I have a backwards commute. Maybe you do too. I mean that I bike the opposite direction from most people — and though I’m biking early enough that I mostly don’t see them, I know that if I left two hours later I would see hordes of cyclists whooshing past me on their way westward, manifest destiny-style, toward the glistening towers (ha!) of downtown and the central city.
My way east is what I think of as biking upstream, like a salmon fighting the current. Except that unlike a real current, biking backward is actually easier: fewer people.
Those of us who bike eastward are in the definite minority, and those of us who bike eastward before 6am are even fewer and farther between. Nevertheless, over a year’s worth of bike commuting, I have made a few bike buddies of circumstance, people I see every so often heading my direction, one of us catching the other when we’re going faster or we get stuck for a while at a light.
(or when one of us stops to sightsee or take pictures;)
There’s Mark, the high school teacher who rides even further than I do and who I often see in the mornings. We talk a lot about teaching and sweeping ideas; he make me remember the things I loved about being in a classroom, and the things I hated. Dave teaches physics where I work and lives with his family just over Mt Tabor from me; I see him riding home usually. There’s Michelle, who races cyclocross and used to wait for me by her house in the mornings so we could ride the whole way together — until my start time changed and she didn’t want to give up her morning snuggles with her partner (good call, Michelle). There’s Bryan. There’s Michael. There are a few folks I’ve met only once but I’m sure I’ll see again.
In short, it’s a whole ad hoc community of people who, like me, bike backwards, early in the morning. I don’t know too much about these people, not really, and I often go weeks between seeing them, but riding together gives us a closeness and a chance to chat that I don’t share with many people who I see every day.
This is why I love biking, and why a commute by car seems so lonely to me. If I were sequestered away in a little 4-wheeled metal box, sure, I could play the songs I like and set the air to be just the temperature I like; if I didn’t have to contend with traffic sometimes I might even get where I was going faster. But what would I lose?
(other than the obvious ability to pull over wherever and take pictures of amazing sunrises, I mean;)
Aside from the simple joy of the journey, if I just hung out in my own little world all the time with my own chosen friends and my own chosen routines, how would I grow? How would I remember — in a real way, I mean, a way in which I actually have to grapple with it — that there are other people with other perspectives out there, perspectives that can be rationally and logically explained even though I’d never agree with them? How would I get my necessarily infusion of ideas that are drastically different than my own?
Every time I pass a certain section of the Springwater, I think of Michelle telling me she calls it “the Everglades” because of all the tropical-sounding birdsong. When I see someone with a bike that looks way too fancy for their circumstances, I think of Dave and his amazing humanity, his ability to assume positive intent rather than jump to conclusions. And on the other side of that equation, I think of Scott, who for protection bikes with a knife attached to his waist — not something I agree with in the least, but a viewpoint I at least need to remember to consider, a viewpoint I’d like to be prepared to push against when I come across it again.
These incidental bike buddies, I’m pretty sure, make me a better person — if nothing else, because they remind me of how to be a person in the world with many other people in it, all of whom are worthy of respect and consideration. They remind me how to interact with a vast humanity, kindly. Can you say that about your car commute?
Can’t seem to time my rides to yours these days. Hopefully see you soon. Nice to see your still adventuring, fun to read.
I kind of started to wonder if you weren’t riding this way anymore! Though actually, I thought you might have been way ahead of me the other day, but I never caught up, and really, it could have been anyone. But I’m still out there! Usually at my intersection around 6:30. One of these days we’ll catch up!
Thanks for reaching out :)
Hmmm. You might be in front of me. I’ll ride faster.