Wednesday, September 10, 2008

A Bit about Biking

My Prize-Winning Picture from "Bike to Work" Week
"I see and feel the world differently through my bike. Crossing the Lions Gate Bridge on the way home from work, I stop for a moment. The sun glistens on the water and warms my face. The bike is old and covered with city grime, but to me, it is a thing of beauty. Through its frame, and the railings of the bridge, I take in the day and am awed by my privileged view."

In May, there was a "Bike to Work Week" contest.  You had to take a picture of yourself (or get one taken) , and write a 50-word description of why you love biking to work.  The picture was supposed to illustrate the words.  The prize was a bike, fully equipped with lights, panniers, fenders, front basket and bell.  I put quite a considerable effort into trying to show and express what it is that I love about biking.  I don't think it was so much about wanting to win the prize, as it was hoping to be able to articulate for myself why biking is such a huge part of my life.  

I was alone when I snapped that photo, and all I can say is, thanks heavens for digital.  I had to try more than a few times - no small feat to take your own picture and your bike and show some scenery as well.  I finally sat down on the pavement, near the center of the Lions Gate Bridge. Holding one hand up and diagonally over my head, I struggled even to find my face, let alone come up with anything usable.  Every once in a while, someone would walk by and I would grin sheepishly.  They would always grin back, but I could tell they thought I was more than a little weird.  I'm shocked that I won the contest - I think it was the words, rather than the photo, that pleased the judges.  As it turned out, I didn't keep the new bike, as I found my old one to be a better ride for my needs.  However, I did keep the panniers and lights, and love them.

I also submitted this photo, taken by my cycling friend, Jock.  I think he did a great job of capturing the joy I always seem to feel when I'm riding.  My description is below.

The wind in my face and the sense of exhilaration and freedom on downward slopes make biking to work joyful. Flashes of green slip by in a haze and I am connected to the earth while soaring above it. At sixty-one years old, the kid in me emerges. I realize I can't stop smiling.

Biking isn't something that came naturally to me. I remember when I was a kid, my younger sister learned to ride before I did. When I bought a bike as an adult, my high school students had to run beside me, helping me to keep my balance and showing me how to use the gears, as I practiced in the school parking lot. I progressed fairly quickly, and competed in my first (and only) mini-triathlon at the end of that summer. I then pretty much forgot about biking for the next 20 years.

Shortly after I moved to Vancouver, Jock found me a second-hand bike, so that I could commute to work during a bus strike. I used it during the strike, and put it aside once the buses were running again. It was when my work relocated to North Vancouver, that I finally decided I hated the bus, and didn't want the hassle and expense of owning a car. It was time to get the dusty, but apparently willing, bike out again. Jock brought it back to life once more (bless his heart), and I did a shaky but non-eventful test drive. For reasons too long to explain, I decided I had to have Shimano pedals. For those of you who may not know what they are, you can see them in this picture of my bike.  (Click on the picture to enlarge it.)

Special shoes fit into them, but with a slight outward twist of the heels, they are freed from the lock mechanism. For someone at my skill level, I don't believe they make any difference whatsoever to speed or stability, but still, I had to have them. When I fell twice in the same day, on one of my first commutes from work, Jock and his mate, Kitty, came with their car, and drove me and my bike home from the "crash" scene. I still have the scar on my arm from that miserable night, more than four years ago.  Excuse the ugly picture, but here it is.

That weekend, Jock led me on a trial run to North Van, and after witnessing my nervousness and lack of confidence, suggested kindly that biking wasn't my best commuting option. He added that he would be glad to buy the Shimano pedals, should I want to consider selling them. However, following him that day placed an image in my mind of what a confident cyclist looks like, and his suggestion that I give up was just what was needed to trigger a stubborn response. I biked to work the next morning, and although I would not describe it as fun, I did feel pretty pleased that I managed to avoid any crashes. I found myself imitating little things that Jock did, and slowly I became more comfortable.  For maybe the first two months, biking wasn't enjoyable, but I felt good about it.  There was a gradual transition, and I can't really tell you when, but I became aware at some point that I had a permanent smile pasted on my face.  I can now honestly say that there's no way I'd rather travel. 

Part of the reason for this blog is to write about or show photos of some of the things that happen on my daily trips.  Here's one little story:

I rode up the back path to get on the bridge one day, to find no cars and absolute silence.  I was listening to my little radio (not too loud) and suddenly noticed that I was able to hear the music much better than usual.  At that point, I noticed the lack of cars, and in the next moment, I saw a fellow walking towards me in the middle of the road.  It was definitely strange, but I smiled and waved at him and he said, "I'm sorry, dear."  I had no idea what he was apologizing for, so again, I smiled, and then continued on my way.  When I came to the end of the bridge, there were about a million cops swarming around, and they yelled at me to get off the bridge because that guy had a gun.  I hadn't seen any gun at all.  My friends at work still laugh at this story.  

Another time, I came onto the bridge, on my way to work, to find that someone had just jumped over the railing.  Again, lots of police and some questioning, but I wasn't able to be of any help to them, or to the distraught people who had actually witnessed the jump.  

Often, my stories are little ones - a mother duck herding her brood to safety, a tree that has fallen, a particularly beautiful sunset, flower, scene, etc.  

Two days ago, I stopped on the Lions Gate, to take some pictures of the bike for this blog.  I came across this memorial and stopped to think and wonder how Mr. Singh died.  It could have been a car accident, or any number of other ways, but whatever the way he died, he was clearly loved.  Sometimes, as I cross over the bridge, I think of the people who have died on it, and a feeling comes over me.  I'm not quite sure how to express it.  I imagine them in their last moments, and hope that their souls/spirits/whatever we might call them are at peace.

As I was thinking about Mr. Singh, and taking in the day, I tried to capture a little of the beauty around me.  Here are two more photos.  I like this one for the teal blue of the water.. 
 ..and this one because of the play of railings and trees and road.  

If I can find a way to describe him, my next blog could be about Bill.  Quite the thing to be living life with someone after umpteen solo years.  I liked my life before and had no plans to change it, but some things seem to happen almost in spite of me, and I have to say, it feels right.  So, until the next time. 


  1. Hey how cool that you won the contest! Those are great photos too!

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  3. We have a hobby - making music videos. Your photographs are wonderful and we are tempted to use them in videos.

    We have over 30 posted on You Tube under MarianneBill.

    May we use some of your photographs?

    Marianne & Bill

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  6. Nice post, kind of drawn out though. Really good subject matter though.