This afternoon I felt irritation as I realized that, once again, I was not going to leave work on time. Minutes before “quitting time,” my boss had something important to discuss, and it could not wait. I was going to arrive home too close to dark to go on a much-needed bike ride–and that annoyed me.
I ended up leaving the office more than an hour late, with a commute of over an hour in front of me. Traffic was unusually thick, too, making the drive even longer, and contributing to my irritation. Bike riding is one of the ways I keep healthy, fit and relaxed, and I had not been able to ride in almost two weeks.
Arriving home, I quickly changed into my cycling clothes and dashed out the back door. Pulling my Fila hybrid out of the shed, I found the front tire, which had been leaking for some time, was beyond service. This meant I had to change the tire while using up what little precious daylight remained.
My irritation escalated to anger, which I turned into determination. I was going to finally change that tire, by golly! and then be able to ride without trouble. Tomorrow. When the forecast is for rain.
Grabbing tire levers, air pump and Vise Grips, I went at my task with a vengeance, changing the tire more effectively than ever before, even though I was quite rusty. Still, by the time I finished the job and put away the tools, twilight had fallen. It was too late to ride. Or was it? I needed to test the new tire a bit, just riding around the neighborhood for a few minutes. I donned my reflective wrist- and ankle bands, and the LED headlamp–the kind that is like a flashlight on an elastic headband. I was merely going to pedal around for a few minutes, but this turned into a delicious night ride.
My mouth broke into a grin as soon as I started pedaling down the street. I missed riding, and was enjoying the lovely feel of it. “Maybe I’ll just go to the railroad tracks and back,” I thought, “on the sidewalk, where it’s safe.” From there, I went on through the wealthy neighborhood along the river, and through a couple more neighborhoods in that area, stopping in front of the private waterfront park, looking at the river from behind the chain link fence. I paused for a few minutes, feeling the cool light air, watching the reflection of distant lights dancing on the black face of the river, recognizing how different it looks at night, and remembering splendid days of sailing, right out there.
Continuing on, I pedaled toward the public park, opposite a long line of vehicles driven by the soccer parents taking their kids home after the evening’s games. In the darkening night, the light from their headlamps broke harshly on my eyes. I turned my bicycle down a side road, into a quiet neighborhood near the river, with large lawns and an open field in the middle. Pedaling around the long oval road, I was aware of how, without normal ability to see, I was relying more on my other senses. Without seeing them, I felt the presence of several deer. Turning toward their direction, I saw only the green reflection of my headlamp in their eyes, and the white flags of their tails as they bounded across the meadow.
In the darkness, sounds seemed louder, smells richer, and the touch of the wind felt greater. I pedaled back toward the park in front of the river, and rounding a corner, saw my headlamp reflecting in the eyes of a much smaller creature, a raccoon, which was looking at me nervously and trying to decide if it could squeeze its chubby body into the small drainage pipe at the end of a driveway. It did, just in time to duck out of sight of a fat black Labrador retriever laboring and huffing to keep up with its jogging owner.
I heard the blare of the train whistle before I turned back toward the railroad tracks. There, the traffic was stopped in front of the crossing gates as a long freight train rumbled loudly past. I pedaled along side the cars and trucks, wanting to be closer to the train, to feel it vibrate in my ears, my chest, my bones. The train went on into the darkness, but the gates remained down as the head light from another train moved closer. This train had a different rumble, one lighter, and it came with greater speed, so I knew it was a commuter train. I enjoyed looking at the people in the lighted interior as the train sped by, like I was looking into a model train set that was running top speed.
The gates lifted and I pedaled home, feeling satisfied by the exercise, the rhythm, the wind and air, the sensory stimulation. I also felt grateful for that experience, which I would not have enjoyed, had I not been kept late at work, had I not been slowed by the need to change a tire.