Risking consciousness

Aug-15

I woke up nervous, 5:30 A.M. on a Saturday, no alarm necessary. I had a plan to take my bike on a new route this morning, but suddenly, I was positive that in the process I would be killed.

“Hey, this is kind of dark, but I’m going on a bike ride this morning and just had a wave of anxiety that I’ll be hit by a car.” I shot the text off to my friend Latifah, along with a screenshot of my route and instructions for how to let herself into my house to grab my dog if she didn’t hear from me within a few hours. After filling Foxy’s food and water dishes, I grabbed my phone, driver’s license, a $20 bill, and – at the last minute – my medical insurance card, and slipped them all into a pouch I strapped around my waist. Then, despite my anxiety, I clipped in and took off.

Of all the cities in which I’ve lived, Nashville is the least suited for cyclists. The greenway system is disconnected, protected lanes are not the norm, and drivers aren’t conditioned to look for bikes. I understand that cycling carries with it some amount of risk no matter where you are, but my previous homes of Seattle, Denver, and Minneapolis are objectively safer for those who choose to pedal.

Still, I love the wind on my face, the freedom of going fast and far, the joy of seeing my city in the open air and from a different vantage point. I love to ride my bike. And despite my fear, I don’t want to stop.

Some people think of the spirit as separate from the body, but for me, physical activity has always been a spiritual practice, regardless of the form it takes – and over the years, it has taken many forms, each replete with metaphor. Hiking in the mountains is an experience of peaks and valleys, subject to the elements while searching for camouflaged cairns that mark the way. Training for a marathon, I meditate on perseverance, running the race set before me despite discomfort. Yoga is a form of embodied prayer, equal parts determination and surrender. And now that I’ve bought my first road bike and am in the process of becoming a cyclist, I find that I am learning a new sort of good faith, and vigilance in the face of fear.

Riding a road bike can be dangerous, it’s true. It takes a tremendous amount of trust in drivers I do not know but will surely encounter. But when I learn to reframe scary as, say, unpredictable, suddenly I have the opportunity to engage differently with my surroundings, exercising heightened awareness and engagement with the world around me. How many of my days are spent on auto-pilot, barely noticing my life as it drifts by?

Cycling may be a risk, but risk makes me conscious, and consciousness is a gift.

Rose Cousins has a great song called “The Benefits of Being Alone,” a peppy yet nuanced ode to the best parts of singleness. The first time I heard it, my now favorite line made me laugh out loud: “If I don’t end up with anyone, it could be six days to find my body gone – but think of all the space I get to roam.” For my own sake, I will be as safe as possible, and for the sake of my dog and my mother, I will text a friend when I go on a ride – but man, I’m going on the ride.

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4 Comments

  1. Philip on August 15, 2020 at 9:54 PM

    You took us with you!

    Encouraging to read, thank you for sharing

  2. Janae on August 16, 2020 at 10:24 PM

    So happy to see you sharing your words with the world again Annie! Thank you. And, very happy you made it home safely after that ride of yours! Phew!

  3. Patty Bradley on August 18, 2020 at 7:25 AM

    Your first paragraph sent shivers down my back and brought back painful memories!!! My oldest brother, only 62 at the time and an avid biker (ranked 11th in the State of AZ for the number of miles he rode) left his home early on a beautiful October morning to catch up with his group of biker friends to do a 50 mile ride that day. He never made it. He was hit from behind on a 6 lane road by the only car on the road that sunny morning at 6:30am. The truck that hit him was driven by a 19 year-old kid. We don’t know if he was distracted or what caused him to plow into my brother and throw him 30 feet into the air, losing his helmet, and land on his head on the pavement. When his wife called to share this horrific news, she said those same words. . .”I just had this premonition that he wasn’t coming home.”
    That day FOREVER changes ALL of our lives!!! I, unfortunately, do not have the same passion for bike riding that I used to have nor will I ride on anything but a bike path now. (Fortunately, we live in the Twin Cities with a great bike system!)
    PLEASE take care out there, Annie!!! If anything happens to you, it would FOREVER change more people’s lives than Foxy and your mom’s!
    (A side note: he wasn’t carrying any ID on him so it took awhile for his wife to locate him when he didn’t show up after several hours. I ALWAYS carry ID now! Glad you carried your insurance card AND called a friend to let her know this important instructions!)

    • hootenannie on August 19, 2020 at 8:23 AM

      Oh Patty, I’m so sorry to hear this terrible story, and for how triggering my words must have been for you. I am so sorry to have been the instigator of painful memories. I wish you still had your brother.

      No silver lining to my thoughts – just my empathy and care, and an apology for stirring up pain. I will tuck this story away as a reminder to never take a single day (or ride) for granted.

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