August 24, 2013 by travelinggrits
I have developed an aversion to driving.
After a year of navigating by public transportation and walking, I had no desire to step behind the wheel again. Long-distance trips pass much faster when napping, reading or working on the computer than belting out the songs on the radio and counting down exit numbers. And traffic jams — no thank you.
So my move to a town characterized by shady, rolling hills, farm-to-fork eating establishments and green initiatives signaled an opportunity to keep that sense of freedom, even as my return to America marked a lapse into many of my old habits.
Freedom, you ask? Perhaps you’d think that gripping the wheel of a car, single-handedly operating a ton of steel, would give you power. But this is no match for the power that courses through your veins as you move yourself forward of your own strength – particularly by biking.
As a child, I rode the ins and outs of my neighborhood. At the prohibition of my parents, I never ventured further. After all, drivers in South Carolina are scared of navigating around bikers. They generally slow to a crawl, inching behind the biker, then roar past, muttering under their breaths, when the coast is clear.
But this new place dotted with bike lanes and sharrows left me feeling encouraged and adventurous. The first Saturday after my arrival, I was determined to embark on my first excursion — beginning with mounting the same purple bicycle I used as a teenager.
With a small black pack strapped to my back, I marched across the gravel parking lot in front of my apartment to the edge of the road. I hopped on the bike, but after a few strong pedals, I quickly realized that the driveway fed into the middle of a hill, and I lost ground, wheels flailing. I conceded a small defeat but held my head high as I walked my bike up the road to a flatter stretch.
I soon turned onto the first main road: the moment of truth. I started pumping faster, breeze whizzing past my helmet, a sense of giddy euphoria rising in my chest.
Until a man jumped out in the road, angrily waving an orange flag at me.
There was road construction ahead, which I had failed to notice in my excitement, and even at my moderate speed I seemed to be a threat.
A bit annoyed, I slowed to a leisurely pace as I passed.
A few hundred yards ahead, another man motioned impatiently: speed up! I shook my head, indignant, and pressed on.
As the ride continued, I relished the small challenges and wins. I puffed up the hills and soared down the declines, the sun beating down on my arms.
I was destined for an old mill converted into a small shopping center west of town. After securely chaining my bike at the rack outside, I browsed the local craftwork and other merchandise featured, my helmet tucked under my arm, a few grease marks streaking my legs. I was one of THOSE people now.
My last stop was the local grocery store for a few cooking supplies. I wandered the aisles clutching an empty shopping basket, calculating the weight of various items and the feasibility of toting them home.
Then I rummaged through my backpack and realized that I didn’t have money for purchases anyway – I had left my wallet at home since I didn’t technically need a license for the journey.
I replaced the basket, feeling a bit silly, and glanced outside. The bright day had turned dark, wind whipping. Perhaps another prerequisite of my journey should have been a check of the weather report.
As I unlocked my bike, dust and leaves were already blowing across the parking lot, and nearby restaurant owners were struggling to shut umbrellas and pack up outside displays. Not too promising. My calm jaunt took on a sense of urgency. Small raindrops soon hit me like angry spears and I fought to hold my bike steady on the ride home.
Yet as I rolled to a stop on the gravel in front of my apartment with a satisfying crunch and mustered the strength to lift my bike up the stairs and into the entryway, I looked back out the storm door at the driving downpour with a sense of accomplishment. One of my greatest fears upon my return to America was losing the keen self-discovery and sensitivity to life’s rich details that I had developed while abroad. But rather than passively sinking into routines and hitting cruise control, I could still seek new experiences. I was master of my own fate.
The open road lies ahead.