A few months back I am heading in to work and the ride has been pretty pleasant but I am coming to one of the dangerous ugly noisy pieces, a highway overpass, and I see a cat at the side of the road stretched out and still and I can see that it was flung there after being hit and it is silent and dead. And my morning falls apart a little and I continue bicycling but I start crying in a hopeless desperate way.
I'm a pretty private person so maybe it seems odd that I'd cry openly as I head down the overpass going straight with cars cutting back and forth across my path but crying while I am bicycling is a not so bad way to calm myself. There is the patient activity of the heart, the steady movement of the pedals, and the tears get taken away by the wind. I don't have to worry about privacy because of course people in cars mostly do not see bicyclists. They have a difficult time perceiving us as people who might be scared if they pass fast or close and so they definitely have a hard time seeing or caring if we are in emotional pain.
So I cried in relative peace. That week I would also see a small black squirrel run out and try and turn around and then get killed. I passed a snake that had been flattened in the middle before dying. The cat was of course there every day. My right hip has been bothering me, nagging at me, and it slows me down and at times it feels that what I am seeing is also slowing me down. Somewhere in this week, no fewer than three cars in one day tried to squeeze around me for the tiny distance that I wanted to take a lane and I had this flat grey ugly thought. One day it's you that will be hit. And you can't stop it. The grey thought stays stuck in my head like a piece of fruit furred over with mold.
The same afternoon that I have this bad grey thought I see this guy who works for the same company as mine and in the same building. He's told me that he often sees me bicycling when he drops off his kids at school. Sometimes he sees me bicycling as he drives home from work, I know because he usually calls some kind of a greeting. I asked him once if he ever bicycled into the office and he said "sometimes" ad I asked if his kids ever rode into school (they have a very good route for it) and he said "often." Today I notice that he has an old bicycle and a helmet. I brighten a little because I am glad that he is doing some riding.
He heads for the door at the end of the day and he stops to tell me that he has been bicycling to work three times a week. He said that my example had been part of the inspiration because he noticed that with traffic, I was getting to his house about as fast as he was getting to his house in a car. I made appreciative noises. Then he told me that since he started bicycling regularly his diabetes had been under far better control, which I find unsurprising but also very cool. Then he asked me about my route and I told him and he mentioned his route which wasn't a familiar one to me. Then he invited me to ride with him and I found myself saying "yes" which is totally unusual for me and he said he wasn't very fast and I said that was fine.
We exit the office building area by a back driveway and instead of hitting the regular road we noodle onto a maintenance road that goes behind a golf course. That went along for a bit, awkwardly over an unpaved area and then easily along a straight path and then we were dumped out beside a nature preserve. It was incredibly quiet. I could hear myself pedal. The wind pushed me around and I could hear the wind. I could hear the sounds made by the ground squirrels as they lay around nibbling and talking to each other. When birds took flight, and there were a lot of birds I could hear the sound of their wings.
After awhile we went through a gate and down under a road and then through another gate and then a few minutes later I was at my original route, but with all the worst intersections cleared away. I was totally calm and happy. I didn't really recognize myself, actually.
This is my new route. Yesterday I saw three feral kittens lead by their feral mom cat. I've seen snowy egrets standing silently in the shadow cast by the road overpass. I saw two jack rabbits with big tall near transparent ears. I've seen those birds with the long poky beaks for digging in mud. The best part is that none of the animals and birds I see are flattened rotting corpses. They're alive and they look cautiously back at me as I pedal in to work or home from work.
I see other people too, although not a lot. Bicyclists heading somewhere or bicyclists training for something. I carefully skirt people standing in the middle of the path studying birds through binoculars. I slow down and give room to mothers pushing strollers and joggers running side by side. It turns out that when I'm not threatened, I'm not mad. I'm quiet. And because I have spent time on roads I know (I think) a lot about how to pass those who are smaller or not as fast. You give them some room. You slow down a little. You murmur "g'evening" and you continue on your way.
Like Persephone this pleasant interlude cannot continue indefinitely. The gateway to this route goes underwater in the California winter and the access to Elysium will close down. I will again be shunted back onto the difficult roads and indifferent cars. But for now I am not thinking about anything other than my two trips a day through peace and quiet.