Scenes of life - Week 007
Week 007 (19.10.20)
The cycle path runs out and I am cycling on a four lane A-road without the makeshift protection of white lines on the road. I feel like I am trespassing a space I have no right to be in. On all sides, cars and lorries hurtle past, mildly annoyed when my presence slows them down. Ahead, I can see the cycle path reappear on the pavement but it is not obvious how I can get to it. Traffic is too fast for me to stop and climb on the pavement. I hope there is a recess or I will be stuck on the ring road for far too long.
The pavement widens, the dull misshapen outline of a bicycle spray painted on the ground, and I can see a recess. I signal to my left and swerve to the pavement, disappearing soon after above the traffic lines, sheltered by the trees. I hear the presence of the four lanes of motor vehicles below me but I cannot see them any longer. Instead I am cocooned in an invisible space between rows of golden trees and farm fences built of barbed wire and wooded posts.
The tension in my muscles ease, the threat to my body greatly diminished on this quiet path. I see no other cyclists in spite of this being rush hour and wonder if this path gets much use. It wasn’t signposted in any obvious way at the entry point I choose. In fact it started out of nowhere, a mile away from any other cycle path, right by a four lane road. Who would want to hop on it there?
Hidden behind the trees, it is not obvious that it exists either. Like many bicycle paths around the city, it is an in-between place, one hidden from sight as if not desired, stuck in between rows of house, back gardens, and other structures. This invisible infrastructure, so well-known to me is not inviting people in.
Cycling is a political act.
The phrase echoes in my mind as I cross a farm track etched with tractor tyre tracks. The path looks like any I see in the countryside but is instead tucked into a corner of the city.
I have heard the phrase before. I have read articles about it, but I have never considered my practice as political. I cycle. Period.
It is a mode of transportation, one that I have used all my life to get around cities and further afield in the last few years. I have never considered it political. But of late, I have found myself navigating places in between. Historical roads once quiet and now deafened by the engines on the motorway metres from my wheels.
This space I am in was never made for me. It still isn’t. But I am here.
I think back of my time during lockdown, walking in the middle of the road as a way to claim this space as mine. Cars still circulated but were so few and far between that I was relatively safe. My partner hated it when I moved away from the pavement, but I could not resist. For the first time in my life I was not confined to the corners of the tarmac. I could be in the central place, the infrastructure suddenly belonging to humans, if only for a few weeks.
I am now back to the edges of asphalt, the places the road repair teams often forget, the narrow lines where broken glass and detritus thrown out of car windows gather.
I ignore the cycle path on my left as every cyclist I’ve ever seen on this road. It is an obstacle course of trees, pedestrians, and crossroads that nobody wants to try out. It is much easier to remain on the road in spite of the proximity of metal, always hovering too close to bare skin. Flesh and blood so warm and soft.
It occurs to me again that I am probably overdue for an accident, the thought casual as ever. It scares me that I can think about being hit by a car as a matter of fact, as an event I’ve been lucky to escape so far, but one that is bound to happen within my lifetime. Do car drivers ever think about accidents this way?
I reach home safe and sound. I wheel the bike through our garden door. Two car parking spaces have been built with the house but no racks or shelter for bicycles. This is another space I don’t belong, one I have to create if I want it to exist. I take my helmet off and step inside. I think about the fathers that call me, eager and so grateful that we can teach their little girls to ride where I work. I wonder what happens to this little girls as they grow older. I rarely see a girl on a bicycle during my commute. There are plenty of boys taking all the space on the cycle path, evicting to the road by the college and school I pass by every day. I wonder again, how I slipped through the cracks, a girl still cycling all those years after having been taught, long after any of my female friends have relegated their bicycles to their parents garage.
I put the kettle on as I shed the many layers covering my body. I laugh at myself, cycling shorts, leggings, merino base layer, and thin waterproof jacket on my back. For so long I have resisted looking like this, like a cyclist. This was my political act. Looking as normal as possible on my bicycle, hoping to show passers-by that you don’t need all the gear to ride. But I now realise there was more to it than this. For as long as I have known how to ride, I have invaded spaces not designed for bicycles. I have been yelled at, I have been beeped at, I have been grazed by metal, and I have been scared. I have rarely felt safe, the danger associated with cycling so ingrained in me, it hasn’t jarred me in a long time. I have normalised it because if I hadn’t, I would not be riding still.
The kettle’s tongue flips upwards, signalling the water is ready. I throw a bag of tea in a mug and pour water over it, the liquid instantly darkening. Cycling is a political act. The thought strikes me again. In a dying world where taking the car is an act of aggression, my choice not to learn to drive is a political choice, one that I have to pay for with restricted movements and relegation to the in-between spaces, the ones that never quite fully exist.
I twirl the tea bag in the water one last time before taking out. One splash of milk, the white liquid swirling in a spiral inside the mug, and the beverage is ready. I leave the kitchen for the sofa, my hands wrapped around the mug to soak in the warmth. My skin tingles from the heat but I do not shift my fingers.
I think again about the little girls that have come to learn how to ride a bicycle with their father, the smile on their faces as I wrote their name on a certificate after they completed their first full lap of our cycling track. Will they too have to fight for their choice to cycle? Will they too have to explain themselves every time they choose to ride a bicycle instead of taking a car or a bus?
I take a sip of the burning liquid and imagine a world where a choice of cycling is not such an act of defiance but a legitimate choice that doesn’t require ignoring the fear or car hurtling at you, shredding your skin, wrecking your bones, your body broken and dislocated.