Looking down at the ground moving under my feet, I see the green in the cracks between the street. The spokes shine in the sun, as shadows dance upon a changing landscape. I breathe deeply and feel my heart pound in my chest. I know I am alive. I feel connected to my body, my breath and my mind open to the present moment. The mind chatter falls away with the soothing sound of my chain as I coast along the street, che-che-che-che.
So often in our culture, everyone wants to get there fast, get it over with and then keep on going. I am over that mentality. I want to experience each day, noticing the world around me, directly and with attention. On my bike I feel gentle misting rain on my face and listen to the sounds birds chirping in cherry trees. Slow down to live life rather than accelerating through it. Incorporate exciting journeys into routines, like taking forested roads with loose gravel that rattles like a flat, teasing you, only to notice fully inflated tires.

Being outside and experiencing the change in the seasons taps me into the importance of honoring the earth. I love plants and while riding along my favorite routes watch them change through the year. My bicycle even takes me to islands, where I study on an herb farm and whale watch on the ferry.

I started riding my bike around a lot in Denver, a  heavenly place with flat sunny streets. I developed the confidence to ride in traffic. There are challenging aspects to cycling, especially in Seattle. When I moved to Seattle in the summer of ’09, I was intimidated by the strange hilly city, but rode on. Actually, I crashed on the missing link of the Burke Gilman my second day here, but I dusted myself off and thanks to the help of a stranger, got back on my bike went to the beach. That wasn’t my only crash either. I broke my hand. I healed. Falling off my bike taught me a lot, too. I was humbled by the hills of this city, the gorgeous curves of this mystical place. Biking up a giant hill is rewarding, not only in the stunning vistas of city lights but in the awareness of my strength and power as I pedal.

The bicycle offers autonomy and community. Chatting at stoplights, or going on group rides offer easy ways to connect with new people. I can choose to ride with friends or go on my own, alone and unafraid. Many have asked me, “Do you feel safe riding alone at night?” I do. I love the streets at night, traffic is calm and things are quiet. Challenges exist, but they do no matter which path you take.  So I am going to take the path where I can cut through the park and smell the flowers.

Kelli Reefer, Seattle


Tough and Tender is a compilation of photos and essays contributed by female cyclists from all around. Cycle Swift called for artistic submissions to celebrate women in bicycle culture. Stay tuned through August as we highlight contributors throughout the month.

Thank you to everyone who added a story!