If you ride your bicycle regularly, you may have noticed that lots of little stuff happens that probably doesn’t happen for people dependent on cars to get around. Sometimes it’s big stuff, like you: go on a long ride, compete in a race, get a new bike, set a personal best on that Strava segment. The little stuff that goes on, while not as headline-worthy, is just as interesting, to me at least. There is often more than meets the eye if one is willing to look deeper. Let’s take a look at four things that happened to A Dude and find out.
People and Their Bikes Are Interesting
I was at the grocery store last night, and while locking up Sophie the sea foam Fairdale Weekender Archer, I saw this beauty of a bike pictured here. It was an older model of the same bike, but deeper green with color around the wheels and no Archer in the name. As I was admiring it and taking a picture, the owner came out and caught me in the act. He didn’t mind, so I took the photo. He was a pleasant man from Munich, Germany, and we struck up a conversation. As one does with strangers at grocery store bike racks.
The German told me (in perfect English) that he was here as a grad student, and the bike came with his Air BnB. He commented on the differences in biking infrastructure, public transit and culture here in Austin, Texas compared to his home (summary = we suck). We discussed Bianchi green v. sea foam. Some other stuff. It didn’t last long and didn’t amount to much, but it was enjoyable.
Had I pressed him on it, I bet he might have looked at this blog, or connected with me on Strava, or perhaps agreed to a bike ride some time. But just as it was, it was a perfect moment. (Which reminds me of fellow blogger and sometimes bicyclist Anthony’s blog titled Today’s Perfect Moment.) Maybe we would have met in the banana section, but I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t have had that interaction as car drivers. Talk about our Toyotas? Snooze. Bike chats are one of the small pleasures of cycling.
I Fall Down, Go Boom, Get an Owie, and Run Into a Nurse
I was taking my daily walk, scouring my neighborhood for signs for a new place to live before I become homeless in 10 days. I caught a glimpse of someone but mostly heard them in their back yard sawing something. As I backed up to see what it was, I got tripped up in Sophie’s pedal and went down on the pavement. (She’s a tricky bitch sometimes!) In that moment when I was falling, I was startled but amused. After the ground broke my fall, I first felt and then saw the damage. I had taken some skin off my elbow and there was blood. It hurt, but there wasn’t much to be done except squirt some water at it and curse my carelessness. Nothing was broken so I kept walking. (I never knew what that person was sawing, but no longer cared.)
Later, after my walk, I stopped in at the community college where I had taken a job search class for people of a certain age. I saw some colleagues working in the huge computer lab and said hi. I then got to work on my housing wanted flyer. Moving on, I biked to a coffee shop to hang my first flyer.
While at the bulletin board — they still have those! — I went into the bathroom to use it and assess my wound. After applying soap and water, while drying it off I noticed there was still some blood. I was standing out front looking blankly at the posters on the wall when a woman in medical office wear came up to me and said, “It looks like you’re still bleeding. Stay right there.”
She headed outside, and I did as directed. In a moment she returned. I must have looked at her quizzically because she said, “I’m a dermatological nurse and I have kids so I always have Band-aids. She went right ahead and bandaged me up and told me to keep it moist with Aquafor.” I must have looked confused — all I could think of was “What’s an aqua for? Is that an Aquaman thing” She said, “Or use Vaseline — despite what your mother told you.” I thanked her for her kindness and stumbled out the door.
I was a bit flabbergasted that the Universe had provided so perfectly. (For the religious, go ahead and blame whichever diety you prefer – but only for the good things: the bad ones are always human-caused, ever notice that?) I’d never go looking for an accident to happen, or take credit for random things. But I did think to myself, “Hey, if I can manifest a nurse, maybe I can convince the Universe to provide me with a new place to live.” A small pain, and then pleasure, too.
Watch… and Wait for It
A week ago I somehow broke the band holder to my Garmin vivoactive HR sports activity tracker that I use to document all my walking and biking. I must have caught it on something and it came off overnight in my sleep. After contacting the help line, they offered to send me a replacement for free, even though it was out of warranty. How cool was that? And on top of that, I had recently talked to a customer service woman with the same name as the city of my birth, Dallas. Also cool.
But then I couldn’t them on the phone to resolve another issue I was having. My auto-pause on the watch was not working, so it seemed like my average speed was far lower than it actually was. Yet every time that they auto-dialed me to call back, we got cut off. Finally I reached them and they did some re-set that seemed to work. I know I’m not as fast as I used to be, and that wasn’t very fast anyway. I’m even slower lately with whatever’s been ailing me, but having my miles per hour average go down unneccesarily is not good thing. Not that many notice or care, but I do.
I also let Garmin know that they had sent my watch band part to a combination of addresses, both mailing and residence. They assured me it would show up. I waited, and waited, and waited, like for goddamn Godot. And it didn’t come. I tracked it, and it was on hold in Houston. Finally, it showed up at the mailing address. I finally got today, yay! (Then they sent another one to the old residential address they had on file.) So I had both a little pain, well, at least annoyance, but then a little pleasure, too. Free stuff, and a back-up, besides!
Are you seeing the same pattern I am? They seem to go together, pain and pleasure. Pleasure and pain. Maybe they could also be called disappointment and delight. “Life is suffering,” said the Buddha. Some translate that to disappointment. “The way out is awareness.” As Keenan Thompson would sing-ask-dance on SNL, “What’s up with that?”
A Man Is Sticking Needles in My Body!
Yes, I mean acupuncture. I go to a free clinic when I can get an appointment, because the biking life tires me out, wears me down, and otherwise does a number on my aging fathlete’s bod. Lately I’ve been having some knee pain and aside from the advice of doctor to stop biking a week (not likely), I wanted to get some relief without drugs. My student intern is actually Chinese, and my experience is that they tend to take their ancient medical practice a bit more seriously than their American counterparts. Let’s just say that he is going to find my energy aka chi (chee) by sticking those needles in deep to find the chi and make it rise to meet the needle. As we say in Texas, “Come hell or high water.”
“Needles will help you,” he says with what is supposed to be a reassuring smile, but I interpret it as the evil, villainous smirk of a Guantanamo torturer who really enjoys their work. When the needle goes in, I get a shock, but then he twists it around until I jerk like a frog in biology class with the electrodes attached. I’ve told him that he needs to hold my arm or leg down so I don’t punch or kick him. He does. I show him my sweating palms. He feels my hands. “That’s not so bad.” I give him a grateful look but it probably looks more like my own pain-etched, evil grimace. All the are finally needles in, so I try to relax and let the endorphins kick in and do their work. I even fall asleep for a while. Or pass out from the shock… same difference.
Soon it’s time to remove the tiny metal daggers piercing my flesh. My practitioner / torturer applies a cotton ball after each one. I check to make sure the precious red liquid that all cyclists (well, everyone) tries very hard to keep INSIDE their body is not spurting out. Here’s a Saturday Night Live skit that demonstrates that point (spoiler, it’s not pretty). There Will Be Blood, indeed! Anyway, I got myself together, and noticed that not only did my knees feel a lot better, I was rested, calmer and feeling more like myself. Then I got back on my bike. Pain and pleasure, yet again.
In Sum: An Attitude of Gratitude
The thing about these little moments is that they arise and subside — as all things do, so sayeth Buddha. The uncomfortable, painful parts are things I would rather have avoided. But in the end, it was important to experience them, to get through. Sure, customer service hell is a small pain, and so is acupuncture, compared to real torture, war and starvation (also, homelessness). Having a conversation and enjoying a moment where someone takes care of you are not earth moving. But they are nice little things. It’s good to slow down, to notice them, and a larger pattern. Whether one cycles or not, attention to the small things provides a level of awareness that provides perspective, and with that, perhaps some peace.
Like life, riding a bike involves risk, danger, and sometimes even death. Like the case of our dearly departed young Jessica Saathoff, whom I’ll have more to write about some day soon, I hope. While I have scrapes with cars on a near-daily basis, I am fortunate to still be alive. Cycling is still very safe if you behave like traffic, follow the laws, be predictable, ride defensively, and keep your wits about you. And just biking without getting hit can hurt, that’s for sure.
But the flip side is that the reward for seeing a painful moment through til it ends, staying present, being aware and all the rest — is character building. Life is both pain AND pleasure, disappointment AND delight. As Buddha taught, aversion to the former and craving for the latter are what really get you in a mess of hurt. So the next time you’re feeling pain, or pleasure, or maybe both, consider viewing it as if in slow motion. “I am noticing pain. What is it like? What is the state of my mind? Can I remain present? Watch as it changes? And oh, there is pleasure now. How do I enjoy it without attachment?”
If you really want some pleasure AND pain — go on a bike ride. It’s a moving meditation, and it beats therapy, and is a helluva lot cheaper, too.
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