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Life at the Pace of Bike
In which I crawl out from under my rock to ride my bike with strangers.
Well we all thought it was fall, but turns out it’s still second summer here in the good ol’ City of Angels. Last weekend was almost 90 degrees, but because it is the middle of October and also mostly because I didn’t check the forecast before leaving home, I wore a flannel even as I biked through the hot Autumn sun.
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It’s the time of year when I know the best thing I can do for my overall mental health and well being is to get outside, but the shortening days make it harder and harder to motivate. The Big Dark, they call it up North, and though it’s not quite so big down here (though, scientifically speaking, equally as dark), the waning daylight still feels significant. And daylight savings time hasn’t even ended yet, oh boy, things are gonna get DARKER and WORSE and SADDER, buckle up everybody.
It’s fine. We’re fine. Instagram reminded me on Sunday morning that CicLAvia was shutting down eight miles of downtown streets and turning them into car-free bicycle paths for the day. So thanks, Ciclavia. This time it was slightly easier to roll out from under my rock and join the masses formally known as the public.
Sunday afternoon I biked to the gold line and took metro to Chinatown station. There were way more bikes on the train than I usually see, and everyone was going to the same place: CicLAvia - Heart of LA.
Confession: Before last Sunday, I had never actually been to a CicLAvia before. This truth gives me major imposter syndrome within the Los Angeles cycling community, but I’ve COME CLEAN and finally made my pilgrimage, so you can all forgive me now. I rode the entire thing solo dolo and it was incredible.
CicLAvia is a nonprofit that does closed street events several times a year all around LA. They call them pop-up parks — fully blocked off routes through iconic stretches of the city: from Hollywood and Venice to South LA and the Valley.
This one was one of the bigger ones. Broadway shut off to cars all the way through downtown, wide open streets out across the iconic 6th street bridge, and motor-free zones all the way over into Boyle Heights, a neighborhood I’d never explored before.
I rode through Chinatown, past the California Market Center, and along Hollenbeck park. I pedaled past the Crypto.com arena, home of the Lakers, Clippers, Sparks, and Kings, and the Wilshire Grand Center, the tallest skyscraper west of the Mississippi River.
I usually only ever see these buildings from the protected walls of a car (and even then, it’s been a while since I made my way downtown) but out here on two wheels they feel absolutely gigantic.
Early… and… often… they say.
I ran into some friends from Pedal Movement and chatted with a few strangers about their bikes. It’s incredible the different kinds of people that live in this city. There were rollerblades and roller skates and people on unicycles and tandem bikes and e-bikes and tricycles, mountain bikes and beach cruisers and choppers and vintage bikes.
There really are no two bikes that are quite alike.
In the middle of the 6th street bridge, there was what I can only describe as a karaoke trailer towed by a bicycle with live puppet show accompaniment. (Upon further research, that is exactly what it was.) When I rolled up, someone in full cycling spandex was belting Just A Girl to a crowd of fifty or so people with a trio of sock puppets headbanging along.
It almost felt like I was at church — I think maybe the puppet show was giving VeggieTales, a little bit.
Riding a bike through the streets of LA reminds me of how joyous it is to live life at the pace of a bicycle. It’s grounding. I feel like a real live person moving through an actual physical place on the one and only planet earth. A place with breezes and sounds, temperatures and textures, trees, parks, and people, food, sights, and smells.
I become aware of the human beings sharing the space with me, weaving in and out of one another without lane dividers, honking, or guardrails — much the way a school of fish dances along in unison without a clearly defined leader or predefined direction.
In this reality, it is actually encouraged to speak to one another. Saying “hey, sweet bike” or pointing to a chubby bobcat sticker and saying “I know the Cub House too!” doesn’t require yelling over the roar of engines, it’s as simple as leaning over and chatting with your neighbor.
But I want it all, and I too live in our reality of cars and wifi and email in our pocket. If I’m being honest, I love that pace too. The speed at which we can do anything or talk to anyone or travel anywhere in the postmodern age is tantalizing.
Just because speed is available to us, however, doesn’t mean we need to live fast all the time. Like all things, a healthy pace requires balance. It is vital that we create the space to slow down to the pace of bicycling, or walking, or gardening. Keeping time not with a stopwatch but by the cycles of the moon, and the gentle shift of the seasons.
It’s the pace of humanity, as much as our brains would like to convince our bodies otherwise.
Sometimes that means taking the long, slow, winding route instead of the quick and efficient path. We’re not really going anywhere anyway, are we… so what’s the rush? Are we too focused on where we’re headed that we miss the getting there? I suspect that often the answer is yes.
CicLAvia explicitly tells people to wear sunscreen, but because it is the middle of October and also mostly because I didn’t read the event description for details, I didn’t lotion up. Now I have a sunburn, but I’m wearing it as proof that I was out in the SUN. A great, slow, meandering day in the sun.
Take THAT, Big Dark. Better luck next month.