Last year, after three months in a book group focused on sustainability, I made a New Year’s resolution: to retire my car and bike everywhere. It was a good time to begin new habits. Having started a new job in a different part of town, three miles from home, I didn’t have a parking space. No car-bound routine had yet evolved.
But I am an unlikely cyclist. I don’t read magazines like Bike Monkey. I don’t have a cyclocomputer, or mudguards. To tell the truth, I don’t even know what kind of bike I have. Add to this the fact that I live in Portland, Ore. The rainy season, when puddles obscure the bike lanes, lasts half a year. Then add in the fact that I am uncommonly vain1) and I have a job that requires me on most days to get up in front of groups of people, to lecture and to run meetings. Vain people hate to be soggy2) when they stand in front of crowds, and I’ve never been so punctual that I could fit in3) a shower before work.
After my first few days of winter biking, I develop the mad, early-morning scramble that becomes my everyday routine. Iron dress shirt4) and khakis5), roll them, stuff them in the black, rain-proof panniers6). Don7) protective rain gear and fasten my ill-fitting helmet and resolve to leave more time to tighten the straps. In the last minutes tear up8) and down the stairs of the house, ranting and cursing, searching for keys.
Glance at the clock. Oh shit. Wonder if my co-workers will judge me for being late or if my boss will notice when I arrive. Lift my bike and drag it up the basement steps. Open the door. Observe the gray frigidity of the day. Wait for the familiar rush of rationalizations, a Siren-like chorus lulling me back into old, car-bound patterns.
I have to lead a meeting today. 我今天还要主持会议。
Just this one time I’ll drive. Only once a week is still better than driving every day.
Boy, I could turn the heater on in the car. I could stop and get hot coffee.
If I drove the car, I would make courtesy stops for every cyclist I saw. I would be a model driver, smiling and waving.
Every day I have to fight through9) my resistance.
Once I made an informal sociological observation of the cyclists who share the cavernous bike cage in the back of the parking garage where I work. On sunny days it’s stuffed. On rainy cold days, the number dwindles to three or four. Most people, even in green-crazy Portland, are fair-weather10) cyclists. Most people, I assume, struggle with the same psychological and environmental barriers that I do.
I don’t want to be a fair-weather biker. Thus evolves my curious obsession, not with biking and its accouterments11), but with understanding a particular form of suffering. Maybe “suffering” is a grandiose word. Biking in rainy Portland is not starvation in Mumbai. For me regular bike commuting is suffering in a more Buddhist sense of the word, with a disavowal12) of comfortable, car-bound attachments.
In spite of the cold and rain and the rationalizations invading my brain, I dash out the basement door and bike like a madman. This routine gives me an intimate familiarity with many hardships cyclists face. Is this suffering real? I wonder. Can I lessen the suffering by having a different relationship to the hardships, a different way of thinking?
Here’s one theory: My ambivalence about biking is rooted in the shapes of our car-accommodating roads. Even in what is supposedly the most bike-friendly city in theUnited States, biking is challenging. The road can be unfriendly. The reality of the Portland biker can be summarized in one typical image: the disappearing bike lane. Often, as I pedal, safe within a margin defined by a white line, cars zipping along my side, I cross an intersection and the road narrows. Suddenly, the bike lane disappears. It’s just me and the cars. Shit! Should I have known the bike lane would end? Should I go up on the sidewalk? Am I, like the bike lane, supposed to vanish? And what were the traffic engineers thinking when they had those incomplete bike lanes painted? “Here’s where the damn cyclists will die,” they must have said, cackled13), and sped away in their cars.有一种解释是，我对骑自行车欲迎还拒的矛盾心态，在于我们的道路是为汽车设计的。在美国，即使在人们认为最适合骑自行车的城市里，骑车也是一种挑战。道路可能不利于骑行。在波特兰市，骑行者所要面对的现实可以用一个典型现象来概括：消失的自行车道。通常，当我骑车时，在一条白线划定的区域内我是安全的，汽车从我身边呼啸而过，然后当我穿过一个十字路口时，道路就变窄了。突然，自行车道就消失了，只剩下我和呼啸而过的汽车。见鬼！我怎么知道自行车道就这样没了？我应该拐到人行道上去吗？我是不是也应该和自行车道一起消失呢？在划出这些不完整的自行车道时，那些交通工程师们脑子里都在想什么呢？他们一定在说：“让那些该死的骑车人死在这里吧。”然后哈哈大笑，乘车扬长而去。
Other obstacles are seasonal. My first spring and summer biking to work—glorious weather!—pass quickly. In autumn, the leaves start to fall. In the early morning as I pedal to work, city leaf-blowers line the streets, sifting dust into the air. They’re doing someone a public service, but it’s not me. Even when I shield my eyes, debris invades my nose and mouth. If I don’t keep at least one squinted eye on the road, I’ll run into the curb.
In Portland there’s never more than a few days of snow, and it’s usually only a few inches. Only one day did I try biking in the snow, and that clearly wasn’t meant to be. Coming down a ramp14), I slipped, and slid, and ultimately crashed, and walked my bike to work, skinned and limping. For the rest of the snowy weather, I walked to work.
After the snow comes the residual gravel. The city helps car drivers by throwing gravel into the snowy streets. Once the snow melts and disappears, though, for months gravel remains on the roads. The whiz of cars sweeps it into the bike lane. On wet days gravel adheres to my tires and pelts15) me. I cover my eyes and steal glances at the road. Later, when I look in the bathroom mirror at work, my face is pock-marked with black soot. Even after I vigorously rub the marks with a wet paper towel, the spots remain. Faded tattoos. Or bruises.
I look like the city streets beat the shit out of me16).
Can I call in sick?
Will my co-workers think I’m homeless?
Nevertheless, I stand in front of a roomful of people, about to lead a meeting. They are dry and I am wet, like the day is wet. Here’s another theory about my biking ambivalence: Like many people, I am afraid of being wet and disheveled, even though I live in one of the rainiest climates in the country. Even though we all have to walk through it and we all eventually dry off, we humans need to separate ourselves from the harsher aspects of the environment. Dry clothes, we tell ourselves, are civilized. They’re certainly more comfortable.
Curiously, as I catalog more and more obstacles, more and more shapes of cyclist suffering, I become more determined. I don’t want the environmental obstacles to become my own excuse. I don’t want to see the seasons as the enemy. My obsession grows. Not only do I bike to and from work every day, but I start biking to meetings in different buildings during the day, instead of reserving a company car. At first, hopping on my bike to pedal two miles to my next meeting, I feel guilty, as if I shouldn’t bike while on paid time. But this is Portland, I think to myself. The Green Mecca17). When I arrive, bike helmet under my arm, hair damp and mashed, it will be a badge of honor.
No one complains. My appearance, it seems, is perennially rumpled18), my hair sweaty and disheveled.
I look like it’s raining outside.
Because it is raining outside.
Why pretend otherwise?
As I head into the new year, I have kept my resolution to bike every day, in spite of the hurdles. I don’t plan to stop. There are the predictable pleasures, of course. I lose weight. I sleep soundly. The stresses of the workplace glide over me. Even my appetite improves, as I eat because I need energy for my biking lifestyle, not because I’m bored or sleep-deprived.
Winter days are still difficult. Rationalizations still lurk on the periphery19) of my mind, but whispery, more easily ignored. As I lug my bike up the basement stairs, open the door, and inhale the cold morning, I have a different mantra20) I repeat in my head:
Accept rain. 接受下雨天。Accept wind resistance. 接受风的阻力。
Accept disappearing bike lanes. 接受消失的自行车道。
I climb onto my bike and feel the muscles in my legs come awake as I pedal down the wet, black street. My lungs fill with frigid air. In the fluid rush of morning I am just another whizzing particle.