Thursday, April 8, 2010

Back to the Business of Biking


So, this is the view from the island where I ride my bike. I ride here because it offers miles of bike paths—less chance of getting clipped by a car—and a great view. (Shout out to Barry C. who, while riding his bike, was wearing a helmet when recently hit by a car. The paramedics say the helmet saved his life.)

I chose a new course for my ride yesterday. I unloaded my bike from the car, popped in the earphones and headed north. Even with the wind in my face, I rode at a good speed. After about ten minutes, I reached the bridge that leads off the island, turned around to retrace my path, and then it hit me. A strong head wind. That’s the tricky thing about bike riding on an island. The wind behaves oddly, sometimes blowing onshore; sometimes, off. Sometimes, as was the case yesterday, I ride into the wind both coming and going.

So I turned up the ipod, tucked my head and started to pedal harder. Minivans and SUVs sped past me on the nearby road, all of them headed to the beach. They were probably wondering why I was moving so slowly. Inside their air-conditioned cars, they couldn’t feel the strong wind I was fighting. I imaged they were judging me, figuring me to be a beginner, maybe wondering why it was taking me so long and why I pedaled so slowly. But those people in the minivan don’t know how long it takes to master the craft of writing. They don’t know how bad a first draft can be and how long it takes to create a plot that will keep a reader turning the page. They don’t know how many rules there are to learn and how hard it is to keep writing when you wonder if anyone will ever read your work. They don’t know how easy it is to write beginnings and how excruciating it is to write middles. Oh….but wait…we are supposed to be talking about bike riding.

So I made it to the T in the bike path and turned east. The pedaling got easier, but along this stretch, I have to watch for cars turning into parking lots. I’ve gotten pretty good at slowing down just enough to look left, right, forward and back without coming to a complete stop, though I do tend to wobble and sometimes catch my Achilles on the pedal.

Along this stretch, I also have to watch out for other bikers, walkers and rollerbladers, and so am careful to hug my side of the bike path. Not all the other bikers are so accommodating. Yesterday, I came across one dressed in a pink cycling jersey and six panel lycra shorts. She rode down the middle of the path, didn’t bother drifting to the left when she saw me coming. She pedaled fast, even through the parking lot entrances, but then stopped under a shade tree because she wasn’t accustomed to the Florida heat. She had manicured nails and a fancy bike, though I knew her thin tires would cause her trouble if she hit a patch of sand. I wanted to tell her to slow down, to humble herself to the craft. She needs to appreciate the importance of point of view and the delicate nature of her plot points. She needs to understand that being a writer means struggling through 750 words a day, everyday. Oh…but wait….we’re supposed to be talking about bike riding.

It’s also common to come across tourists along the bike path. They ride bikes they’ve rented from the stand near the north beach or sometimes a whole gaggle of them pile in a contraption that resembles a pedal-powered golf cart. They wear gauzy swimsuit cover-ups and floppy straw hats and are generally polite. Even if they are riding their bikes side by side, taking up most of the bike path, as soon as they see me coming, one will drift behind the other and we pass easily. These riders are new to riding, but willing to do the work. Whether they are pedaling into the wind or with it, they are smiling. They find the hard work pleasant. They have respect for the rules of the craft and are willing to pay their dues. Oh…but wait….we’re supposed to be talking about bike riding.

I slowed down as I approached the north beach. This is the stretch where I see the most tourists, even a few college kids. Yesterday, one of them zipped by me, riding into the same head wind as me, and yet pedaling much faster, with much greater ease. I thought maybe it was a short burst, a sprint, and that she would tire up ahead, but she kept pedaling, faster it seemed. She checked for traffic with a smooth glance over her shoulder, didn’t have to slow down, and her bike didn’t wobble like mine. She knows the rules, seems to come by them naturally. She knows them so well, she knows when she can break them. She is younger than me, a better athlete than me, probably has a snazzier ipod than me. Perhaps she plays soccer, or maybe basketball for her college, and that’s why she’s in such great shape. But she’s wearing flip flops, for God’s sake. It seems so much easier for some writers. They don’t seem to struggle. I suppose they do, they just don’t complain about it. They probably write 1500 words a day, maybe three or four thousand on weekends. They are more disciplined, more motivated. They are writers worth learning from. They put their butts in a seat every day and they work. Oh…but wait…we’re supposed to be talking about bike riding.

So after the girl in the flip flops disappeared down a stretch of the bike path I have yet to reach, I turned around and headed back to my car. I was riding with the wind, planned it that way. Up ahead, a rollerblader was coming toward me. He wore a helmet and black braces on his knees and wrists. As we drew closer to one another, he drifted left. I drifted right. His nose was painted white by a heavy layer of zinc oxide. He must have been eighty, and because of the ease with which I pedaled, I knew he’s skating into a heavy head wind. But he was smiling. He has worked hard for many years, churned out many great books. He knows the rules, respects the craft, has embraced the hard work. (Of course the he could be a she. I think you know where I’m going with this by now. And this in no way implies that all great and accomplished writers are in their eighties.) Oh….but wait….we’re supposed to be talking about bike riding.

I smiled as I approached this man. In return, he—with his bad knees, white frizzy hair that poked out from under his helmet and knobby elbows—gave me a wink. I looked back at him, wobbled a bit and then made the final turn that would lead me back to the car. I was surprised to find myself riding into the wind again. I guess I didn’t plan so well after all. But I thought of the rollerblader who has logged many more miles than I, and I lowered my head, poked the buttons on my ipod until a Jimmy Buffett song came on—because all things are possible with Jimmy Buffet in your ears—and I got back to the business of writing…I mean biking.


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