“In the end, we’re all just riding bicycles.” The buzz in the room stopped. We all knew we were in the presence of a deep philosophical certainty. We internalized the analogy, knowing that sometimes, the road of life is so steep that it is insurmountable. We may pump and strain, slipping into lower gears. We struggle to hang on. Some people can ride longer than others. Some people walk their bikes at the first tiny grade that impedes their progress, the first rotten apple that life throws at them. Others dig in, set their brains for the battle, every muscle straining, every bit of resolve steeled against the challenge. Some days, the roads are littered with abandoned bikes and broken dreams smashed in the little baskets that hang off the fenders. We loathe this ride we call life. The damn bike doesn’t have the decency to have a flat tire, so we cast it aside. Bike lock? Forget it. We hope someone will steal it. We want to walk all the way home, maybe even to die.
We like the ride when it goes down hill. We don’t have to pump. We don’t have to pedal. We can relax. Sometimes this ride lasts for days. Maybe weeks. It feels good. Too good. It has to end. The hill down is the back side of an up hill. There’s no slacking off without eventually paying the piper, right?
We ride different bikes. Some have ten-speeds. Some are road bikes. Some of us wear bike pants, prepared for the long haul. Others don’t know they make hand pads, soft seats, and toe holders, and we ride in pain the whole way, discomfort slowing us down as if we had sand bags on the back fender, or a two-ton gorilla breathing banana breath down our necks. Some people go through life with their own personal gorilla slobbering, leering, and slowing to depression the manic ride down hill.
Riding a bike upsets your crotch. Life attacks all our parts, eventually. Riding life is mostly uncomfortable. It’s a long haul, and there are high years and low years, high gears and low gears. Some of the best parts of life are in the low gears, when you think all is lost, that every intersection you come to has cross traffic, stoplights, and people who get in your way. As you look back, those years sometimes provided the map for the easier, higher gears ahead. How else can you learn? How else could you have known what it took to get what you wanted had it not been for the bumps, the curves, and the hills? Then, there are comfortable times—squishy, soft-seat, downhill times. They help us hang on when the crotch-grabbing times won’t go away.
I’m riding a bicycle with five gears today. It’s on flat ground. I have to pedal, but I am going somewhere. I don’t have to struggle today. I have to keep pedaling, sure. But I find routes that avoid the hills if I can. Sometimes, I can’t. The terrain is not always a choice. It lies before me, and I must take it to find the reason I am here. But ride, I will, for that is what we do. In the end, we are all just riding bicycles. What’re you riding?
© Kathryn Atkins
March 13, 2007