Have you noticed how computer software companies have default screen images of nature? Never of a giant freeway spaghetti bowl choked with sad cagers, always an epic shot of a waterfall, river, ocean, forest, little blue marble?
First and obviously to help you forget you are in a cramped space staring at a screen doing some odious task such as arguing with an insurance adjuster or filing documents. Second and less obviously to help you forget that those epic natural spaces are all but gone; you’re looking at a computer graphic that mimics (badly) some nerd’s fantasy of nature. Third, and most obscure, is to implant the tiny hope that if you stare at the screen just a few hoursdaysweeksmonthsyears longer, you’ll actually be sitting on that beach or scaling that peak or bombing that singletrack.
Of course the biggest and most exciting nature isn’t some iconic wilderness (unless that’s where you actually live), it’s the nature outside your front door. Whether you live in Gardena, Sugar Land, or downtown Philly, and whether it’s snowing right now, slushing, raining, or sunny, nature is out there. Not in here.
The biggest change I made in my life or will ever make was ditching my car. I ditched so many chains when I quit driving that it boggles my mind. More about that later, maybe. But for now I want to remind you, and me, that the freedom is fragile. When I got back from Texas I began slipping into car sadness. It was gradual and began with me actually driving a car for 200 yards out of the rental car parking lot before turning it over to Kristie for the long haul back to LA.
After that, all pooped out and such from too much bicycling and too little recovering, I quit riding my bike to the store or walking for errands, and started playing the role of passive cager, i.e. passenger. Then I relocated to Obscuresville, high in the Notknown Mountains, and got even lazier. House is at the top of a tall hill, groceries are either 5.2 or 7.2 miles away. 5.2 is not too hilly but no thick Greek yogurt. 7.2 is hilly af but Vons full-service supermarket. Solution? “Hey, let’s take your car!”
Imperceptibly I began to backslide into moodiness and cager sadness. I was riding for the dreaded goal of “fitness” as if, after 57 years, I’ll ever be fit for anything. Losing the function of bike as transportation and letting it slip back into being a toy was the kiss of mental death.
So when I had to make the trip to Long Beach to see my new grandbaby, and choose between caging it and riding it, I chose the bike. Thankfully Kristie had the car when the heavens broke in Tehachapi, so I can’t claim to have done the trip car-free. But I can confirm that a few days before leaving on the trip, once I’d committed to only riding, things immediately looked and felt better.
Now I’m in the heart of the SoCal city for a week or so, and riding everywhere. Car? Who needs one? Who wants one? A few honks here and there from sad people but that’s pretty much it. The restoration of freedom isn’t something you can fake. You either are free and you feel it, or you are chained and feel its absence. Maybe the best part of the whole trip happened yesterday. I was zooming up into a snarl. A garbage truck had parked in the right lane and people were frantically trying to swerve into the left lane, risking life and limb so they wouldn’t have to move their foot over to the brake pedal for a half-second.
I was in the right lane, checked over my right shoulder to make sure the coast was clear, and glided up a driveway onto the sidewalk, never breaking speed or cadence. By now the cars trapped (for two whole seconds) behind the garbage truck had been forced to stop and the left-hand lane traffic was slowing as the right-laners continued to risk all in order to get ’round the truck. So much sadness! I passed the parked truck and zipped into the right lane, which was now completely empty.
Got to the next light, which of course turned green on cue, and moseyed on.
Never touched a brake.
That? Is freedom.
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