Posted by: Jackie
Talk to any of my teammates and they will tell you how I have had quite enough of long-distance biking, how my language is the most vulgar when I’m on a bike, and how many times I’ve expressed my wish to get in a car to make it up a hill. None of them are going to believe me when I say this, but I miss being on my bike already.
I’m on the bus down to New York City right now. It’s a route I’ve done countless times, but this is the first time I’m actually recognizing the town names on the exit signs. I’ve just passed the exit for Clinton, where we stopped for a night on our way from Bridgeport to Stonington. It’s odd to go by all these places that I’ve developed an attachment towards, but at the same time somewhat comforting to think about all the friends we’ve made along this route – Dotty Stumpf in Westerly, Kit and Jane Johnson in Stonington, Peg Moran in Pawcatuck. In a short while I’ll also be passing by Justin Haaheim in New Haven, and John Wilkins, Bob Halstead and Sheri Neely in Bridgeport.
Before college began last year, my parents and I took a road trip around upstate New York. Then, I knew America as a collection of towns (whose names I do not now remember) connected by highways, highways that look the same for hundreds of miles and are peppered with FOOD exits advertising McDonald’s, Dunkin’ Donuts, food courts with bad Chinese food, and LODGING exits announcing the presence of Comfort Inns and Best Westerns. I thought getting around the country was incredibly easy because all you had to do was look out for the exit sign.
Highways make things easy. I-95 has transported me several times from Providence to New York without my being able to place myself geographically at any given point. It brings me from Point A to Point B, with nothing in between. (Sidenote: I just passed by the sign for Thimble Islands, home to Brendan Smith’s sustainable oyster farm!) But on this particular bus ride, I finally recognize town names because we biked through those very towns this summer. On a bike, one journeys from Point A to Point E with Points B, C and D in between.
Biking makes things incredibly difficult especially if you’re on a heavy mountain bike and you haven’t had that much experience. I still instinctively flinch when I see a big hill, but the bus conquers it in a matter of seconds and it doesn’t even feel like we’re climbing a hill. On a bike, it’s kind of nasty when you’re biking up a hill and need to breathe, but all you can smell is skunk. And, when you’re not on a highway, you’re that much more prone to losing your way.
But then biking is also about its rewards – the 9% downhill, the smell of strawberry fields, the sight of deer and geese crossing the road, the lunch stop on the green in Milford. Biking is about remembering reality. Remembering that it’s 90 degrees out, instead of 65 like the AC in the bus wants you to believe. Remembering that it takes sweat and brute strength to transport a person, rather than just a $9 bus ticket. (Sidenote #2 passing by the Phoenix Press wind turbine in New haven now – crazy how quickly you can travel on a bus!)
So why should biking be called an ‘alternative’ means of transportation? If anything, it is infinitely more authentic than sitting in a motor vehicle. We as a society have collectively forgotten what it means to meet our needs. We think that Providence and New York are conveniently linked by a highway and forget that, if we were to use smaller roads, we would have to travel through Groton, New London, Madison and Branford. If we need gas, we look out for the next gas exit, forgetting what it takes to drill for and refine crude oil. We chuck our food wrappers in the trash can, forgetting that they have to be sent to landfill or to a trash incinerator, which may very well be situated in a struggling city with higher-than-average rates of asthma. We think that food comes from grocery store aisles, or, if we don’t do the grocery shopping, we think that it comes from a bag in the refrigerator. And we forget all the compost, earthworms, seed dispersal mechanisms, sunlight, water, sweat and backaches that it takes for food to be grown. In giving ourselves a break from the work, we also forget the joy of harvesting and the simple satisfaction of pulling out a weed.
But as much as I romanticize about biking, I am not about to bike down to New York from Providence. Like everyone else, practicality is a major factor in my decision-making and I am often slave to the conveniences offered to me. But I come away from this summer with a heightened consciousness of how much it takes to feed me, clothe me, transport me and keep me clean, and I will remember that tomatoes at a farmers’ market are both uglier and more beautiful than store-bought tomatoes, that biking up a hill always means biking down that same hill, and that often, the easiest way to live is not always the most interesting way to live.
To my teammates: When I flipped open my laptop on the bus I immediately felt self-conscious about my stickers expressing my love for farmers and telling people to SAVE THE BAY. That wouldn’t be the case if I were sitting with Ellie and Julia with identical stickers on their laptops. I miss you guys.