Car Free OKC: On Feeling Vulnerable

So I started the day furious and frustrated. The car free experiment for this month fell apart today and it fell apart for completely unnecessary reasons. When I left work last night, I found that both of my tires were deflated. I assumed this was some moron’s idea of a “harmless” prank. I filled the tires and successfully made my way home.  However, this morning as I prepared to head to work, I found both tires flat again which means that this pathetic excuse for a human being actually punctured both tires with something that created a slow leak, probably a thumb tack.  It was too late for me to have time to replace the tubes and make it to work on time.  After swearing and fruitlessly shaking my fist I climbed in my car and with heavy heart, drove to work.  I was sooooo close . . .  One day left and I would have done it.   Instead of a feeling of triumph and because of some small-minded imbecile with delusions of adequacy, here I am fighting with stop and go traffic and I can feel my blood pressure is rising.  “DON’T YOU KNOW HOW TO MERGE????” A headache is coming on.  I can feel that throbbing starting at the back of my head.  This is just awful . . . And just like that I had an epiphany . . .

We as cyclists often feel vulnerable on our bikes.  When we are honked at or buzzed, we are faced with a dangerous situation over which we have very little control.  The same goes when our machines are vandalized.  We can feel like they are all out to get us.  That our lives are forfeit and that everyone has a blood lust.  I know several people who just gave up cycling after last year’s deaths of Clyde Riggs and Alan Spencer.  For some, the roads have become a place of fear.

Of course, the stats don’t really bear this out.  By most calculations, bicycling is safer than driving (http://www.kenkifer.com/bikepages/health/risks.htm).  Additionally, while there are many drivers who hate cyclists (just read the comments second on the next online newspaper article about bicycles), are they really a majority of the population?  Of course not.  Most of  the population (even if they don’t ride regularly) owns a bicycle and self-loathing is not a majority opinion.

Even if all the stats were true and cycling was a dangerous activity would I still ride?  Absolutely!  Does the fact that there are people out there who hate that I ride a bicycle and have enough malice in their hearts to attack my bike in a cowardly and rodent-like fashion make me fear to ride?  Well, what is the alternative?  Go back to the driving rat race and pouring the contents of my wallet into my gas tank?   Heck no!  I just won’t do it.

The fact is that I feel vulnerable in a car, not on my bike.  I feel impotent and frustrated when I drive through the city.  A trip down May Avenue on a Saturday afternoon is enough to cause my stomach to turn over.  I hate spending money on gas.  I would rather spend it on a nice dinner with Grace. I hate the time wasted sitting in a car just to go someplace else.

Contrast that to the unbelievable power I feel when I get a perfect cadence going and I can watch road lines fly by.  Contrast that to the feeling of accomplishment when I see a great expanse of land open up as I push to the summit of a tall hill, my legs full of lactic acid and my brow soaked with sweat.  Contrast that to the joy of the self-powered journey and you just don’t have an argument.

So to you, the deplorable, sad, miserable lump of protoplasm, if you thought your little stunt sent me a message that I should quit riding, you are sorely mistaken.  You have only opened my eyes a little more to how much I love to ride!  While I would still love to meet you in a dark alley, in some ways, I also owe you some thanks.  Love is best measured when contrasted with absence.  The best part of this car-free experiment has been to experience what not riding does, even for one day.  With your thumb tack, you have helped me to see what an accomplishment this last month truly was.