envy from men who noticed my bike.
In the previous year, before the surgery, I had done much of my thousands of bike miles with Beau, the electric blue Swobo. In my recovery, I couldn’t ride him anymore, but I did find a good home for him with a poet and fellow teacher.
I’ve had four bikes in the past several years and they represent different aspects of the bike journey. In late January 2015, my first bike was a Bianchi Cameloeonte, a lower end model that was made for daily practical use versus long treks and races like the higher end Bianchi models. It changed my life with the commutes. I fell in love with riding a bike and I got to learn about bikes from taking in to the shop to get serviced. Early on, within three months, it got stolen at City College when I was teaching an evening class.
That was very stressful and put the brakes on my cycling for a while.
Before I got Beau the blue Swobo Fillmore, I found a used Bianchi Ibex on Craigslist. The woman selling it to me out in the far suburbs didn’t seem to know much about it as it must have been her husband or son’s bike that had been sitting in the garage and not getting much use. She didn’t know how things worked mechanically, which made me wonder if I was getting a lemon of a bike. After I handed her the $200, I drove it home and had the shop take a look at it.
Some servicing and a tuneup sometime later had the Ibex running well. This was the bike that brought me to being able to ride up the steep hills of San Diego, a city of mesas and a few big hills. It would take me through the first half of the year until Fall 2015 when I bought the blue Swobo, christened by Stephen the shop owner as Beau.
Beau got me many of my miles and continued to be with me in the tumultuous year of 2016 that claimed some of the cultural treasures of my youth like David Bowie and Prince and then later on gave us the Orange Haze who shall not be named. 2016 was also the year where I first showed the signs of having prostate cancer through blood screenings early on, a confirmed diagnosis mid year, and then the surgery at the end.
Even though I like to personify these bikes, gender them, and see them in terms of relationships (Beau the boyfriend, the Ibex and Elke as girlfriends), the bikes are also like the tools for writing. I’ve had some fountain pen-level bikes. However, I could have also made do with less expensive models and got the riding done.Ultimately, it’s what I do with those bike - plot and move through the story of my rides that matters.
Each day I get on a bike is different. Most days seem the same as far as the pedaling goes, but variables include the weather, my state of mind, and even the traffic. Most days, it’s very clear as San Diego days typically are. I can generally afford to go off the beaten path. However, on those marine layer mornings or late afternoon, it helps to know where I’m going. What I experience on the way is what’s different.