Tag Archives: biking

Hey look, Canadians!

This morning I was riding my bike to work. I was all hopped up on some weird kind of euphoric energy. It was a mix of a couple of things, coffee, mostly. I always have three cups, and while they always feel great, they don’t always hit me this great, like great, great. Who knows, maybe it depends on how much food I have in my stomach, I have no idea. But I was feeling amazing, like I could do anything.

And so I was riding my bike, it’s below freezing out but I wasn’t bothered. It felt terrific, totally invigorating. Not only was my mood fantastic, but my body also, I imagined it an extension of my ultra-positive state of mind. Sometimes I’ll be riding my bike in the cold and it won’t feel great at all, my body won’t feel totally up to the task, like the morning commute might be a little bit more of a chore than I’d like it to be. But this morning it was a pleasure, a real treat.

I was pedaling away, the bike at its top gear, my legs pumping away, only feeling limited by the gears of the bike itself. I’m pretty sure I had enough energy to bike across the country if I wanted to. As I was flying down Crescent toward the Queensboro Bridge, I saw these people in front of a hotel, they were packing their bags into their car.

As I got closer to the car I see it’s a Quebec license plate. And I was just feeling so happy, so thrilled to be alive, and look, Canadians! And I wanted to share some of my positive energy with the Canadians, but I was going so fast, and so my intentions were hampered by the fact I didn’t really have enough time to, one, register their presence as being a foreign one and, two, think up something nice and clever or happy or funny or whatever to say to them.

So I wound up just screaming out, “Quebec!” and giving them a thumbs-up. But, and I know I keep repeating my words here, but I really was flying, like much faster than traffic. Obviously a car can go faster than a bike. But speed bumps? Traffic lights? I was definitely cruising down Crescent much quicker than any car. So quick that I didn’t even get to look at the Canadians as I shouted out to them their car’s point of origin.

And at that point I said to myself, “All right Rob, better calm it down a notch,” because, seriously, this was almost a good mood bordering on a manic episode. I wanted to make sense of what was going on, with my ebullience (that’s a pretty big word right there, but I’m demonstrating how elevated my mood was, like big-word elevated) with the Canadians. I stopped for a second and hopped off my bike, took out my iPhone and wrote “Quebec” in the little notepad application.

So now here I am, it’s after work, the sun’s down, I’m trying to get some writing done, and I open up the notepad app, and see “Quebec.” And now I’m struggling to put myself back in those happy shoes I was wearing this morning. I’m not in a bad mood, not at all. But I definitely wouldn’t describe myself as euphoric, or ebullient.

And I’m thinking about it from the Canadians’ point of view. How was their morning? Did their bodies respond to their morning coffee in the same way that mine had? Maybe they drank too much, it left them a little jittery. Or maybe not enough and they had a killer tension headache. That always happens to me when I’m away from home. I don’t have my kitchen, my coffee pot, my routine, and so I’m always feeling under caffeinated on the road.

And they were packing up, so, what, New York vacation over? Already? But it must have felt like they just got here, like there was still so much that they didn’t get to see. And did it live up to their expectations? Were they trying a little too hard to tell themselves that they really had a good time?

Getting ready for that long drive back to Quebec. Packing everything away in the car. And then this cyclist flies by and screams, “Quebec!” but he says it like a non-Quebecer, like “Kwa-beck!” instead of the “Keh-bec” that, now that he’s writing it all out, much later in the day, he always imagines Quebecers to say it like that, the second way. And maybe that was it, they were like, “all right, let’s hit the road, we’ve got a long drive, we’ve got to get to a gas station so we can get some gas and some coffee and let’s head back to Canada.”

I don’t know. I hope they had a nice trip. I hope the coffee hit them just right. I hope they got to feel during their stay here as good as I felt this morning, even for just a moment, that joy I got to feel just for my own fleeting moment.

I stopped short on my bike and hit myself in the balls

Last night I was riding my bike home from work. It’s the best way to end a workday. There’s a letting off of steam, an unkinking of the lower back. At night it’s even better. There are hardly any cars on the road, you know, in comparison to the daytime at least. There are all but no other cyclists, so I’ve got the Queensboro Bridge entirely to myself. At night I can ride home via 21st Street, a much more efficient route to my house, but one that’s all but choked in traffic during the day,.

I love it because the first part of my trip is all uphill. I climb up First Avenue. I climb up the first half of the bridge. But once I peak, once I reach that crest, I’m good. I can just coast all the way down. It’s like pure joy, just riding and enjoying the acceleration without having to really work for it. I get off the bridge last night and I’m flying, I’ve got tons of speed and momentum, and I’m about to cross a side street, one that I cross every night at this hour without ever coming across a car.

But this time it’s a bus. And it’s coming at me full speed. I hit the brakes hard. The bus driver sees me and he hits his brakes hard also. Whenever you’re going this fast and you have to make this abrupt a stop, and it’s happened to me a couple of times already, you’re going to wind up falling off the bike.

It’s just a matter of how you’re going to fall off the bike. It’s usually over the handlebars, that’s just physics I think. I’ve flown off and landed hands first, palms outstretched. One time I swear I did I flip in the air and miraculously landed on my feet. But it’s a learning experience, every short stop, every time an opportunity to try something different, to try to avert the pain.

This time as I clutched the brakes I kind of stretched my legs out front, hoping that I’d be able to contribute to the braking with my heels. And it actually kind of worked. This was the only time I wasn’t forcibly ejected from the bike. But off the bike I eventually went, because as I braked, and as I tried to keep my feet on the floor, my body got ahead of my grip on the bike, and the next thing I know, my groin made forceful contact with that pointy part of my handlebars, that spot where the post comes out of the frame but then juts forward before splitting off in both directions outward.

I guess here’s where it’s going to get graphic, but only because the damage I sustained was solely limited to that one region. I can’t even write it without feeling like I’m being obscene. I guess it’s my Catholic upbringing. But it’s what happened. I got kicked in the nuts. Smashed at high speed, my body on one side, my bike on the other, and my poor, sweet balls unfortunately wedged right in the middle.

And I know that, statistically speaking, half of my readers are going to know exactly what I’m talking about here. Every guy gets hit in the nuts at least once or twice in his life. It’s a very unique sensation. And I only know this from my own prior experiences, but when I made contact with my bike, while the pain was excruciating, I knew that it was but a precursor, nothing compared to what would come next.

One time in grade school I was playing football and I missed the catch with my hands, instead taking the pass directly to my crotch. It had to be my first true experience with just how real things can get down there. The initial shock is enough to make you cry out in agony. But then that pain starts to grow. It magnifies in amplitude. And just when you think it can’t get any worse, it starts to spread upward, to your pelvis, to your lower intestines. The next thing you know you’re lying in the fetal position, desperately clenching every muscle in your body, nothing relieving so much as an ounce of the exponentially growing torture from inside.

And that’s what it was like for me, last night. I had the initial pain, and I thought, shit, I better get home before this gets bad. I pedaled, harder, faster, it was no use. I had to get off the bike. I had to get in the fetal position. It must not have been that far, because as I’m lying on the sidewalk, on 21st Street, at somewhere around midnight on Wednesday, I see somebody approach me. It’s the bus driver. He’s looking at me really worried, even though he didn’t come even close to hitting me. Not really. It could have been close, but we were good. And he’s just staring at me, apologizing, and I wanted to be like, hey, it wasn’t your fault, it was my fault, this is what I get for reckless biking.

But I couldn’t even get out the words. I was in too much pain. And I started panicking, thinking that he might be thinking that my lack of a response would be some reason to call an ambulance. So I struggle to my feet, get on my bike and ride home, slowly, really slowly, each pedal another turn of the screw, right in the nuts, my poor, precious nuts.

It still hurts. And again, maybe the women out there will think it an exaggeration, and yeah, I’m sure childbirth is its own type of horror, a pain exclusive to women, something to which I can never offer a comparison, but guys, you guys know. Getting hit in the balls, that really fucking sucks. And the pain, it lingers for days, weeks even. I can’t believe we’re not all required to wear protective cups, please, help to spare us from the potential nightmare that is getting struck down there. Ouch. And it always happens. Years later. Decades later. You’ll forget all about how bad it might hurt, when you get hit in just the right way. And then you do, you always do, you know exactly what you’re in for. It’s not pleasant. It really, really sucks.

Why so aggressive?

Sometimes you just have to fight that feeling that sprouts up inside, that emotional response to an external stimuli, something that completely hijacks your consciousness, that focuses and redirects all of your energy and awareness into something primal, something base, something outside of who you are and who you want to be.

The other day I was riding my bike home from work. I was heading east in between Third and Second Avenue. The light ahead was red and there were maybe three or four cars lined up at the stop. I’m pedaling along and all of the sudden this car behind me honks the horn. It’s a loud and sustained honk. By the intensity of the sound, by the way my body reacted, how the hairs on my body all stood up, how I felt my heart skip a beat, I could tell the car was directly behind me, way too close for a car to be trailing a bike.

And I was in a bike lane. There are tons of bike lanes in New York. Not every street has a clearly marked bike lane, but this one did, and it’s one of the reasons I take this particular route every single day. So I’m minding my own, riding up to a red light, in the bike lane, and out of nowhere this car come right on my tail and honks the horn and holds it.

My body immediately goes into red alert. I’m not a road rage kind of guy, but I’m instantly scared, but only for a second, because as soon as that instant passes and I realize that I’m not in any immediate danger, the fear is gone but the adrenaline remains, and the overall state of being that I’m left with is anger, rage, something that wasn’t there just thirty seconds before.

So I turn around, it’s a taxi, and he’s really close, way too close to me, but close enough that, as I instantly turn around to him, as I show him my middle finger, even though his windows are closed, I know that we’re close enough that he can hear me as I look the driver right in the eye and shout, “Fuck you asshole!” And as I say it, I’m sort of caught off guard by my own reaction, by the force behind the words, behind the volume in the words. My heart’s pounding, my lungs are taking in all sorts of deep breaths, preparing my muscles and blood for whatever’s going to come next.

All I need is a second to cool off here, to assess the situation. Unfortunately, I don’t get a second to think, because no sooner do I curse this guy out that he decides to show me who’s in charge on this road. He swerves further into the bike lane and accelerates, as if he’s going to plow into me. The reasonable part of my brain would have told me to run, to get out of there, but everything happened in like a minute, so there is no reasonable part, I’m just a reaction, pure animal. I stick out my leg as if to say, if you come and try to run me down, I’m at least going to kick your cab as hard as I can. Somehow that works and he slows down.

But we’re still going to the same place, right behind that line of cars waiting at a red light. We pull up behind traffic and we’re side to side. This has been a pretty aggressive minute already, and neither one of us is ready to let go of the moment. He pulls his window down to say something, but I don’t let him get a word in. “Go ahead asshole!” I shout to him, “Let’s race! Go ahead and race me to that red light!” And he makes a face at me, a real snarl.

And part of me was overcome with the urge to make a huge fist and pound down on this guy’s side mirror. Maybe I could have taken it off right there and then riden away. And I really, really considered it, if only for a second, but it was a whole second where I was thinking to myself, just do it Rob, just smash the shit out of this asshole’s car with your bare hands.

But I didn’t even get that second to really consider anything. Because as soon as he opened his window, I opened my mouth. As soon as I started talking, he opened his door and got out of the car and stood up right next to me. And that’s what jolted me out of the moment. That’s when the better part of my judgment kicked in, and I started pedaling, fast.

What the hell just happened? That was a situation that escalated fast, real fast, faster than any situation I’ve been involved in a long time. Was that guy ready to fight me? Was he going to beat me up? And what about me, was I equally ready to engage? I got a good distance ahead, turned around, saw that guy just standing by his open driver’s side door, and, still juiced up on emotion, I screamed back at him, “You’re a real asshole! A real stupid asshole!” The light turned green and I pushed myself out of there, past that street, past Second Avenue, past First, all the way to the Queensboro Bridge.

And as I pedaled up and over the bridge, I had time to think, about what happened, about how I reacted. What the hell was that? Where did that come from? I was shaken. I played over and over again in my mind what had happened, what could have happened if things had played out differently, if that guy hadn’t stopped when I kicked out my leg, if I hadn’t stopped myself when I got that urge to slam down on his mirror. So many alternate possibilities. So many different opportunities for one or both of us to get hurt, for police to have to get involved. So much unnecessary aggression and violence. Just two guys getting in each other’s faces at just that right moment where we both sent each other into instant equal but opposing rages.

I always think to myself, stay in the moment. It’s cliché advice, but it usually puts my life into perspective. In this case however, I was stuck in the moment, locked in some weird byproduct of evolution, my animal nature. Why get so angry? Why the sudden impulse towards violence? I’m reminded that it’s in all of us, that we all come from a crazy, violent world.

And I did get out. The whole thing is burned in my memory, but in reality the event only occupied no more than two minutes of actual time. I got heated, I got pissed, but I got out of it, I snapped out of it. I knew that this wasn’t a battle worth choosing. And so, yeah, I’m not exactly proud of how things went down, but I definitely learned something, about impulse, about emotion, about being reminded that you never know when reality is going to turn sour, when instinct is going to hijack the reasonable part of your brain. But it happened, and it was nuts, man, it was just fucking nuts.

Look, I don’t want to race you, it’s just … GO!

What is it, that feeling you get when you’re stopped at a red light, and another car pulls up next to you, and you’re both waiting for the light to turn green, and when it turns green that feeling escapes, overcomes your better judgment, and you peel out and try to stay ahead of that other car? Sure, not everybody does that. It’s really not safe. I don’t do it. Well, I don’t try to do it. Every once in a while that feeling comes out of nowhere, it’s overwhelming, and it’s really stupid. What compels us to naturally want to compete with each other, with complete strangers, over something so stupid?

I ride my bike to work everyday. This feeling is much worse on a bike because, unlike in a car, you really don’t have any reason to keep yourself in check. It’s not like you’re going to kill anybody by riding as fast as you can. I know you still could, but it’s way less likely. I’ll be riding over the bridge and I might be coming up on somebody. On a bike it’s not like you’re just going to fly past another rider. If you’re going only slightly faster, you’ll just kind of gradually creep up on and then overtake them.

But the thing is, as soon as the biker up front notices that I’m right behind, he or she will always start pedaling harder. And it’s like, what is this, a race? So I start pedaling harder also. And now it really is a race. Both of us giving as much as we’ve got. But the bridge is only so long, and so even if you win, what do you do when you and your competition both come cruising to the end? You’re eye to eye now, do you say something? If you lose, do you say congratulations to the victor?

It’s all very silly. But when you’re in the moment, it doesn’t matter if you know that it’s silly. All that’s important is getting there first. One time I went running, and I was crossing the same bridge. It’s like a mile across. And I was just kind of zoning out, timing my strides with my breath, when all of the sudden this other runner comes out of nowhere and runs ahead of me. So now I’m thinking, OK, I can either let it go, go back to concentrating on the rhythms of my lungs, and just maintain the pace that I was maintaining all along.

Or, I could up my speed and take back my lead. The only problem with that is, once I make that much of an effort to get back in front, I’m the one officially making it a race. Before, it was just two people running their own separate runs at their own individual paces. But this, no, I’m doing my own pace, seeing his pace, and then deciding to match it. One, I had better be sure that I can keep this new elevated pace for the duration of the bridge. Nothing would be worse than sprinting ahead only to have to slow down thirty seconds later, out of breath, clearly trying too hard to be a big shot, with that other guy effortlessly taking back his number one spot. And two, I also have to realize that, after I move up front, if this guy makes another run to overtake me, I absolutely have to up my speed again, a second time, and keep upping it, until one of us gets to the other side first. So I made that choice and ran ahead. And I didn’t look back. And by the time I got to the other side, out of breath, giving it much more than I thought I had, I turned around, imagining this guy on my heels the entire length of the bridge. But he wasn’t anywhere near me. He must have just maintained his own speed, like it wasn’t a race at all, like it was just me acting crazy and engaging in a competition with nobody.

But that’s not always the case. One time I was in the reverse situation, where I came running up to the bridge and I was in my head, again, concentrating on my pace, and I wasn’t looking around at anybody else, but I started to come up on another runner, and as soon as I passed him, he made it obvious that he wouldn’t take that lying down. So he started sprinting, and I had no time to think, to talk myself out of engaging in another race with another stranger. All I knew what that I would not let this guy get back up front.

This was the uphill part of the bridge, and we wound up, the both of us, sprinting as fast as we could. It was like the four hundred meter dash, but for idiots. When you’re in a footrace, it’s not really running anymore. It’s something else. There’s a primal feeling in the pit of your stomach, a discomfort, a palpable fear that you’re going to lose. It must be some sort of built-in survival instinct. And I had to really dig down for energy, to go a little faster, to stay up front. And I did it. But then I was so far ahead that I kind of just got back in my head again. And I ran all the way until the bridge started going downhill. Everybody knows downhill is a joke, so I was just kind of taking it easy. I had assumed that the race was over once the uphill climb ended. And this guy wasn’t on my heels anymore so it wasn’t a big deal. But then like halfway down, all of the sudden he comes up from behind, flying, sprinting, to the point where even if I tried to match it, he was already way too far ahead, he caught me by surprise, and he got to the end first.

And I was just thinking, who really won? Was it a race to the top or a race to the bottom? Because I totally stopped racing once I got to the top. But only because I thought that I had already won. It’s so stupid. Because we were totally in a race and now he was ahead and it bothered me. Because we were just two random people deciding to engage in a stupid competition. Why does everything have to be a competition? Every once in a while I’ll be riding my bike to work and I’ll get in the same exact type of race. But it’s always lose-lose, because if I lose, well, then I feel weak, like a loser. But if I win, it’s obviously because I was trying way too hard, and I’m on my way to work, so I’m not dressed up in exercise clothes, so when I do finally get there, I’m all sweaty and gross and I have to deal with the discomfort of damp underwear for the entirety of the day.