One of the first actions I took when I began to question society’s faith in a growth economy and realized the hazards of dwindling natural resources was to switch my transportation method from relying primarily on a vehicle to relying primarily on my bike. Getting into the habit of jumping on my bike was a welcome solution and I had little trouble with discarding my car… most of the time. Occasionally, whether the air was a little too crisp, the rain a little too heavy or the desired destination a little too far away for my taste, the convenience of a car won out in the battle of transportation options. Working and attending school downtown, where parking is at a premium, having a vehicle was not a feasible option. Having my bike as the only option for transportation transitioned me into having a greater appreciation for two wheels and pedals.
The benefits of biking are abundant and easy to define: regular exercise to keep my body and mind fit, ease of skirting traffic jams, and little reliance on petroleum based energy spring to mind (‘little’ because I am curious about the trade off of paying less at the pump for paying more at the grocery store as my caloric intake has had to increase to replace the energy my body puts out). The greatest benefit I found, however, goes far beyond classical reasons that biking is advantageous, and deals with connecting with others.
I read recently in a Willamette Week article focused on Portland’s dating scene that a common rendezvous is to take a bike ride. Apparently connection is a classical reason to jump on a bike, but through my bike expeditions, I found that connection is much more than finding a compatible mate.
On an journey to Mt. Tabor for some fresh air and 360 degree views of Portland, my path took me away from established bike routes and I found myself lost in a maze of dead end streets in southeast Portland. Deciding that I’d rather not waste time disoriented with my surroundings, I opted to take a busier thoroughfare that I knew connected with a bike boulevard that would take me to my destination.
Though traffic was heavy, it slowed to a standstill ahead of me. I chuckled at the long lines of commuters sipping their latte’s and gabbing on their cell phones waiting for whatever mess was ahead of them to be cleared out. All were firmly in their seats itching to move along with their day, absorbed only in their self-interest of how late they were for their various appointments. I cruised past all of them, admittedly flaunting my ability to flow right past this bottleneck.
Ahead of the traffic jam, however, I halted. A fellow bicyclist was sprawled on the asphalt, an apparent victim of a run in with a four wheeled counterpart. The image was disturbing enough, but most depressing was that except for a lone bystander on a cell phone standing 10 yards from the injured man, no one came to his aid. I leapt off my bike, placing it squarely in the middle of the intersection blocking more traffic (mischievously wanting all the commuters to ‘pay’ for their selfishness) and knelt down to the side of the bicyclist.
Through my inquiries, I found that 911 had been called and an ambulance was on its way (apparently not everyone was as selfish as I first thought), but I did my best to address the injured man. Not trained in first aid or CPR, I knew little about what to do, but I consoled him as best I could. Conscious and able to talk, Chuck (the injured bicyclist) relayed what had happened, how it had been a beautiful day to ride and about how his wife was at home, expecting him any minute and would worry when he didn’t arrive.
Covering him with a borrowed blanket, I consoled him by expressing our shared contempt for car culture and made promises to call his wife to inform her of the situation. I did little for his physical well being, but his gratitude for my attention seeped out of him. Looking deep into each others eyes, we connected in a way that few people connect in their daily passing – certainly more than those commuters still locked in their vehicles, cut off from the world around them. Though unspoken, we agreed that our journey on bikes, no matter how outnumbered, was a quest worthy of pursuit.