Readers Write: ‘Instrument of Freedom’

Words: Joanna Urban

A bike is an instrument of freedom. On it you can feel the breeze in your hair and against your skin as you pedal faster and faster, riding into the wind or along with it.

Nothing is weighing you down or holding you back. Wearing shorts that cling to the curves of your muscles, hair pulled back and legs shaved, you blend almost seamlessly into the air swirling around you. The wind is not your enemy—you are simply swimming in it.

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On your bike, you might be riding away from something or toward it. Or you can traverse the same path over and over again, around in circles, until eventually your customary, frequented route starts to make a lot of sense. You learn it by heart, and commit it to memory. Nothing could seem more familiar than this treasured path. You remember exactly where the big hills occur on certain stretches and even your muscles recall the way they burn in your thighs when you stand up and pedal hard against gravity. Part of the path is sunny and too hot but you learn to enjoy it. You internalize this as a welcome feeling before riding into the shade where only meager patches of sunlight peak through the canopy of trees.

On the bike path, you ride past a tree with a tire swing tied to it in someone’s yard. Oddly, you never see a kid playing on it, but it is comforting to think that children have swung on it before and probably will again someday. You hope that kids have played there, or will play on it in the future, because if not, then what a waste of a beautiful swing tied to a big strong tree branch.

Each time you ride this route, you cruise past the same wrought iron tables outside of the neighborhood coffee shop. You eavesdrop on the conversations occurring at these tables, and you feel connected to these people in a way. Yet somehow, everything they say seems strangely remote and impersonal: “He dumped me for someone else via a text message; I missed out on the big promotion; we got a new puppy and he’s afraid of the vacuum cleaner; we’re going on vacation to Hawaii; now I just have to loose five pounds.”

You once cared about these things, too, when they were happening to you but on your bicycle the people are out of sight, their words out of earshot in a few seconds. There are different people at the tables every day with novel rumors, anecdotes and breaking news bits to share. Each piece of exciting or devastating news you hear lasts only transiently, then it fades into the breeze and is forever behind you as you continue on your route, forgetting.

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Nothing is personal when you’re on your bike. None of the words you hear from the people outside the coffee shop have any bearing on you, nor does getting a flat tire, or falling down after swerving to avoid hitting a squirrel. These things inevitably happen on the trail. You have come to expect all of it.

The most important part is coming back home and knowing that your route will be there for you again the next day. It won’t give you the answers, but the trail and the air around you is a bank that carries for you the words that comprise your thoughts and questions and uncertainties. You won’t be burdened with any of them as long as you are on the bike riding somewhere, knowing that everything is temporary and the only certainty is moving forward.

These thoughts and words and feelings float around you in the breeze and you’re protected from them; you escape from them. Your thoughts don’t always define you, but often they are just reflections of what people tell you, what you’ve heard is supposed to happen and what you fear may not pan out.

When it’s just you and the bike and the ground beneath you and the wind surrounding you, there is nothing to reflect against; you are free to simply be. The thoughts are given back to you at the end of the ride, of course, but you feel different now. You realize that they never could harm you. As long as you have an outlet for expression, an instrument of freedom, your thoughts, questions, and anxieties are just your fuel.


How do you roll?

Share your stories by sending them to [email protected] with the subject line “How I Roll.”

 

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