Monday, May 5, 2008

The Pleasure Pain Principle

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.


Julia said...

I'm so glad that you've come to enjoy bicycling now! I grew up in South Texas - no one cycles anywhere, with the exception of Lance Armstrong, who cycled everywhere. Then I went off to The Most Wonderful City In The World (Portland, OR) for college, and gradually was seduced by the omnipresent bike culture there. I loved all the sensations you describe, and the feeling of camaraderie that cyclists in PDX share.

Now, after sojourns in two rather bicycle-unfriendly places (Boston, MA and France), I'm living in the UK. Were I in Oxford, this would be great - cycles outnumber people in that city, as far as I can tell. The town I live in, however, has bicycle lanes - intermittently - but few drivers seem to take much notice. Not many people choose to use their cycles to get around unless they are teenagers who are too young for even a moped, and most of them aren't very good about obeying simple traffic laws and staying off the sidewalks.

Still, I perservere. In fact, part of me likes it even better now, because although cycling is a lot more dangerous and harder work here, I'm a trend-setter (I hope). I've never been on the cutting edge before!

And I still love the idea of cycling. I talked my husband into a cycling trip in the Highlands of Scotland last summer. It was a bit rough - the Highlands are very, well, high (in that they are hilly) and it poured the entire time we were there. But still, despite the rain and the wind and the slog and the midges (when it stopped raining), the ability to hear the birds in the trees and the shaggy Highland cattle in the fields and the brooks rushing past... and being able to smell the fresh air while free-wheeling down Cairngorm... I would do it all again.

Joyce said...

As the weather has warmed up, I am seeing more and more bike commuters on the streets. We have about a dozen that pass me every morning as I do my crossing guard post, but this week several more have joined the regulars. Is there a change afoot? Are people realizing this is a workable solution to the pollution and gas prices? I hope so!

Heather said...

Yep. I second the it's-hard-to-bike-in-Texas. If you live right next to the University, you're ok. But if you're more than a mile out, it's nuts. And since no one expects bikers, no one knows how to drive around them. It's frustrating at times but I keep it up. Not only can I reach places that I couldn't on foot (and faster even than the bus), I think the more people are out there biking, the more drivers will HAVE to get used to us and the more infrastructure will become available. At least I hope so.

Enjoy your bike. I just love mine!

Green Bean said...

Julia: Perhaps all of us will find we are on the cutting edge for the first time. I hope. Your Highlands trip - I went once, by train not bike and it was beyond lovely - sounds divine.

Joyce: I too see many more bicyclists around town lately. Some are definitely doing it for the environment but I think many are being driven to it by high fuel prices. We freecycled my husband's high school bicycle and the guy who took it said he wanted it to deal with expensive gas. I'll bet some of these folks will be seduced by the sheer joy of bicycling. After that, it's tough to get back in a car.

Heather: Yes, the more of us there are, the more folks will look for us - and maybe we'll inspire a few other folks to get out there too!

Melinda said...

Hey there, stranger. I'm emerging from the moving world slowly but surely - have internet, next stop is setting up the desktop so that I can post!!

I've been feeling the pain for the last week, as we moved. And that pain was not so fierce as when we realized we needed to move. We wouldn't have uprooted our lives had we not been trying to live an ecologically sound lifestyle. Leaving our world and life behind has certainly brought on a fair amount of pain.

(LOL, not only emotional pain but the physical pain of carrying everything we own up 3 flights of stairs in our new apartment building!)

But all this pain is matched by the pleasure of walking to the market and then consuming our first 100% local breakfast (just two days after moving). And the pleasure of realizing that by moving we have reduced our consumption and CO2 output considerably. There is a great deal of pleasure in that alone.

Oooh there will be pain mixed with pleasure as I take out my (also shiny red bicycle) and climb the hills of Seattle....

CindyW said...

A few years ago, a friend of mine and his wife took a year off from their respective jobs and saw the country on their bikes. The trip single-handed changed their lives. They now have more fulfilling careers and brand new perspectives. While I don't think I am in the position of cycling around for a month let alone a year, I see the appeal of the simplicity - get on your bikes and go anywhere.

Instead of going on big trips, we just need to integrate cycling into our everyday lives. I do hope however we become a more bicycle friendly neighborhood, so more of us will be willing to hop on bikes to go downtown.

eco 'burban mom said...

Oh... I am embarrassed to say my bike has been hanging from the rafters in the garage since I moved in...6 years ago. Sigh. And, I once I tried pulling the bike cart for one of the kids about 9 years ago and just about died from exhaustion. I donated that cart pretty quickly after that. Maybe you got it? :o) Actually one of my neighbors took it and she loves it, so it went to a good home. But, you write so beautifully about biking, maybe I should hitch up the puppy to the handlebars and knock out two birds with one stone. Doggie walking and thigh trimming!! Yeesh, bathing suit season...

Ellen said...

Well, that was inspiring! I too have a bike (not nearly as cute) but it's so hilly here that I seldom use it. It's literally impossible for me to get up the hill to my house, esp with my 2yo on the baby seat or my 4 yo on the tag a long. Still, summer looms and maybe I can work up to it. Biking is a blast. I'll get to it!!!

Raw Food Diva said... are having so much fun on your vacation...i am jealous (sorta).

pink dogwood said...

I need to learn how to ride a bike - your post makes me think that I am missing out on a whole lot - a whole new way of getting around :)

great post

arduous said...

Beautiful post, GB. It's true. There's a lot of stuff about how living green is about sacrifice. And it's true. I am SUCH a martyr. Like you, because I am SACRIFICING ALL for the earth, I spend time OUTSIDE in the stupid sunshine. Terrible, no? And then sometimes I have to eat DELICIOUS fruit. I know, I know, you are scared. I was too. But it's okay. For the environment, I'll do it. Cue up the tiny violins for our lives, GB. How anyone can stand to live like us, I don't really know.

Green Bean said...

Melinda: I've missed you! There will be some pain climbing those hills on your red bike . . . but eventually some pleasure. I am happy that you guys have found a place that sounds like it will work for you. Sounds like there will be pleasure a'plenty in your new life.

Cindy: You are so right. We don't need to change our lives completely - not many of us can or want to do that. But if we start adding little things that slow us down - like the farmers' market or cycling - I think we'll all find ourselves in a very different place.

Eco Burbs: Yeah, you could totally "walk" the dog that way. Honestly, don't be misled that I am some expert biker. When I first got on my new bike, my husband kept asking if it is was really difficult to maneover because I looked so awkward and uncomfortable. I've smoothed out a bit, though. Do you think it will help with bathing suit season? One can only hope.

Ellen: I'm fortunate to live in a non-hilly area. We moved here from the hills 4 years ago so I feel your pain. Perhaps you'll find somewhere that you can bike that works for you.

RFW: Thanks . . . sorta ;-)

Dogwood: It has opened up a whole new world. Today, I can't do the bike thing and honestly I'm missing it. Driving in the car this morning - it was so dull, lifeless. No sun on my face, wind in my hair. I couldn't hear the birds. Bleh!

Arduous: Aren't we amazing. We should both give ourselves pats on the back. This sacrificing for the environment thing is tough but thank God some of us are women enough to do it. Still, I'm not sure how much longer I can last. I mean, the farmers' market this morning was terrible. I had to talk to my friend, eat fresh peas and, oh my God, there were the first cherries and peaches of the season that I was literally forced to buy. I certainly hope I don't have to eat those! Then I give give give by hanging my laundry up in the sun, with wind tugging it gently and the nest full of baby black squirrels in my tree overlooking the clothesline. I'm thinking we should be canonized soon! Hang in there. It's got to get easier at some point. ;-)

ruralaspirations said...

What a lovely post. Reminded me a bike excursion we took as a family last year in Whistler, BC. I've been thinking about biking again lately...I loved your description of why you do the things you do. I take transit, which involves a short ferry crossing, and I enjoy the scenery as much as my Green Books!

kale for sale said...

You got me with the wind swept and sun baked aisles at the markets. The farmers' markets are such great markers for the changes of the seasons and I didn't even realize I was missing the subtle changes until I got them back. The bike thing - ummm - I've got air in the tires and suppose I have to hit the streets now. If you're in town watch out!

Green Bean said...

RI: It doesn't have to be a bike. The ferry crossing will do . . . and sounds like it does nicely. Our alternative, slower lives are so much richer, more wonderful.

Kale: I'll keep an eye out! ;-) Of course, you should have seen me a couple months ago. Beyond scary! The farmers' market . . . one of the most beautiful things some one trying to live lighter can do. You will never regret an afternoon spent there.

fearlesschef said...

My husband and I bought bicycles a few weeks ago in the interest of getting him outside in the fresh air and for me to get some more exercise. We ride for about an hour everytime we go out and each time I see soemthing new. In the space of 20 miles, there are horses, new rock gardens, bonfires with marshmallows and new people to meet. We ride on the bike trail that runs through 4 towns and it is the most glorious time (except that my rear hurts everytime we get back) that we have together. Our route takes us past a few hobby farms, along a beautiful stream, past a greenhouse and the grower who also has raspberries in the summer.

Now my husband is talking about cycling to work on a daily basis with the guys. Apparently, they are all getting in on our "low-impact" desires. :D We have no delusions of becoming competetors for the Tour de France, just a simple pleasure that gets us outside and keeps us healthy!


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