A Bicycle, $1.50, and the Greatest Afternoon

IT WAS SHAPING UP to be a disappointing morning. I stumbled sleepily from bed and into the kitchen, knocking over the recycle bin along the way and littering a blizzard of hole punches onto the carpet. Sitting on the floor and trying to gather them into a pile, I grumbled to myself about how all I wanted was some juice…

Things got a little better when I noticed a note that my fiancee had left me, telling me I was her “hottie from hottingham.” I had the day off from work and so the hours were all mine – I just had no idea where to begin. For a checklist-making man like myself, this was a very bad thing.

In the back of my mind I knew there were things that needed done: research for articles I wanted to write, studying Korean, blogging, emails. I started by doing none of that and browsing pictures on flickr instead, sipping coffee and being jealous of a friend’s recent trip to Berlin. Then came the inevitable waves of restlessness. By the time I sat down to do a bit of study my work ethic had crumbled, and after scribbling a few sentences of Korean all I wanted to do was sit in bed and eat cookies. I took a shower.

I was a mess of procrastination. I did laundry. I washed dishes. I downloaded music. I checked my email at least ten times. It was coming up on 12:30 and I hadn’t done a damn thing worth doing, and I was suddenly reminded of what co-worker had said to me the previous night: “It’s ironic that we spend all our time at work wishing we were doing something else, and then when we have our own time we just end up taking a nap.” I was like a dog spinning circles trying to find the perfect spot to lay down – only I never found it. I got back in bed, and wished for a do-over.

After 15 minutes of breathing deeply and seeking my inner calm, I came to a realization. In doing each of my menial chores I had been seeking an escape from my restlessness. Before each activity I had convinced myself that it was utterly necessary to finish it before starting my day, and meanwhile the hours had slithered by. What I really needed was to do something simply for the sake of doing – something I could throw myself into for my own enjoyment. Taking the advice of a recent commenter, I did what few would think to do in the days following a torrential snowfall; I went for a spin on my bicycle.

In the middle of my third Wisconsin winter my enthusiasm for riding had been dwindling; slushy streets and below-zero windchills meant I only hopped on my bike when necessary, and it was rarely a joyful event. But with cycling being my only source of exercise this also meant I had become a bit sloth-like, with fitful cabin fever. And so determined to again feel the wind on my face and the the joy of gliding over the streets, I set out.

For the first mile or so I pedaled uneasily over the snow, nearly biffing it as I rounded a corner and hit a chunk of ice. Internally I fought with myself over whether this was really a good idea – my legs continued to spin through sheer unconscious will, like passing prayer beads between my fingers.

I was headed around the lake, a familiar 12-mile route through Madison’s suburbs – an easy cruise in the summertime, now made interesting by gaping potholes and unrideable stretches of heavy snow. Within the first mile my shoes were soaked through, but I welcomed the stimulation, the invigorating cold and racing pulse. It was my tiny adventure, my personal escape. I felt giddy as I careered down slippery hills, conquering the abandoned streets.

As I rode, threads of blue were woven into the sky’s patchwork grey – there was even a smattering of sunshine. Having almost completed my circumnavigation, I paused at an empty park that was covered in knee-high snow – it caked onto the cuffs of my pants as I trudged through, my feet now partially numb. I noticed sled tracks spilling down the nearby hill and suddenly wished for my old plastic toboggan.

Cruising back into downtown I realized I hadn’t eaten lunch. Stopping into a neighborhood market the first thing that caught my eye was the pastry case, and I began to salivate over the seductive glaze of the apple fritters. I bought one for myself, and a plain glazed to take home for my fiancee – the fact that any bakery purchase came with a free cup of coffee sealed the deal, and for $1.50 I was a happy man.

I stepped outside, inhaling my sweet lunch and warming up with slurps of coffee. Though I’d left my list of tasks untouched, the afternoon had been properly siezed – and I felt content with that. Sensation tingled back into my toes, and I hopped back up on the saddle to pedal the rest of the way home.

Photo: lake monona, by click-see. madison.


6 Responses to “A Bicycle, $1.50, and the Greatest Afternoon”

  1. 1 theharbinger February 9, 2008 at 10:04 pm

    Man, I too have been figuring out how to balance my time. I was unemployed for way too long, and lost the drive to take advantage of my minutes, having so many seemingly to spare. Then, I would seek whatever menial pleasure was available. Now suddenly I have two jobs, and recreate not to escape–since things are finally coming together–but because I feel obliged to take time to myself.

    Remember how we said in the winter we ride to prove something to ourselves–that we aren’t fairweather? The cold will soon relax, the snow will melt and mix with the road salt, and spring will be here. By that time we will be so accustomed to cycling-as-struggle that we will rediscover the joy of cycling in the sun (on safer, dry roads). When the survival mindset is lifted we encounter the same activities in new ways, and that is the completion of the cycle. As I prepare for the weather to change, I am noticing a parallel change in my state of being.

    We can invent central heating and A/C, but we can’t conquer the seasons. (end spontaneous rant-response)

  2. 2 Mike H February 11, 2008 at 10:35 pm

    Mercifully, no frostbite or accidents. Not sure that the bike ride in freezing, icy weather was the wisest use of your time. I’m hoping you will find more productive, or at least, less perilous pursuits until Spring does arrive. Take care out there!!

  3. 3 jared February 11, 2008 at 11:25 pm

    berlin was gorgeous. thinking of you! tattiya and i are moving next week to a better neighborhood so next time you visit we can walk to a movie together!

  4. 4 artur February 12, 2008 at 9:24 am

    I didn’t follow your previous adventures, but anyway it was well written…carry on.

  5. 5 Kango Suz February 13, 2008 at 2:57 pm

    I began riding my bike to work in December (in Illinois) a couple of years ago when I still had an ‘away’ job to go to. Despite the perils and cold, once you figure out how to do it it’s not really that big of a deal. Winter biking is much more plesant, I think, than summer biking. You’re much less likely to arrive drenched in sweat and needing to take a shower before comencing work

    Now that I’m self employed I have let my biking trips dwindel into memory. Thanks for the reminder, I’m going to plan an escape for myself this weekend.

  6. 6 Rosaries February 14, 2008 at 8:38 pm

    I live in Wisconsin and love to bike in the winter.

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