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On Biking: slowing down, to enjoy the Esplanade

Posted by Your Town  July 6, 2011 07:44 AM

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I was pedaling along the Charles River Esplanade recently. I zipped under the Longfellow Bridge, passed a kayaker paddling in Storrow Lagoon. There were pedestrians, runners, stroller-pushers, tourists. Idlers gazed across the river. Commuters were hustling to or from work.

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We were all sharing the same strip of parkland, each of us at our own pace.

That's the beauty of the Esplanade, right? Picnickers, loafers, fitness freaks, the Esplanade belongs to everyone.

Unfortunately, I was feeling a little crowded.

I had cycled up behind someone moving more slowly on the paved path at least a dozen times. Each time I'd had to brake, wait for the other side of the path to clear, announce that I was about to pass, and then cycle around cautiously.

I'd been passed five or six times, too, by faster cyclists. They'd buzzed by, feet flying, sometimes after an audible warning, sometimes not.

Not that any of this was a surprise. Anyone cycling on the Esplanade at the end of a weekday afternoon knows exactly what they will encounter. No, the surprise was how testy I was starting to feel.

I'm a born-again but very casual cyclist. Right now, I'm savoring the fun, free feeling of balancing on two wheels again. Biking seems to wire me directly back to some of the best parts of my childhood. On a good day, when I swoop around a curve, I recognize an old, nearly fierce joy.

So maybe, since I'm so tuned in right now to the pleasures of biking, I'm a tad extra sensitive to the static. Because out on the Esplanade that day, practically every time I had to brake for someone traveling more slowly than me on the path, I was feeling a little peeved.

Slowpoke. Plodder.

Faster cyclists were bugging me, too. Every time someone blasted by me, my hands tightened around my handlebars.

Speed freak. Hooligan. Lead foot.

Faster or slower, it didn't matter. Either way, it was irritating. Maybe I'm annoying people traveling at other speeds, too, I thought. Nothing thundering or enduring, just a flash of irritation.

The funny thing, I realized as I pedaled on past the river, is that no matter how quickly or slowly I pedal right now, my speed feels like the right speed. The correct speed. It feels like the speed that everyone else should go, too, and here's why: Biking feels so good in a free, lose-myself kind of way that every time I have to slow, stop, or get caught in someone else's windy wake, it yanks me back from that free, happy biking place.

And then I don't feel free anymore.

I feel interrupted.

Part of me had a little tantrum about it.

Fortunately, riding along next to all that green water, I got over myself.

Shared public space, that's the Charles River Esplanade. Shared, like much of the metropolitan Boston area, including its roadways. The only way it works is if we share without begrudging other people the right to choose, within reason, how fast or slow to travel.

Maybe the point is not to get rid of interruptions, I decided, but to stop thinking about them that way. Starts and stops are a part of the ride, any ride. In fact, wishing I were on a different ride instead of the one I've got is its own sneaky, awful interruption.

Go on, I teased myself: Make this kind of ridiculous thinking a habit.

Kill off all the joy of being on your bike in the first place.

Get all control freak out here. Ruin all the fun.

Drive yourself nuts on this beautiful sunny afternoon.

I was smiling again. A big smile.

Oh, and be sure to miss all those fun swoops and joyous curves when they come.

Susan Meyers is a Brookline writer. Her memoir, Check This Box If You Are Blind, was published last month by Climbing Ivy Press.

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