To my left, the river thrashes and twists around boulders. Water thunders past, faster than I can move. Wind tugs my hair, brushing it against my neck. In the sky, a single puffed cloud floats between two granite domes and is gone. Redwoods, reaching for the open blue, slide by.
In the distance, I hear a child crying and pedal harder. My bike lurches forward and I am once again enveloped in nature's quiet. I pump onward, passing a hiker, across a stone bridge where water mingles with sand, between mossy boulders until guilt gets the better of me. Slowing down, I let my husband, towing my two boys in a bike trailer, catch up to me. Who was crying? Who poked whom in the eye? Who stole whose apple?
Last fall, my husband bought me a beautiful, used beach cruiser - flashy red with white wall tires and a jaunty wicker basket. He talked longingly of a vacation where our family would bike together. Promising nothing, I took the bike. It was cute. He was crazy. If he thought I would ever get on a bike for fun, he was out of his mind. I would pedal a bit to help the planet but no more than that.
Somewhere along the road, though, I went from getting comfortable on a bicycle to getting gratified.
Last week, on a trip to Yosemite, my husband suggested we rent bikes and check out the valley. While selecting a snappy pink rental bike, I listened as he asked the bike vendor for outing recommendations. The loop toward the Swinging Bridge would only take us an hour and a half. Ha! Biting my tongue to keep from laughing, I swung onto the wide white seat to check the height. I struggled on 10 minute excursions to the bank or local market. An hour and a half was unfathomable.
The boys clambered into a trailer hitched to the back of my husband's bike and we were off. A bike can take you places your feet cannot - and much quicker. We sped through the forest, passing camp grounds, nestling into secluded picnic spots and wading pools. Three hours later, we reluctantly returned the bikes as darkness loomed over the park.
Early the next morning, we returned and, this time, kept our bikes for over five hours. On our last vacation day, we opted for hiking instead of biking. Our walk took us past the bike path on a couple of occasions and I watched as another park visitor cycled by on "my" pink bike. My legs itched. I longed for the feel of lips chapped by wind, the sound the air makes as I pump through a narrow, tree lined road. I wanted back on that bike.
I'm not sure where we get the idea that "going green" will be painful; that living lighter means living less. Admittedly, most of the changes I've made in the past year I adopted for ecological reasons. I still do many of them, however, solely because they bring a color and a richness to my life.
Riding the train up to the City - as Bay waters stream by, reading a good green book - has ruined me for car rides. The shiny, clean rows of Target pale in comparison to the dark adventure of a thrift store.
My mother suggested shopping at Whole Foods instead of the farmers' market when I complained that I was strapped for time. I was aghast. I could never leave my friends at "the market". I would miss our talks as much as I would miss spring's first peas, the bulky melons of summer, fall's flagrant pomegranates and pumpkins and the trusty fortitude of potatoes in winter. Besides, Whole Foods' aisles are neither wind swept in fall, nor sun-baked in the summer. I crave the experience as much as the food.
I shouldn't be surprised, I guess, that bicycling morphed from an environmental task into a yearned-for hobby. I may not be an exerciser by nature but it feels good to get out of the car, to travel on my own power, to savor the wind and sun on my face.
This morning, I loaded the boys into our hastily purchased used bike trailer and headed for town. Pedaling over the big hill, my thighs burned and my heart pumped. We all laughed at the sensation of flying as we sailed down the other side. I started out living in accordance with my principles. Suddenly, I find I'm living for pleasure.