Monday, November 21, 2016

Why I Ride

Doug Bowen-Bailey rides his bike.    (Photo submitted)
By Doug Bowen-Bailey
For the Hillsider 

I live on 7th Street right in the middle of the Hillside and have been biking year round as my primary transportation since I moved to Duluth in 1994. No matter where I go from my house, I am faced with significant ups and downs.  When I first arrived in Duluth, I had numerous conversations where people questioned my sanity. With time, those questions have diminished. In part, new trails and bike paths have been created and more cyclists are on the road.  People may have also now made up their minds about my mental stability (or lack thereof).

The question of why I ride is still one I reflect on. Here are my reasons:

Health:  I often say that I ride my bicycle because I love ice cream.  Without the calories that I expend on roads and trails, I’d be in trouble.  When my daughter was born and I became a stay-at-home dad — stopping my 20 mile daily bike commute — I quickly gained 25 pounds.  Now that I am back on the bike more regularly but with a 47 year old metabolism, I try to moderate my food intake which also means keeping my limits on ice cream in moderation.

Learning:  Biking isn’t just about physical health.  It is a time for me to think and reflect.  As an introvert, I need the chance to process experiences.  Also, I have long listened to audiobooks, revelling in how many chapters I can get through on a five hour bike ride.  This summer, I have discovered podcasts — and have been finding excuses to go on longer rides just so I can get through more episodes of NPR’s CodeSwitch, TED Radio Hour and Hidden Brain or the latest discussion of Harry Potter and the Sacred Text.  Getting sucked into great ideas and perspectives isn’t necessarily recommended for navigating the traffic in town, but it works well for me on longer rides. 

Connection: In conversations with people from around the city, I am often struck by how little people know about different neighborhoods. Often, people allow the easiest routes for cars to be the limit of their world.  As a cyclist, I try to get off the main roads.  In part, it is safer to avoid traffic.  It is also more interesting seeing the variety of houses and yards all over the city. More than that, not being encased in a car and going a little slower, I am able to engage with people in those neighborhoods — greeting kids out on the sidewalks and adults enjoying the evening out on a porch.  Linguistically, respect has the same root as spectacle and is tied into the notion of being seen.  Biking through neighborhoods allows me to both see and be seen —  a connection that simply does not happen for me when I am encapsulated in my car.

Joy:  For me, biking is also simply fun.  As I write, I have just come back from a job in Superior — traveling over the Bong Bridge.  It’s cool to have commutes that take me across the St. Louis River to be able to look down on the whitecaps that come from the meeting of current and wind.  It’s also great to be able to ride some of the mountain bike trails on my work routes.  I frequently go to Community Action Duluth in Lincoln Park —  and as often as I can — I take the Duluth Traverse that goes from Observation Road to Twin Ponds and then below Enger Park.  This trail has a combination of sweeping curves, beautiful vegetation, creek crossings and vistas of the harbor and the lake.  I will take that over rush hour on I-35 any day of the week.

Humility:  A final reason is that being on a bike puts into perspective my place in the world.  I approach cars with deference because in an accident, I might have the right of way, but I’m the one who will still be dead.  That insight helps me be humble in other relationships as well which helps me be more successful in the world.

I hope that you, too, find this sense of connection and joy as you move through the hillside.

Bowen-Bailey lives in the East Hillside and works as a sign language interpreter and educator. He rides his bike to as many of his assignments as he can —  no matter the weather.