Sunday, September 23, 2012

Small-Scale Utility Cycling Delights on the First Fall Sunday

While others in town were busy with the Peach Ride (and I hope all went well), this ol’ parish priest had his usual Sunday round (plus some) to do.

I began at 5:50 with Morning Prayer, coffee, and a brisk and rather cool ride to church (it won’t be much longer and cycling gloves will be needed for this leg of the ride). There was very little traffic, though I was passed by one rather faster cyclist on 13th. Between us, we sort of made the cycling sartorial A-to-Z. I trundled my way to the parish in extraordinary quiet…perfect time during which to prepare for the day’s activities.

After two Eucharists (communion services) with sermons, a class (on the Holy Spirit—ah, Trinitarian theology!), some pastoral conversations, lunch with the Music Director, Evensong w/sermon (including one of my favorite—if soppy—evening hymns), followed by an organ recital—it was time to go home. It was a long, but good day---really, an ideal Sunday. My ride home made it even better.

The cool morning had become a warm afternoon. My light (and bright) coat was packed away, along with two gift bottles from a kindhearted parishioner: some red-pepper infused olive oil, and some sage vinegar. I was given these gifts with the strong suggestion that when my blackberry cordial was ready, it might make a great return gift. My roomy Ortlieb bag also carried my computer satchel and the usual assortment of tools and oddments.

In the front rack were some Liberty apples in a bag, given me by another very thoughtful parishioner who remembered my rhapsodizing last year about this variety. She works harvests in a local apple orchard that grows this rather rare type and brought me a half dozen. Only five made it home. J Now that’s a treat: cycling while eating an apple….

I peddled off into the lowering autumn sun, tracing my way through familiar neighborhoods, listening to the sounds of mowing, car-washing, and children playing. In the background, a train made its way through the heart of Salem.

Leaves, acorns, twigs, and other fall debris were scattered along the streets. The sun glinted on the street with a particularly golden-orange quality.

As I reached downtown, the traffic cones and other construction warnings on the Promenade blazed my trail ahead of me. I picked my way to Chemeketa, then turned west. Another cyclist and I almost collided, but we worked it out in time.

I found my way to the Capitol building and rounded the MUP (multi-use path) towards State and Winter. Lots of work is being done here to put the streets on a visual “road diet,” helping to slow things down and make pedestrian and bicycle traffic safer and more enjoyable (Salem is not without its efforts for increased livability). The normally empty park had a surprising number of people in it. Young couples were—in Victorian parlance—canoodling. They added a modern element to that ancient activity: taking pictures of themselves with iPhones and Androids.

Salem can be a rather quiet place, and as I biked along today, I was pleased with how that quietness wasn’t just another word for boredom, but a lot of individuals, groups, and families finding ways to enjoy themselves.

Cyclists were in evidence, some pickup games of various types were being held, joggers occasionally passed by, plenty of dogs were being walked, and a number of families where holding celebrations in parks and green spaces. There was activity, but mostly of a low-key type. I admit, I rather like that.  I’ve lived in London and New York City—so I’ve sampled some of that kind of energy—but there was something truly delightful about today’s scenes of Sunday low-energy enjoyment. While I support urban renewal in Salem, I am also aware of the underlying culture here, one which seems to value a certain amount of low-stress laid-backness (sorry about making that last word up).

Part of what made today’s journey so enjoyable was the way my bike felt. I had just tensioned the chain a bit and tightened a few things that were squeaking, so it was extremely “tight” and quiet. I could hear the three-speed hub purring along, and the wheels glinted in the dappled sunlight through the trees and between the buildings. I was done with a productive and busy day; it was time to release some pent-up energy on a pleasant bike home. Having a well-adjusted machine is rather like a metaphor for a balanced life: it all goes together just right.

I think this is an underrated benefit of utility cycling: the degree to which it forms a mental and physical transition from one event to another. When I arrived home, I was ready to be at home. The activities of the day now past were behind me…literally and figuratively: the evening now beckoned.

I notice that when I drive home, I often need extra time to make that transition. When I bike, the physical effort combined with the time and interesting events along the way make for the transition itself. This often makes me a much more enjoyable person (so I’m told) when I get home. Perhaps this is one of the aspects of transportation cycling we have not promoted enough.

So, wherever your travels take you this week, I hope you enjoy the trip and find it to be a time of both renewal and appreciation.

Apples in the re-used Target sack...and a perfect
ride home.


  1. Well said. I used to ride more, but found that walking is now even more my mode of choice because I find it good for meditating on problems or thinking up ideas. When one rides a bike, one must attend to the business at hand or risk being a hazard to self or others. But walking means a good, longish period during which the subconscious can handle the details of ambulation in a neighborhood while the mind wanders even further.

    The more I walk and ride a bike, the more I regret auto dominance, and the way that most drivers seem to become ruder and more thoughtless of others even as they are so much more dangerous to people like me, lacking their steel carapaces.

  2. Hey, Walker...thanks for the comment. I'm a regular walker, as well...for back issues as well as for the reasons you mention. It is normally much more "open" time than cycling (at least if one is not trying to cross busy streets much!). Because of the distance between home and office for me, as well as the number of people and places I visit regularly during the week, a bike makes much practical sense for me.

    As a regular driver, I certainly understand the place and value of cars, especially in America. But I often think about some of the costs that come along with car-dependence, and that makes me keenly aware of the completely skewed accounting we use around this issue. How different it would be if the true costs to everything (environment, society, civic life, &c.) were factored into the autos. My sense is that this factoring will eventually be done, and that we will find out multi-modal is better, all-round. Thanks for visiting...and I hope to see you out there in Salem sometime.