It’s midnight, it’s pouring, we’re pumping up the Eastlake hill when a girl in a wolf hat flies down the other way and gives us a soul-shivering howl. We croon back, our cries mingling and echoing in the drippy, empty city. Life is even more full of juicy detail when seen from the saddle.I biked to school as a kid, but it wasn’t until I got an old steel road bike that I really learned to ride. On wild rambles through the Nashville night on the full moons, on hot summer days in search of Las Paletas, on the way to the urban CSA farm. I learned to commute the summer I worked in Germany. It was 4km each way, with a draw bridge over a fjord. I biked with beautiful women in heels. I didn’t know anyone, so I taught myself to change a flat and took off on long tours on the weekends. I biked around Copenhagen, then toured across Tennessee and Alabama.
For the last two years I’ve commuted six miles on weekdays, on Seattle surface streets. It doesn’t matter whether I am tired or full of energy, sick or well. I can always bike six miles. Breathe in, breathe out. You live on Capitol Hill, Amelia, and you will make it back to the top every evening. Every day my body feels different, and I take notice.
Somewhere in there I went from out-of-breath-but-loving-it to completely fearless. I feel great in my body now. Once a long ride was the two miles to the Nashville Farmer’s Market, now the eight miles to Ballard are a blink. I weigh less than I did in high school, have more muscle, more energy.
When it is twenty degrees out the few cold weeks of winter, your ears feel like pieces of paper about to fly off as you speed down the hill. They hurt, but you are paying attention to them. I have ears, yes, I notice now. I yell something about this to Adam but he just grins at me. This is what winter feels like. Let go of the tension in the shoulders, release the jaw, accept the cold, tighten the scarf.
Adam said it well in his poem in Adventure: we ride “because we can and must.” There’s a sense of magic and mystery to biking, to going at that pace, to the sounds of the city riding home late at night. You notice things.
And on misty nights you are alone with your own breathing and if held … maybe a tiny hiss of wet tires and the silence of the suspended wet sky.
–Amelia Greenhall, Seattle
(Photo by Mickey Sullivan)
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.