I was running late.
(I realize this is not a surprise to anybody. Read on.)
While biking home from work a few weeks back, I decided to stop by Trader Joe's to pick up some essentials. After halting a few times to consult Google Maps, I finally arrived and began my hunt for organic Greek yogurt, an eggplant, and a few other staples. At checkout, I discovered I could not fit all the food in my backpack, already full with my laptop and work clothes. Rookie mistake. For the next fifteen minutes, I sat outside Trader Joe's, packing and repacking that backpack like the Tetris expert I am, chomping down one of the apples I had just purchased to make more room. Finally everything was stuffed in, and subsequently weighed about a hundred pounds. Carrying a bushel of bananas in one hand, I pedaled home, exhausted and hungry and sweaty. More than once, I had to stop and readjust the weight.
When I finally pulled up to my friend Sam's house (who I'm currently living with if you'll remember), fruit literally falling out of my backpack, I could hear soft laughter and the clinking of glasses. An outdoor dinner party. Slowly, I made my way up the driveway, and my sweaty face, hunched over from the immense weight of my groceries, made eye contact with half a dozen strangers sitting on the lawn at a table, twinkle lights cascading. Sam's friends. I stared at the Kinfolk scene before me as bruised apples rolled down the driveway. Sam delightedly introduced me to the group. I could feel sweat dripping in unmentionable places as I made some affable comments about needing a shower. Laughing off my appearance, I hurriedly parked my bike and ran inside.
Freshly showered, I returned to the group twenty minutes later to properly make introductions and join in on the fanfare, hair damp and spirits lifted. The slight feeling of embarrassment clung on. I know these girls, in their Saltwater sandals and maxi skirts, had seen many a sweaty bike commuter before. But I was not used to being the one on the bike.
Portland is widely heralded as the most bike-friendly city in the US, where approximately 1 in 10 people commute by pedal as opposed to car. This city proudly boasts naked bike rides and a handful of actual protected bike lanes on certain routes. There are even a few streets where bicyclists have the right of way. Being a bike commuter isn't a new concept; there are many who deliberately choose this lifestyle. However, I know in my heart of hearts that if I could still drive, I would not be one of them.
My visual impairment prevents me from driving and thus getting around easily, something that has hindered the past few years of my life. As I learn to seek out independence in other ways, I find myself embracing a new culture and lifestyle, not foreign to many other Portlanders and outdoor enthusiasts.
I have been in Portland for almost two months now, living apart from Nick as he works up at Mt. Hood for the summer, patiently waiting for our future home to go into escrow so I can begin nesting (I'm going to buy all the succulents). In the meantime, I am finally mobile again, truly for the first time since I last drove a car five years ago. I am able to transport myself around; I am able to explore. In short, I have become a bonafide bike commuter.
The funny thing is this: as I shopped for bike shorts the other day, I was actually into it. I was interested in bike shorts. While I am living a lifestyle I did not necessarily choose, I am finding that it makes me more fulfilled and more grateful. There is something pretty remarkable about having the wind in your hair (and yes, sometimes the rain) while accomplishing a physical feat to get from Point A to Point B, instead of just sitting in a car and turning the key. My soul is getting fed.
Plus, my calves look great.