The other morning on the way to work, my bike and I got four smiles per mile. My commute is about six and a half miles, so that's 26 smiles total, not to mention all the waves and "good mornings." That lovely human interaction is one of the many reasons why I faithfully ride my bicycle to work every day. It doesn't hurt that my commute is mostly on the Joe Rodota Bike Trail that connects Santa Rosa and Sebastopol. I bike down this path rain or shine, winter and spring, summer and fall.
Mid-autumn brings the acrid, earthy smell of harvested grapes. In the rain, I delight in the frogs reveling in the puddles, croaking their appreciation loudly. We are few and far between on the bike path when it's coming down, but I love the solitude, the shiny, wet stillness. I imagine the oaks' roots gently soaking up the water as my feet turn the pedals. Winter turns to spring, and I begin to make note of what's blooming. I watch the bright yellow mustard light up the Laguna and then turn to a darker yellow and gradually fade into green. Flocks of turkey gobble at me as I go by. Purple vetch, golden poppies and sweet peas add swatches of color.
There is a band of black cats that live in the weeds of the bike path between Wright Road and Stony Point; sometimes I startle them as I ride by, and sometimes I am stealthy enough that they don't hear me and we look at each other in wonder.
My favorite kind of morning is when a pillow of fog lies over the coastal hills, the towns are slowly waking up, and the otherworldly oak trees appear in the mist like wise old creatures watching over us all. Blackberry tendrils reach out to grab me, and wild green fennel cloaks its skeleton from the previous season like the too-small clothes of a kid in a growing spurt. Birds sing sweetly. Then there are those hot days when the stench of manure hangs in the air like a bad dream--and still I love it.
I love beginning and ending my day in the outdoors, moving my body. No matter how I feel when I leave work, any irritation or unhappiness is somehow pedaled away in that half an hour on the bike. My husband thinks himself lucky and praises the bicycle gods when his wife arrives home, refreshed and rosy-cheeked, a huge grin on her face.
I imagine a carless world sometimes. I think of Lewis Mumford, who said, "Forget the damned motor car, and build the cities for lovers and friends." As I glide down the bike path, I think of all those people on Highway 12 out of their cars and onto bicycles. I think of how much happier we would all be if we stepped out of those noisy metal boxes more often and chose fresh air, a swiftly beating heart, strong muscles and the chance to greet fellow creatures in the eye. I wish I could give everyone this gift, this heartfelt knowledge that the bicycle is the most wonderful way to get around.
Riding a bicycle is like being in love with the whole world; it's like being a kid again, tasting freedom for the first time. I always look forward to that almost indescribable deeply satisfied feeling I get when I settle into my saddle, grip the handlebars and begin turning the pedals. Stress dissipates, and my whole body breathes a sigh of relief.
On a bicycle, you are right there in it all. There are no walls keeping everything at bay. This is the beauty of it. You are a part of everything you pass. You are not removed. This is why I ride my bike every day, to feel that interconnectedness with the environment in which I live. This world separates us too much. It's a small thing really, riding a bicycle, but at the same time, it's huge: think of the enormity of a smile, and multiply that by 26.
Sarah Hadler works for the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition in the Safe Routes to School program. She recently had the pleasure of leading a group of Brookhaven Middle School students on a 14-mile ride.
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