Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Guest Post: Immersion

Today I have a guest post! I've mentioned Allyson in several posts, and she's been a partner in the experiences behind several others, dating back surprisingly far, at that. She's one of those impactful figures in my life that I hope will be permanent, whatever roles we end up playing for one another.

Allyson, like me, loves to write, though she's as much a poet as anything, while I'm zero-parts poet. She moved to Amsterdam last year; now immersed in a cycle-bound culture, rather than our car-bound one. I asked her the other day if she would write a guest post, to share her perspective on cycling now that she's in Amsterdam, and I was pleased that she accepted. I like what she's had to say, here, and hope she'll share more!

Bikes have always been a part of my life, but I’ve never been a “bike person”. Some of my bike experiences have been good: playing cops and robbers on bikes in the cul-de-sac by my best friend Heather’s house, or riding past windmills in Holland on a warm spring day. Others haven’t been as good: my brother getting a bike on my birthday when I was in second grade, crashing into a mailbox and injuring my tailbone, or crashing into a rack of bikes to avoid a pedestrian.

But not until moving to Amsterdam did I really understand the personal pleasure of bike riding. I’d always perceived biking as an obsessive pastime – about speed and time and distance – things that I couldn’t keep up with, and frankly, don’t get off on. But living and working in Amsterdam, it’s almost a necessity to have a bike. Cars are impossible with medieval roads and serious congestion. Walking is fine, but only for short journeys. Trams are mostly reliable – mostly.

By the end of my first week living in Amsterdam, I’d bought a bike. It’s a second-hand Batavus – no idea what year – bought from a bike dealer who’s shop is adjacent to the metro station. This guy must have had over a thousand bikes, all used, all in various states of repair or disrepair. My challenge was finding one small enough for me. The Dutch generally are very tall – the tallest people in the world, in fact – and their bikes are sized proportionally. I managed to find one that, when the seat was allllll the way down, was passable. I spiffed it up with two red vinyl saddle bags, and of course, a matching red chain.

Riding home that night was an adventure. I followed the tram route I knew, which thankfully had proper bike paths almost the entire way. Over the next few days, I tried out a series of different routes to work – specifically meant to avoid congested intersections, left turns, and other obstacles. I found one that worked well and tucked in. For several weeks, though, I only ever rode my bike to and from work. Part of that was due to not wanting to get lost, and another part was due to the chaos of parking. Seriously. It’s chaos.

But back to finding pleasure in biking…

My “commute” is about 30 minutes, which includes about 18 minutes of bike time and twelve minutes of getting to and unlocking/locking up my bike. During that 18 minutes, I get to experience Amsterdam with all my senses – I feel the bike’s response to the brick and cobblestone paths, I smell fresh baked bread from the half dozen or so bakeries I pass (which are hard to resist!), I taste the always cool (sometimes cold) air, I hear the bells of the trams blocks over, I see canals and Amsterdammers making their way to work or school or home from a late night at the pub or the Red Light district… I’m at once alone and connected to this city, all at the same time. There’s a certain peacefulness in that.

And I’ve proven it’s not a race. I’m not the fastest one out there. I do follow the rules of the road and stop at red lights. But I get where I’m going, and enjoy it along the way.

1 comment:

John said...

Juliana says:

Dear Allyson,

I like the way you talked about how there was only one bike that fit you, with the seat allllll the way down because the Dutch are very tall and the bikes were made for their size. I probably wouldn't be able to ride one of those bikes either. At least not a grown-up bike, that's for sure!

It seems like you guys had a lot of fun in Florence, too. And I'm glad you did a lot of fun things, like that cooking class. I made ravioli, after dad learned how! We used our pasta machine, then dad made some filling. Then I pressed the ravioli together, and dad cooked it. Dad also learned how to make some thinly sliced meat with some seasoning. It was very tasty!

I miss you a lot! Love, Juli E