What looked like a short hill and a shallow dip opened up to an expansive rural valley. The unexpected grand view added to the growing thrill of my first real bike ride in over a decade. My lungs and muscles strained gloriously, newly alive, pushing me through the landscape of southern Germany. I had joined a religious community in the U. S. (think “nun”) a dozen years before, which had deterred me from two-wheeled adventures. Our long dresses were not compatible with the inevitable exposed chains. A skirt caught in a chain would cost me money for material, a great deal of otherwise better-spent free time sewing, and an unspoken disapproval. Further, the bikes we had were donated or inherited toys, essentially—rusty, in poor repair, never fully adjustable, unsafe, unserious. There was also no motivation to bike around our house in the U.S. It became an exercise in looping a few close suburban streets, not in pedaling toward a self-determined destination under one’s own steam.
In Germany, where the community eventually transferred me, it was different. Germans bike; bike paths were everywhere. Bikes transported workers to jobs and vacationers to perfect settings, nuns like me included. With two other Sisters, one of whose mother donated three perfect, comfortable, state-of-the-art touring bikes (with covered chains) to the community, I pedaled through fields and villages toward castle ruins and a complete sense of freedom under a brilliant sky.
Having reached and explored the ruins, one of the sisters found a Gasthaus, convinced us to go in to the rustic dim bar to get something to drink—not our usual behavior,—and even more shockingly, she ordered a Radlermass, literally “the cyclist’s measure,” a mixture of beer and lemonade that was delicious and thirst-quenching. One problem: alcohol was completely forbidden to us in the community. The sister reasoned that she would fess up to her superior, that we were hot, depleted from exertion (she had a gift for drama), that there wasn’t that much alcohol in it anyway, and that three of us were splitting the liter.
The radical departure from the rules felt as amazing as the whole ride had been—a break from being scheduled and regulated continuously. The perfection of that day resonated repeatedly in me. When I was later transferred back to the U. S., the contrary confining bend of the community here seemed all the more restrictive. I left its looping routes and got on my own bike, metaphorically and literally, and have been pursuing my own destinations ever since.
I think of my two friends often, a bit wistful that they are still pedaling happily in the community in Germany, but also grateful because that one ride and many more showed me the threshold of freedom I needed to be at peace with myself.
By Anna Stadick
Swift Industries’ Tough & Tender Project is an annual literary project to celebrate women’s experience of the bicycle. These stories were submitted in August of 2013. Cycling is a male dominated activity and industry, and it’s our experience as women and female-bodied individuals that cycling empowers and inspires us in ways which are not portrayed by mainstream bicycle culture. It’s time for something different! Swift Industries and Bicycle Times received over eighty contributions this year. Read on to enjoy some of the stories we received…