Note: This doubles as my first NaBloPoMo post.
As a fat and nonathletic kid, I hated gym class. The only year I did well in the despised course was in tenth grade, when our grades were based only on effort, participation and written tests. Even then, I likely only did well because some misguided teacher mistook my red, sweating face as indicative of effort.
My overarching dislike of any physical activity has extended well beyond high school or gym class. At 30, I’m still physically awkward: running for the bus seems like a Herculean feat, I cower when Sea throws me my keys, I worry about what will happen if Bingo is an athletic child who demands involved parents. While all of these things are pretty consistent with my gym class hating childhood self, both my physical strength and how I view it have changed significantly since then.
A large part of that change began in 2001, when I met Herbert. Herbert was bulky, inelegant, purple and shiny. Herbert was my bike and yes, Herbert did have a name. I bought Herbert for $50 from a dubious store downtown. He had definitely been ridden and most likely stolen before he came into my possession, but I didn’t care. It was love at first ride. Herbert became my primary mode of transportation. I was living on campus at the time and would wake up ten minutes before my class began, throw on clothes, and bike to class with time to spare. When I moved off campus, Herbert came with me and carried me on the longer journey from my dingy apartment (complete with mice and cockroaches!) to class, as well as on the even longer weekend journeys to the queer bars downtown. I vividly remember biking home in the wee hours of the morning, often slightly drunk, feeling so connected to the city.
Five years later a move had taken me further away from downtown and a new job had supplemented my income. I bought a newer, shinier bike and lent Herbert to my roommate. The roommate promptly left Herbert unlocked outside while he ran into the grocery store, and Herbert was stolen. Though I still feel a twinge of jealousy or nostalgia when I see a pale purple bike, the loss of Herbert didn’t diminish the love for biking that had somehow emerged. I was hooked.
I’ve been through two (unnamed) bikes since then. Another move planted me firmly in the suburbs and increased my commute, but didn’t decrease my enthusiasm for biking. Five days a week I would hop on my bike and travel the ten mile round trip to and from work.
When Bingo was conceived, I immediately Googled “bike riding while pregnant” and found a reassuring article about how it was both safe and common practice in Finland. Along with assurances from Dr. Text and later Diet Coke that biking while pregnant is safe, this was enough to keep me in the saddle. I’ve continued my 50 mile a week bike riding habit while gestating Bingo and, whether accurately or not, have attributed a lot of my easy pregnancy to this fact. Good blood pressure? Biking! Passed glucose test? Biking! “Excellent core strength” (according to Diet Coke)? Biking! Biking has made me feel strong. Beyond this, I enjoy biking. I like spending the time outdoors, breathing deeply, stretching my legs, just thinking. Despite the city traffic, I’m at my most relaxed when I’m on my bike.
At 36 weeks when Bingo was firmly breech, Diet Coke told me to stop biking. At 37 weeks when Bingo had flipped, Dr. Selleck told me the same. The advice of two medical professionals, accompanied by Sea’s stern gaze, was enough to finally stop me. Since then, I’ve reluctantly stored my bike in the garage and stepped into the world of public transit. I hate it, with its uncertain timetables, crowded platforms, and 1000 comfortably seated people willing to look anywhere except at the standing pregnant person swaying in their midst.
Three weeks isn’t a long time, I know. Though I’m glad to have spent 37 weeks biking with Bingo, I also worried about errant car doors and careless drivers. So it’s only with the slightest bit of resentment that I’ve hung up my helmet for the first time in over a decade. I know it will be there for me when I’m ready to come back.
Here’s my confession though: earlier this week I had errands to run. It was a beautiful day and the fall leaves made the morning light golden. So I unlocked the garage, pulled on my helmet and rode. I inhaled the smell of the crunching leaves, felt the damp air on my skin, listened to my own breath, and appreciated those final stolen moments where it was just Bingo, the bike and me.