Rogue Element #118: Damn it feels good to be a biker.
By Avril Brown
I’d almost forgotten how amazing it feels to ride a bike. Due to this freakishly long and uncomfortable winter, it has been many moons since I’ve plopped my ass down on a bike seat and propelled myself from point A to point B using only the power of my body and simple engineering. Truth be told, I could’ve ridden in the recent forty to fifty degree weather we’ve been having the last few weeks, but quite frankly I’ve gotten a bit lazy…and addicted to playing Candy Crush and reading comics on my morning CTA commute.
Now the well of excuses has run dry and I am back in the game, feeling the wind in my face and the aching bruise on my pelvic box as I break it back in. I can take the lakefront and revel in the beauty of my city, the sunlight sparkling off the waters of Lake Michigan, or if I’m in a hurry I can take the city streets, constantly alert for the multitude of dangers lurking on every square inch of asphalt. Brushing sweaty elbows with death for a solid twenty minutes is more jarring than a gallon of espresso.
Unfortunately, I am not exaggerating. Just stepping out of your door there are a dozen different ways to die before you get to work, but if you jump on a bike and brave the streets, you best multiply that number by ten. There are the CTA bus drivers whom are either extremely conscientious of the bike lane they must constantly cross in order to do their jobs, or they are blatantly attempting to outrun bikers just to cut them off at a bus stop. Regular drivers are also a factor, particularly those with a huge chip on their shoulder when it comes to bikers. Either they are not paying attention or they have piss-poor peripheral vision. Let’s not forget the reckless bikers who give good bikers a bad name. I’ll admit, I’ve ran a red light/stop sign here and there, but only when I’ve slowed and double checked there is no oncoming traffic. I have seen dumbasses just roll through the Belmont/Clark intersection like they have a right to be there, despite the obvious red light.
Then there is dooring. For those not hip to the lingo, dooring is when someone in a parked car neglects to check their mirrors and opens their door into a biker. Spoiler alert: this is very dangerous. Best case scenario: biker misses door, has a mini heart attack and gets really pissed off. Worst case: biker dies. I had my first dooring last spring and thankfully emerged relatively unscathed. I had enough time to register the fact there was now a door in my rapid bike path and managed to turn my bike just enough to catch it on my right side rather than ride headlong into the steel door. All told I had a bruised knuckle on my right hand, one hell of a bloomer on my right arm and an even prettier one on my left hip where I’m pretty sure I bruised the bone, most of the skin flayed off my left elbow, a swollen left knee and a pattern of bruises up and down my right leg. I was pretty damn lucky. My luck extended to being doored by an actually decent human being, one who was not only apologetic, but also offered to drive me to the ER if need be and pay for the damages to my ride.
There are people every day who are seriously injured and/or receive no such courteous attention, but they soldier on. Bloodied, battered and bruised, but still alive…and a little bit badass. Let’s face it: people love a scrappy survivor. The one who emerges from the battleground suffering from gaping wounds, yet still rallies and takes down the bad guy. A true ‘good vs. evil’ story isn’t the same if the hero remains completely unscathed; the whole point is that war is hard, painful and scary, but one can persevere, and win.
In the ‘Codex Alera’ series by ‘Dresden Files’ author Jim Butcher, a small battalion of soldiers find themselves facing off against a horde of Canim, rather large, vicious and battle-hardened wolf-like beasts. Though the Alerans themselves are no pushovers with their elemental powers and training, the Canim warriors have strength, experience and numbers, making this a dire situation for the Alerans. However, their captain Tavi has a few tricks up his sleeve, one of which being he knows the Canim culture and how to exploit the weakness amongst the ranks. He rides out to face their leader, makes him look like an ass, gets attacked but gives a lot back which includes smacking Sarl, the religious leader, on the muzzle with his standard before escaping. When his advisor offers to at least replace the pole, Tavi refuses, saying Sarl’s blood is on the original, which will do. “Bloodied, dirty and unbroken,” Magnus says. “Just like us,” Tavi agreed. I’ve read it a million times and that scene still makes me cheer.
I know I’ve talked about this scene in ‘Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring’ several times before, and that is because it is awesome. In the final climatic battle sequence Frodo has decided to leave the Fellowship due to the corrupting power of the one Ring, and Aragorn tries to buy him some time by taking on the entire oncoming army of Orcs. If that wasn’t hot enough, we’ve got Boromir trying to regain his honor by charging forth and protecting the remaining Hobbits. Alas, he is pierced by big ass arrows from the Uruk-hai leader, not once, not twice, but three times. He kept fighting after the first two, a surge of strength and anger bursting forth to fell his enemies. Thankfully Aragorn arrives before the Uruk-hai can plant a final arrow into Boromir’s skull, and the Ranger from the North, the Leader of Men, shows the overly muscled, growly hybrid that it takes more than strength to fell a worthy foe. Aragorn takes some hard knocks from the beast, but he easily bested him in combat, lobbing off the Uruk-hai’s head directly after he tried to be all ‘I’m so impervious to pain I’m just gonna pull this sword even further into my belly.’ Aragorn showed him.
‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ is oozing with great smack down scenes; Buffy almost always gets a least a little bloodied during her encounters with the undead and various other demons. Occasionally, she dies, but even that’s not enough to keep this Slayer down. In Season Seven she faces off against an ancient, primal vampire who promptly wipes the floor with her, leaving our heroine in a world of hurt. She knows she’s losing the faith and trust of the young Slayer wannabes that are currently squatting in her home, so she deliberately baits this Uber-vamp and takes him out in front of the entire class. Oh she gets beat up quite thoroughly, but in the end it’s Buffy with a garrote for the beheading win. “Here endeth the lesson,” she tells the gobsmacked gals and walks away, with blood on her face and dust on her hands. You go, girl.
While I was lying there dazed and confused in the middle of Franklin Street, there were many things that crossed my mind. Am I alive? Is anything broken? Is my bike ok? Did I break my helmet? Never ONCE did it occur to me to quit biking. Yeah, I was scared. I was hurt, I knew I came within inches of being dangerously injured, but it never occurred to me to give up biking. I thought I might have to CTA my commute for a bit to heal and get my ride in order, but I knew I was getting back on the bike. Riding on the streets was a bit more nerve-wracking after that, but I took that lesson and learned from it. I take the lakefront as often as possible. I seek out routes that have buffered bikes lanes. I’m constantly on the alert, scanning drivers seats for any sign someone is not as aware of me as I am of them. When I first started driving my mother told me: “Drive defensively. Always assume the other person is not paying as much attention as you.” Sound advice, plus some for biking.
It is not the scars you receive that matter (though chicks dig scars), it is how you bounce back from them. Never let a bad experience spoil you from eating the entire barrel of apples. Sometimes you just have to pick yourself up, brush that shoulder off and show the world that you are, in fact, unbreakable.