Channeling Lizzy

12 01 2017
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Mill City Ruins, January 11, 2014

It was not till the afternoon, when he joined them at tea, that Elizabeth ventured to introduce the subject; and then, on her briefly expressing her sorrow for what he must have endured, he replied, “Say nothing of that. Who would suffer but myself? It has been my own doing, and I ought to feel it.”

“You must not be too severe upon yourself,” replied Elizabeth.

“You may well warn me against such an evil. Human nature is so prone to fall into it! No, Lizzy, let me once in my life feel how much I have been to blame. I am not afraid of being overpowered by the impression. It will pass away soon enough.”

— from Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen

Mr. Bennet (above) facetiously observes that we are are prone to be too severe on ourselves. Had he been written in the last decade (as opposed to two centuries ago), he might have appended the word, “NOT!” to his statement. One of the reasons I’ve always appreciated Mr. Bennet’s character is just this: he may fail utterly due to a weak will, but he is clear-sighted enough to be aware of his own failings.

The reason I have loved his daughter Lizzy more, though, has always been her self-efficacy and willingness to change.

As I considered what I intended to write about this week, I heard Mr. Bennet’s voice first. His “mea culpa” in the scene above has stayed with me over the years and comes to me when I am feeling particularly – and rightly – self-critical.

This post began when the photo I shared above popped up on my Facebook memories (though its subject has been hovering, unspoken, for a while). The picture is from a particularly memorable weekend in January 2014. The day of the photo, I worked an 8-hour shift on my feet, biked fifteen miles in the snow and cold for fun, attended the mayor’s victory party (another several hours on my feet) listening to speeches by people I admire like Senators Klobuchar and Franken. The next day, my friend Mike and I bundled up for another wintry bike ride, this time to – and on – Lake Calhoun, followed by coffee at Spyhouse.

That weekend was indicative of the whole year that followed – jammed full of new experiences, standing in crowds of people listening to folks I admired (mostly musicians, rather than politicians), shift-work on my feet, miles and miles logged by bike and on foot exploring and laughing with friends. By the time the year was over, my average mph by bike had risen from 12 to 16. My feet always hurt but the rest of my body felt amazing – by January 2015, I was in the best shape of my life.

Seeing my photo of the Mill City Ruins brought it all back. Looking so closely at my memories from 2014 into 2015, I could hardly avoid the sharp contrast with where I am today – a mere two years later. There has been, in those two years, a spectacular failure of will – mine. I’ve stopped riding or walking, I’ve stopped making time for new people and experiences, I’ve stopped paying attention to my food intake. I am now seventy-five pounds heavier and in horrible shape. My feet hurt, my heels hurt, my knees hate me. Like Mr. Bennet, I need to own it, need to feel it. Though moments of self-recrimination have popped up occasionally, even the worst of these passed by without effecting any real change in my behavioral choices.

And now, I’m worried that I’ve left it too late. What if I’ve backslid so far I can’t fix it? I haven’t written much about it here, even though this whole blog began as a record of my weight loss journey – and this certainly qualifies as part of that long travail. I haven’t written about it because  I have been too ashamed. Not embarrassed by a number on the scale – I’ve truly learned not to measure myself or anyone else based on that. Rather, ashamed of my self- neglect. Ashamed of my almost willful lack of self-discipline.

So, this is probably the moment to call upon my inner Elizabeth Bennet, rather than her father. Lizzy could have allowed her pride to carry her forward, refusing to be seen as fickle in her opinions or wrong in her assessment of character. In doing so, she certainly would have saved herself some moments of extreme embarrassment – imagine having to admit to virtually everyone in your community that you were the complete opposite of right! But there’s a good reason Lizzy is a beloved heroine to generations of women who’ve read Pride and Prejudice: Lizzy chose to grab her chance to be happy even though it meant admitting her mistakes, standing up to those who wished to belittle her (especially that bully, Lady Catherine deBourgh), and working to set right the damage her behaviors had inflicted.

This is definitely the moment. But, I can’t help wondering, is there enough of Lizzy’s fortitude in me? Getting healthy and in shape the first time around required all of my attention and energy, plus most of my non-work time. It also sucked up oceans of support from loving friends and family. Now that I’ve pissed all of that away, can I find the strength to do it again? I honestly do not know. But it is about time to find out.

May I have the courage today

To live the life that I would love

To postpone my dream no longer

But do at last what I came here for

And waste my heart on fear no more.

   — John O’Donohue, from “A Morning Poem”

 

 





As Low as You Can, As Slow as You Need

2 06 2016

 

A couple of weeks ago, I went on a group bicycle ride sponsored by a community organization. I had been told that these were easy rides, all fitness levels welcome, so I decided to give it a shot. The ride leader turned out to be the person who sold me my new bike back in March. He gathered the group together, shouting to be heard above the traffic and the crowds of people there in the busy market. “In case you didn’t know, this is going to be a hill ride,” he called out.

The groans were audible even above the surrounding din. The vast majority of cyclists I know dislike riding hills. Even cyclists who are in good condition sometimes prefer to avoid them. I have a varied history with hills; I hated them until I understood how to ride them. Then I enjoyed testing myself against them, and I got pretty good at navigating even the more daunting ones. However, at this point in time, I’m out of shape for riding, am just building my skills and stamina back up – and I haven’t taken on many hill challenges on the new bike. So while I wasn’t one of the groaners, I was a bit nervous to see how it would go.

Just before we hit the first and toughest hill, slightly under half of the group split off to take an alternate (hill-avoiding) route. I shifted gears and began the ascent. Barely more than halfway up, I was unable to continue on the bike, and got off to walk. The difference between my easiest, or granny, gear on a 21-speed (my old bike) and the granny gear on my new 9-speed is significant. But I was mostly disappointed in myself for losing fitness and gaining weight – both of which are a significant part of why I was unable to ride that hill.

While I successfully maneuvered the remaining hills, and enjoyed the speedy final descent, I was still processing that first hill climb when we reached the park where we reunited with those who had chosen to avoid the hilly passage. When the ride leader approached, asking how it went, I told him that while I love my new bike, I miss my 21-speeds on the hills. He said, “Did I know you were going to ride hills? Because we don’t usually recommend that model for hill riding.” He walked away before I could answer.

I was fuming. Without going into the entire story of my purchase, suffice it to say that his comment was both unexpected and unwelcome. I began to obsess about it, and I was filled with righteous indignation for days. The next few times I went out to ride, all I could think about was that I had a bike that would never meet my needs. This made my rides much less enjoyable, and contributed to a reluctance on my part to attempt any but the most easily navigable hills.

However, it is a truth universally acknowledged by cyclists that a ride in want of daunting hills will never be a truly epic one. Also true? No matter what avoidance techniques you employ there will be hills. So, the next time I was faced with a hill that required me to climb it, I grimly squared my shoulders and kept riding.

I talked myself through it. “Just drop into as low a gear as you can. Ok, doing great. Now, take it as slow as you need to. There’s no hurry.” It wasn’t pretty. It was tortuously slow. Onlookers may have wondered if I would ever make it to the top – and if so, WHEN?! But I just kept repeating, “As low as you can, as slow as you need to.” Eventually, my heart pounding and gasping for air, I crested the hill.

And that’s when I realized that it was an ordinary hill. Not an epic hill, not one for the record books: an ordinary, everyday, hill.

There will be lots of ordinary hills for me to climb. Just as there will, sometimes, be epic hills to get over.

One of the great things about cycling, in my opinion, is that I continually learn things that apply throughout my life, not just while on the bike. In life, we face hills. And we get over hills. Even if we have to go slow; even if we have to walk. In my almost 55 years, I have yet to fail at getting over one…eventually. Sometimes it has been easy-peasey, and other times it has taken everything I had – more than I thought I could muster.

My new hill-mantra, “as low as you can, as slow as you need to”, is one I can generalize and use throughout my life. Drop your affect, keep your anxiety levels down, breathe – in other words, go as low as you can. Ratcheting up the fear, anxiety, or panic because you see a challenge looming on the horizon only makes things worse. More stressful. More difficult. More tense. No job is done more easily with your tense shoulders hunched up around your ears! Relax into the upward climb and it will be a lot less painful.

Then: take the time you need. Life, contrary to what we sometimes glean from our surrounding culture, is not a race. While timeliness can be a factor, it is rarely the only factor. Finishing well is generally more important. I can’t think how many times I’ve hurried through some project or task, only to discover that I could (and should) have taken somewhat more time to do it really well rather than to rush to completion.

Go as low as you can, as slow as you need to. I keep repeating this mantra to myself, on my bike and off, and finding it beneficial in setting a great tone to my days. When I do encounter one of life’s hills, I have a way to approach it that doesn’t incite unnecessary fear or stress. Just the calm, ordinary effort required to keep moving forward.

 

 





After the Bonk

7 04 2016
bonk*:  Expression used by cyclists to describe excercise-induced low blood sugar levels; being a feeling of light-headedness and weakness in all limbs. Similar to ‘The Wall’ in running. Has fallen out of usage in recent years due to alternative meanings. — Urban Dictionary
One of the realities of life for true afficionados – whether it is books, movies, running, or some other thing that is loved – is that even at times when we aren’t engaging with the thing, we talk about the thing. For the better part of the last year, this has been the case with me and bicycling. I’ve read about cycling, I’ve talked about it and written about, I’ve participated in the Thursday night twitter meet-up called #bikeschool – but I haven’t been riding.
I’m making a concerted effort to change that, primarily because I miss the way biking makes me feel when I do it – calmer, fitter, more engaged with my community and with nature. I do love riding – even more than I love talking about riding.
April is the month that I pledge (for the past three years) to ride every day. It’s called #30DaysofBiking. Begun by friends in Minneapolis, it has become a worldwide movement with teams in cities all over the place – including Spain and Belarus**. April, at least in east-central Iowa, is also a mixed-bag of weather, which is part of the challenge of keeping to the pledge.
This year, the first three days of the month offered a cycling challenge in the form of high winds (which I gladly faced rather than the sleet I rode in last year on the #30daysofbiking kick-off ride in Minneapolis). Friday and Saturday I dutifully rode, pushing against headwinds and trying to remember the tricks of countering gusty crosswinds to remain upright on my bike.  Dressed in layers and wearing gloves against the early spring chill, I was excited to be out riding my new bike.
Sunday, April 3, was a beautiful day; sunny, with temperatures climbing into the 70s. I had social commitments early in the day, but I was itching to get out for the day’s ride. It was mid-afternoon before I managed it, but as soon as my tires hit the pavement, my spirits soared. I headed south on the trail, nodding or calling friendly greetings to the other trail-users, plentiful on such a gorgeous day. The winds were still gusty and strong, but when I set out they were manageable. And at my back.
When I last rode regularly, it was not at all unusual for me to easily ride thirty or more miles in an afternoon. My mind remembered that – overriding any signals from my body that I hadn’t stayed in shape to do that easily. So I rode and rode, loving the experience. Eventually, my brain received the message my body had been sending for a while: turn back or you’ll regret it! When I did turn around to head back into town, I was immediately struck full-face by 40-mile an hour winds. Um, yeah. The ride back was going to be a bit more difficult.
In one section of trail, surrounded on all sides by open fields, the wind threatened to sweep me right off my bike, and my bike right off the trail. Suddenly, my awesome Sunday ride had become (in my mind anyway) an epic battle between me and the elements. My knees painfully protested the degree of force necessary to crank the pedals. My mind contracted – gone were the sweet fancies that had flitted through it on the ride out. Now, my only thought was a repetitive, “Keep going.” When I allowed myself a rest stop, I rationed the water in my bottle so it would last a bit longer, even though my mouth felt bone dry. Because it was my third ride in as many days, I was sore from getting accustomed to my new saddle. My knees had commenced screaming. I considered calling a friend to come pick me up, but rejected the idea with stern self-talk. At the downhill section where speeds well over twenty miles an hour are typical even while sometimes coasting, fighting the wind I never got above 13 mph. My attention was so concentrated that I hadn’t noticed the clouds massing until it started to rain. And then, weirdly, my feet started cramping. I got off the bike and walked until the cramps subsided. Then I rode some more.
As suddenly as it had started, the feeling that I was locked in an epic battle against the weather ended. I was simply exhausted with another two miles to go before reaching home. The rain had been brief, but the wind continued unabated. My internal dialogue went silent. There was nothing to do but keep moving. And so I did.
Later, after a shower and food, my body was sore and tired. But I couldn’t stop thinking about the afternoon’s ride. When, I wondered, would I be able to get out again? How would I keep challenging myself to push my limits? I realized, with real surprise, that – miserable as I had been – I had been enjoying myself! Not the kind of enjoyment that results in warm feelings and easy laughter – not even the enjoyment I felt after riding in last year’s sleet, because that was derived in part from the camaraderie that develops when friends share difficulties. No, this brand of fun was definitely a more serious kind. I hadn’t been in any real danger – I could easily have stopped and called for assistance. But I didn’t, and the serious fun of it was exactly that. I pushed myself to do more than I thought I could. In doing so, I realized that I was capable of more.
I bonked hard that day. But what I learned was this: what I am truly capable of doing is only visible after the bonk. And that is an important lesson to keep hold of in other parts of my life. I wasn’t embarrassed that I crashed and I didn’t waste time berating myself (though I could have taken some measures to mitigate or prevent it). Instead, I was proud of myself for keeping on. Why is it so hard to generalize that experience to the other parts of life? Lord knows, I crash and burn in my personal and professional life with regularity, and sometimes it is my own fault. But why should I allow the crashes to define my sense of self-worth, when what comes afterwards is often more revealing of who I am and what I’m capable of achieving?
I think that is what “serious fun” is all about: challenging limits, not solely for the sake of doing so, but in order to learn and grow. And that’s what I’m taking with me this time, after the bonk.
*Yes, I know bonk is a word used in other contexts that are sexual in nature – try to be mature enough not to snicker about this every time I use it in the context of cycling, please!
**My friend, Patrick Stephenson, is the driving force behind this movement of “joyful cyclists” which contributes, through sponsorships, to cycling charities – check it out online!.




Truth, 2016

14 01 2016

It was New Year’s Day and I was feeling ambivalent. About pretty much everything. I wasn’t in the mood to reflect on the year just ended, nor did I feel quite up to staring down the barrel of 2016 with unblinking fortitude.

I noodled around online instead.

A post popped up on a friend’s social media feed, its flashing letters calling out to me like a carnival barker: “Find Out Your Word for 2016!” Easily distracted by shiny objects, I clicked on it. In almost exactly the same split second it took me to regret clicking, the word generator selected randomly for me:

Your word for 2016 is – Truth.

“Crap”, I thought. “That’s the last word I wanted”. Without even reading the explanation that came with the announcement, I hurriedly moved on to a different site.

But, of course, the damage was already done. Why, I wondered, had I responded so vehemently to the word “truth”?

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Two summers ago, when I worked the opening shift at Starbucks, I often spent long afternoons riding my bike. My friend, Mike, was bike commuting from our apartment building out to his office in the suburbs and I would sometimes ride out to meet him for the commute home. The trip was 17 miles each way, and offered a variety of surfaces and several hills in each direction.

I finally hit my stride with hills that summer. I can’t say that anything in particular clicked into place, other than that I had, perhaps, finally spent enough time in the saddle. Anyway, the hills on our commute back to the city were long and rolling, so we would fly down one hill and immediately begin ascending the next. Mike was always ahead of me heading into the uphill climb, but about half or two thirds of the way up, I would pass him.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Mike was in great shape – lighter, stronger and faster than me. When we rode together he often needed to moderate his pace so I could keep up. But I overtook him on those hills, and it was exhilarating! Not because it activated a competitiveness in me – although I wouldn’t be human (or honest) if I didn’t admit there was a smidgeon of that. But the main reason I found it so wonderful? It was evidence to me that I had developed a kinesthetic knowledge, a way of uniting my body and the machine I was riding into one efficient, smooth, and cohesive entity. Riding those hills well was deeply satisfying in a way that had nothing to do with anyone or anything else: my body my bike.

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This past year, I barely rode. I changed jobs twice and I’ve been living in a place of transition. Consequently, I was experiencing what a colleague calls “grief resistance” – riding just hasn’t felt fun since I returned to Cedar Rapids, missing the cycling culture (and my bikey friends) in the Twin Cities. Several times a week, at the gym, I climb aboard a spin bike and ride. Sometimes, I close my eyes and pretend I’m riding outside, actually going somewhere rather than just spinning my wheels. But mostly I just make myself pedal, varying the tension and the speed to get my heart pumping and work up a sweat.

Driving home from the gym after a less-than-satisfying session, I had a depressing vision of myself living like that every day – on auto-pilot, tired, anxious, my body heavier and more lethargic than I prefer. And that is when I began to more deeply understand my aversion to the word “truth” as my word for 2016.

The truth is, I’ve been avoiding my own truth for a while now. Avoiding consciously addressing what my heart already knew: that I’ve been abdicating my responsibilities to myself and my life. I’ve been making excuses instead of making active choices.

The truth is, going through life transitions is challenging; it can be really hard to do – like riding a bike up long or steep hills. You can fight the hill, complain about the hill, whine the entire way up the hill – but eventually you’ll need to crest the hill, however you feel about it. The kicker is that there will always be another hill, whether immediately in front of you or just visible on the horizon.

The truth is, hills are a fact of life – both the literal and the metaphoric ones. You can let them depress you or you can find them exhilarating. The main difference is in your approach.

#Truth

 

 





Bare

14 11 2013

Until last night, it had been weeks since we’d taken a night ride around the lakes. But last night’s relatively mild temperatures were too enticing to ignore. So, when my evening meeting ended, Mike met me at Common Roots and we took off. The moon was large and bright white, illuminating our way as we rode down the Bryant Avenue bike boulevard to Lake Harriet.

In the summer months, the tree-lined path around the lake is incredibly dark at night, offering a sometimes harrowing riding experience for those riders (like us) whose headlights are sub-par. In the time that had elapsed since our last ride around Harriet, the trees had lost their leaves, rendering a wholly different riding experience. Without foliage to block it, the path was lit by a combination of moonlight and streetlights. We could not only see the path at all times, we could see the lake, the neighborhood surrounding it, each other. Everything looked and felt different. We followed the trail around Lake Harriet, then over to Lake Calhoun, where we were stunned to see the Minneapolis skyline virtually the entire time. We couldn’t stop commenting on both how beautiful and how clearly visible is was.

One doesn’t live in the upper midwest without developing at least a passing appreciation of the changing seasons. Like my neighbors and friends, I’ve watched for the usual signs – the first orange and yellow hues among the green, the first snowfall, the first crocus in spring. Before this year, though, I have never spent such concentrated time outdoors nor have I striven so earnestly to develop a sense of place as I have here. So the changes in view, landscape, light wrought by the mostly bare trees stuns and excites me.

Curiously, at the same time, they leave me, like the city itself, more exposed.

Its a strange paradox: to pay (as one does this time of year) such close attention to layering, to bundling up for warmth, while concurrently feeling more bare to the elements: of life, if not of weather. I go around covered up and protected, yet feel completely permeable. There don’t seem to be boundaries or protections for my emotional body these days.

Here’s an example. I stopped for coffee the other day and, walking past a restaurant to return to my car, I happened to catch some fluttering out of the corner of my eye. I looked, and seated in the window of the trendy eatery, waving frantically to get my attention, was a former colleague from Cedar Rapids. She waved me in, where she introduced me to her dining companions, alumnae (one a former board member) from the college where I worked. These lovely women asked about my life, and we spoke of the difficulty of life transitions. Their warmth and compassion was palpable, and I found myself sharing my deepest fears with them – something I would never, typically, do with strangers.

I walk around the city, and every beautiful fall of light or tragic sight of poverty moves me. The older man busking on Nicollet Mall, with his clarinet and saxophone, brings tears to my eyes. A stranger I follow on tumblr posts “Will someone come over and watch this movie with me?” and I almost respond.

What do people around the city see if they happen to look at me? I don’t know, but I feel like the skyline, rawly visible without the shield of my usual foliage.

In their book, Becoming a Life Change Artist, Mandell and Jordan discuss the idea of “mindful floating”. They describe it as one way of embracing the uncertainty that comes with significant change. They say,

“Mindful floating is a form of surrender to the inescapability of uncertainty…When engaged in mindful floating, we suspend self-judgment. We allow ourselves not to be tough on ourselves. We don’t force a premature resolution to our situation; rather, we allow ourselves to follow the current, emotionally and intellectually…When we are floating mindfully, we do not so much ask questions as tune in to the undercurrents, the ups and downs of the ocean swelling and receding, undulating. We pick up subtle changes such as the water temperature. We look skyward and notice the direction of the sun or moon and stars. We realize we can use the ocean’s undercurrents to husband our energy and nature’s reference points to identify possible directions. We are moving in tune with nature, not against it…

“Mindful floating, though, does not mean being passive. Rather, it means we assume a different perspective from which to view the various parts of our lives…a tool that enables the creative skill of seeing. We begin to understand that the elements of our new life are all out there. We simply need to find a new way to make sense of them before we rearrange them.”

When I float, I try to become one with the water. The feeling of being bare to the world around me is similar to, if more emotionally volatile than, the calmness I associate with floating. But this new bare-ness feels somehow right, like an internal change of seasons. I’ve been a tough onion to peel, holding on to my fears and my emotional isolationist tendencies even in the midst of attempting to create something completely new of my life. I’m learning that there are always new layers to be shed, and am hopeful that this latest shedding will bring me one step closer to seeing a way to arrange the pieces.





Night Joyriding

19 09 2013
Today’s post was written jointly by Mike Beck and me. Since my arrival in Minneapolis in early July, one of our favorite activities together is cycling at night throughout the city. While we both enjoy nighttime riding, we came to it from different places, and our experiences are our own – hence the format of the post. In the end, we hope you’ll be encouraged to get out on your bikes – especially after dark!  
          –Jenion
Minneapolis By Night, photo by Mike

Minneapolis By Night, photo by Mike

M: I love riding my bike – I always have.  When I was a boy on the farm in Iowa, my siblings and I escaped into made-up worlds on our bikes.  As a father of young boys, meandering on suburban trails with the tots was always pleasurable.  Now, biking is more than just fun; it’s a way to get outside, be active, and a key component in my quest for a healthier lifestyle.   But, with a full-time job, and other activities that often book weekend days, the ONLY time I have to ride is in the evenings.  And it’s still fun, especially when I have someone to ride with.

J: Biking has been such a significant part of my life these past several years that I considered a bike-friendly culture one of the “must haves” for any city I finally chose to settle in when I left Cedar Rapids. By all accounts, Minneapolis fit the bill. When I arrived here, I couldn’t wait to explore the bike trails and greenways I had read and heard so much about. And I looked forward to doing so with Mike – we had talked about cycling for years, but living in different states made it impractical for us to ever actually ride together.

M: Introducing Jeni to her new city has been one of the things I enjoyed most this summer.  I have lived in Minneapolis since 1993, and I know the town quite well.

J: That’s an understatement, by the way!

M: But, as I was saying before I was interrupted, biking in Minneapolis is relatively new to me.  I started riding my bike last fall, after a long hiatus, and I usually stayed close to home.  But now that Jeni lives here, we want to ride as often as possible.  As I mentioned, the only time in my busy schedule is late evenings.  This posed a difficulty though:  Jeni was adamant that if we were going to ride in the evening, we were going to stay put on designated bike lanes and trails.

J: I had my reasons for insisting. If any of you have ever lived in a city that is unfriendly to bicyclists, you’ll understand my reluctance. I had been shouted at, honked at, and had motorists purposely swerve toward me only to pull away, laughing, at the last moment – all as I crowded as far into the gutter or alongside parked cars as I could. Other times, motorists were just so unused to cyclists that near-misses occurred. In that environment, why would one EVER get on the street – especially at night when visibility is even further reduced?! It was a sign of trust that I allowed Mike to talk me into it.

M: We live on Franklin Avenue, a busy street morning, noon and night.  For us to get to a designated bike lane, we have to maneuver off our own street first.  Fine.  We can do that!  Just a few blocks west we can catch a dedicated bike lane on Blaisdell Avenue.  That will take us to the Midtown Greenway, a bike “freeway” that connects to just about every trail in South Minneapolis.  From there, we can connect to the Chain of Lakes where the trail is not only exclusively for bikes, but also one way.  Thus began our foray into night bike rides!  We could get a short ride in just by circling Lake Calhoun, or if we had enough time, we could also ride around Lake Harriet and Lake of the Isles.  This was quickly our routine, and safe and easy for my reluctant partner to navigate.  Plus, it gave us a few opportunities to “practice” street riding.  We had to obey traffic rules on Blaisdell, lest we get taken out by a right-turning vehicle.  We had to leave the comfort of our dedicated lane so as to make a proper left-hand turn onto 29th Street to get on the Greenway.  As beautiful as the lakes route was to ride, though, it quickly became as boring as it was routine.  But I was patient, and that patience paid off!   Imagine my excitement the night Jeni said “Let’s head downtown instead of to the Greenway.”

J:  I won’t lie: that first ride in the dark, guided only by the spot of light offered by my headlamp, was scary. But it was also strangely exhilarating. Like all new experiences, it took a while to develop a comfort level with riding after dark. The night city has a very different look and feel than the day-lit one. On our second circumnavigation of Lake Calhoun, Mike nearly collided with a silver fox, its coat irridescent in the moonlight reflecting off the water, as it streaked past. Where, during the day, you smell suntan lotion and picnic lunches, at night the exotic scents of flowers and rich soil are noticeable. It wasn’t long before I was hooked. And I wanted to experience much more of the city than just the chain of lakes, as wonderful and beautiful as they are. We began to take different routes about the city, revisiting spots we had both seen before, but not at night or by bike. One wild Friday night we headed to the newly opened Dinkytown Greenway and, with road construction and detours, ended up in unexpected neighborhoods. We didn’t have a map, but somehow a bike lane or part of a trail always opened in front of us. In one incident of serendipity, we were in what I would describe as a “sketchy” neighborhood and we hadn’t a clue what to do next. We found a sign for the Greenway, but when we followed it we discovered the trail gated and locked securely. Suddenly, I saw a  woman emerge from a weedy lot about a block ahead of us. I felt certain we would find a path there – what woman walks alone in a random weedy lot at 10:30 p.m. on a Friday night in the city? Sure enough, it was a paved trail, and it took us over the interstate and back downtown…

M: … where we navigated traffic departing the Metrodome after the first pre-season Vikings game.  The streets were clogged with drunk suburbanites, most of whom didn’t have a clue what a bike lane was.  (That’s the first time I heard Jeni actually yell at a motorist!)  Our dedicated lane wasn’t remotely passable, so we zigzagged through the traffic jam and found a cross street out of that mess…and straight towards the Guthrie Theater where the evening’s show had just ended.  Now our nemeses were taxi cabs picking up theater-goers dressed in tuxedos and evening gowns.  Dodging that mess, we headed into the heart of downtown, where out-of-towners apparently assume people riding bicycles on a Friday evening must know their way around.  We were stopped and asked directions several times.

J: And, of course, Mike always knew how to direct them!

M: Anyway, that evening sealed the deal for Jeni.  She had now grown fond of our night bike rides, and had taken it off the trails and into the streets!

J: Ok, so that makes it sound like I went from a Nervous Nelly to an Adrenaline Junkie in one crazy night! The truth is, I had learned some important things about riding in this city. First, with the exception of the out-of-towners, assorted cab drivers and pizza delivery persons, motorists here both understand the laws of sharing the road and they respectfully adhere to them. Second, you develop “eyes” for night riding – essentially, you develop a comfort-level with using the combination of your headlight and ambient light available from the city. Third, most of our night rides end with a stop at our neighborhood Spyhouse Coffee. I love the arc of these rides – the excitement of choosing a new path, riding and spontaneously adjusting as we go, then – whether we’re refreshed or sweating buckets – a coffee and chat before the last blocks home.

M: For me, night riding is about getting outside after a long day at work.  It’s doing something active, and it’s sharing time with a friend.  It’s an opportunity to bond with our city, from a perspective we don’t see from our cars.  And it’s being part of a unique, vibrant community.  We are never alone on our night rides.  Minneapolis cyclists are loyal and dedicated kinfolk and it’s not uncommon to share a greeting or a brief conversation with fellow riders when our paths cross.

J:  Agreed. But some nights, riding is for the pure experience and adventure of it; a celebration of the spirit of biking. It makes me feel the way I did in junior high when I raced my sunshine-yellow ten-speed all over the small town of Hastings just because it was fun, and I could. In adult life, those reasons are rarely considered sufficient for activity – which makes me wonder: why not? We night joyride – because it’s fun and we can. You should join us sometime!

A night ride must: Spyhouse coffee before heading home, photo by Mike

A night ride must: Spyhouse coffee before heading home, photo by Mike