This is my fourth winter commuting by bicycle, and the warmer-than-usual season has been a relief in some ways. Unlike last year, there’s been a minimum of icy days, where it was downright peril to be cycling.
The warm winter has been disturbing, too. Though I understand the higher temps this winter are influenced by a weaker La Nina effect, I also know that this is the 35th year in a row that temperatures are higher than average, globally.
Thirty-five years. Globally. That’s… um, what you might call a trend.
But this month’s column is not about the doom of climate change; it’s about the bloom of riding a bicycle.
There’s plenty I could tell you about my life as a bicycle commuter.
I could tell you that Indianapolis is not so flat as you might think, though of course it’s nothing compared to, say, the outskirts of Bloomington.
I could tell you I’ve almost been hit twice in the past couple months, because, in each instance, the driver didn’t notice me.
I could tell you I’m sick of sitting behind cars at a stoplight, breathing in exhaust.
I could tell you about how, every day, I wait at a major intersection — Meridian Street — and count the number of cars heading downtown, going to work. The other day I counted 14 cars with a single occupant, before a car with a passenger went by. On average, 90% of cars have one occupant.
I could complain about a lot of things, about how simply we could solve our commuter congestion and pollution problems, but this month’s column is not about the doom of mindlessly singular transportation, but about the bloom of finding the sweet spots while riding a bicycle.
Oh, I’ve discovered many. Indianapolis has plenty of subtle grades, upward and downward, and there are a few stretches of downwardness that I can sit back… and coast… for blocks at a time. Especially after laboring up an ascent, the descent can be such sweet reward.
But last month, during the craziness leading up to the Super Bowl, I found the Mother of All Sweet Spots. That night, I’d visited the Super Bowl Village downtown with my bicycling pals, and found myself alone, finally, at 2 a.m., close to home, pedaling along in 30 degree temps.
At an apex along 49th Street, at the corner of Capital, heading west, I stopped pedaling and let gravity lead me along the downward slope.
This slope took me through a(n ignored stop) sign then to Boulevard Place, Hinkle Fieldhouse winking at me as I turned right and accelerated down the even steeper grade.
I braked slightly, no cars in sight, as I took a wide left turn arc onto 52nd Street, the road that leads me home.
Still, no pedaling necessary.
I slowed, but resisted the impulse to pedal until I came to a natural stop two blocks down at a street named Hinesley.
Later, I checked the distance via the odometer in a friend’s car. It’s a half mile.
Over the past four years, this has become quite the quest for me, to find these nuances in topography in my city via my bicycle.
If you’d told me twenty five years ago that a main ambition in my life in my early 50s would be to find subtle gradients in the streets of my city, so that I might mellifluously coast on my bicycle for streets at a time, sometimes as far as a glorious half mile, I might have felt sorry for this future man.
Surely, I’d be the toast of some town, a celebrated writer or something, scads of capital in the bank, making money off itself.
Well. That didn’t happen.
Instead I feel fortunate that I’ve found the delights of a bicycle; that it forces me into interaction with nature; that my life connects so directly, so intimately, so ground-level, with my neighborhood, my streets, their topography, the earth.
Don’t forget about our ApocaPoetry Contest
In honor of the Year of the Apocalypse, Indiana Living Green, along with the Writers’ Center of Indiana (www.indianawriters.org), is announcing a poetry contest. Not just any poetry contest, but a contest with a theme: the Apocalypse, ya know, 12/21/12. Here’s the deal. You must write your poem in the style of James Whitcomb Riley. That’s right, the Hoosier Poet himself. Write in the dialect, keep to the form and rhyme about the Apocalypse, with an Indiana angle.
Send your submissions (limit two) to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The winner gets $250. We will print any we think are decent or hilarious. Deadline: Oct. 1, 2012; we’ll announce – and print — the winner (and many of the non-winners) in December, of course, just in time for The Endtimes.