Thursday, March 12, 2009

lesson one

Start the ride home by going down the big hill and arrive downtown. Always relish the chance to burn downtown traffic: Pine launches you at twenty-five mph past no-town, where expensive looking women cross the attractive mosaic street carrying expensive looking bags. Hang a sharp left onto second, whose slight decline allows you to keep almost all of that delicious Capitol Hill momentum. Since you can, power straight down the middle, dodging potholes while shoulder-tapping left and right. Dodge into the left lane, but avoid the green bike lane's siren call: tie yourself like Odysseus to the through lane and glide past the taxis wedging themselves slowly through thick crosswalk traffic. Bunny hop the bike over particularly tortured concrete sections of the roadway and wend, now casual, through the ID and cross over to fourth.

Fourth is big and bad.
The best way to handle fourth is to simply avoid it. But there is certain enjoyment from pumping your way along the dusty curb lane. The secret to riding within hand holding distance of semi-trucks is to imagine their five foot wheels are not rumbling in the corner of your eye. It is on this road you catch the eye of a man so enraged, so berserk, he can only grip his face and scream at the top of his lungs over and over. When he sees you seeing the two large cans of tuna in his hands, you look away. Do not gaze at that kind of madness. The light turns green and you imagine him running along behind you and pulling you down into the path of a truck. Because he hates you and his life and this road, and the still-wintry sun that can't break 50 degrees? Or something else? He is left behind forever.

Now, strap a box just shy of forty pounds onto your front rack and start ambling through the parking lot and think to yourself, "Was this really a good idea?" while you awkwardly maneuver onto the sidewalk.
Watch the thin steel fork wobble forward and backward over each bump and start imagining snapped steer-tubes and failed drop outs. Eventually turn left onto Spokane: a bleak road shadowed by the highway above. Broken pavement slashed by countless rail-tracks. Manhandle the bike over each crevasse while twenty-four bottles jingle together and suddenly an ill-secured cord snaps loose, whoops. As you re-attach it, old men with dirty beards watch you from their dirty pickups wedged under the on and off ramps. A patch of old snow and slush stinks of death for some un-investigated reason. Gnarled, smog-smothered blackberry bushes are grasping to the rusted, sagging fences: find the half-dead blackberries, find the marginal extremes of Seattle. Turn right onto Alaskan way which whisks you away from this other kind of no-town and leads you to tourist town. Take up a bike path and dodge dogwalkers.

Soon, you are riding along a trail which winds through a waterfront park studded with unimpressive, yet hugely red, sculptures.
A few other commuters pedal alongside, but mostly wandering tourists gaping at the fake puget shoreline. Stop at a particular s-bend and gaze upon the sound. The mountain king presiding over the benign, empty skyscrapers of a fast dying economy behind. Across the water and over the islands, the Olympics rest in the bright but cool sun. A breeze. Think how lucky you are to be living such a simple and pleasant life.

Now the path leads to the interbay. A dim valley between two glittering neighborhoods.
The path leaves the park and becomes more of a cage: eight foot, barbed fences with prowling locomotives behind them. The path narrows and you squeeze past the occasional pedestrian. Go right at the intersection and join an almost-highway that leads to the Ballard bridge. The bike lane is really a comically narrow sidewalk hemmed by concrete pillars, so go slow. Stop and let the pedestrians pass, which of course is the polite thing to do.

After the bridge is the venerable Burke-Gilman, the bicycle highway of the northwest. At this hour on a weekday it is choked with other commuters.
Some ride creaking relics, others bikes so tastelessly expensive I have to laugh. Take your time on the trail, since the bike, weighing in at something close to seventy pounds with 70% of that over the front wheel, handles like a pregnant buffalo. Dodge the joggers and the racers, dodge more dogwalkers, and turn left onto the only hill of the entire afternoon. Slowly grind the grade like a tour. Do not be embarrassed when unencumbered sportbikes breeze on by. You'll get there. You'll be home in no time. A poor college girl driving her expensive German automobile is stymied by your presence, so say something soothing as you pass by her driver door: "Don't worry, it'll be all right."

Only a few more blocks to go and the grade evens out right at 45th.
Now past the hapless college girl, the entire lane is yours, so get up and start pushing. The bike, unused to the load, twists and torques in strange ways, but keep a firm grip and point it straight down the middle. A sharp left, dive past the cross-walkers (always behind them, NEVER in front of them) and just one more block. Into the goldenred sun now, brush off the fourway, past the massive condos, and there it is. The ugly little house that's called home.

Here's a map.

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