have issues with solo exercise. Need to do a quick run to the grocery store? No I will not. Beautiful weather, perfect for a bike ride? I simply won’t do it. I can’t just “pick up and go” despite how spontaneity is one of the major perks to both methods of transportation/recreation. Basically it’s because I’m totally chicken shit.
…Which is why I dared myself to cycle to a solo brunch on Saturday. I had just gotten my bike fixed (You’re welcome, Neighborhood. I’m sure you don’t miss my screeching brakes.), Bill was outta town (No holds barred on salt, sugar, fat!), and I overslept through yoga (Poorly timed insomnia is real.), but I needed to get out of the house lest I end up holing myself up all day long on an amazing, sunny day.
Pulling on my nondescript (and largely underutilized) workout clothes, I topped it all off with my gently loved bike helmet. I even planned ahead: cheap sunglasses I wouldn’t care about getting sweaty, super simple backpack to hold my U-lock and money, and generic cross-trainers that generally don’t see the light of day but for five times a year.
I mounted my bike – which is super comfortable and actually fun to ride compared to former bikes I’ve owned – pedaled down the driveway, coasted across the sidewalk, looked both ways, and checked the bike lane on the other side of the street, my destination given the direction I was headed.
In that lane, riding a bike of his own, was a homeless man weighed down by layers of warm clothing unsuited for the weather. He wore a green military-style jacket many sizes too large, no helmet, and baggy black jeans. He looked at me through his sunglasses, as if I had emerged from my driveway to join him in his ride.
And he made it clear that he wanted to make that the case.
“COME ON IN!” he yelled at me as I stalled at the sidewalk.
Pacing-wise, if I had crossed immediately to his lane, my intended lane, I would have collided with him, so I nervously jerked my handlebars to the left, and started off the wrong way in the closer lane.
I didn’t look at him again. He didn’t like that.
“WHY DON’T YOU COME INTO MY A-A-ARMS?” he sing-songed.
By now, knuckles clenched white and shoulders tensed, I was hyper-conscious of how little protection my nondescript workout clothes provided. I crossed the first intersection thinking I’d get over to the correct bike lane in this block.
He grew agitated.
“COME BACK HERE!” he yelled at me.
My neck felt particularly bare, vulnerable.
“GET BACK HERE! GET BACK!” he barked.
I continued another block in the wrong lane going the wrong direction, recalling an article Fish posted recently about the need for lady cyclists to know their own exit/escape plans, and how my first joking reaction was, “The only reason I wouldn’t need an exit/escape plan is because I never ride by myself.” But now, Look at me, I thought. And listen to that guy.
Not wanting to test if yelling “BACK OFF” would elicit more undesired interaction, I resolved that if the string of “GET BACK HERE” continued, I would ride straight to the bougie shopping center down the street. If I snaked through my area I would just get disoriented. If I returned home, he could follow me.
A couple blocks down, I saw a woman cyclist pedaling along confidently, in the other bike lane – the correct bike lane that I should have been following. It had been thirty seconds since I heard the last “COME BACK!” and I didn’t want to let this guy ruin my entire day, so without letting myself overthink it, I safely crossed the street (without looking too far back for fear of eye contact) and fell in a short distance behind her. Solidarity.
Still a couple more “GET BACKs.” I’m sure she could hear them, too. But, miraculously, by the time we reached a red light at a busy intersection, his shouts fell silent. I still didn’t have the guts to check behind me, but when she politely turned her head to give me a simple, sympathetic smile, I got the boost to continue with my plans.
I rode the rest of the way to brunch, following and lapping multiple non-insane bicyclists along the way, my confidence growing with every block. When I finally arrived at 900 Grayson, I felt like hugging someone simultaneously out of pride, and to let go of all my earlier trepidation. I thought that might make me look crazy, and there had already been enough of that eight minutes ago, so I decided against it. I walked my bike to the bike rack, weaving in between clumps of hungry, eager diners.
As I propped my bike against a rack, I looked to my right. A dog lying in the middle of a circle of her human friends looked straight up at me. She started wagging her tail. Forever a dog person ever in particular need of unconditional love, I smiled at her and mouthed, “Hi, Puppy!”
I was removing my backpack as she stood up, left her human circle, and walked right up to me to lick my hand. The humans she walked away from apparently were not her “friends,” and made no signals for her to return. I rubbed her ears, thinking how perfectly timed her therapy was. How did you know I was so scared today?
I unzipped my bag to get out my U-lock, and she nuzzled closer, giving a quick lick to my pants. Aww! (Also: Why did she lick my pants? Still don’t know.)
I crouched down to apply my lock. She licked my cheek.
A guy standing nearby observed, “Wow, she won’t give you a choice! ‘You will pet me!'”
“I know!” I responded. “She’s awesome.” I totally needed this.
When I tried to turn the key, she poked her head between my arms and kept licking my chin. She was the sweetest thing I needed right then. I gave her lots of head scratches, cooed “Good puppy!”/”You’re the best dog ever!”, and hugged her snugly around the neck. I ended up sitting in the window counter, and every time I looked up from my Demon Lover, she lifted her head and wagged her tail.
I headed home overgravied, and not shaken up.
So there you have it. Untended mental illness sucks. Impromptu therapy SuperMutts rule.
Not the first time.
This episode was the two-wheel version of my attempt at solo running before. I had just gotten that pair of generic training shoes, and the sun was shining. I walked down the driveway to start jogging on the sidewalk, but was stopped when a barefoot homeless woman trapped me in my driveway and started talking overattached gibberish.
“You’re a nice person,” she kept saying, but when I squeezed by and said “I have to go!,” she yelled at me, “Where are you going? Why are you leaving? Come back!”
I ran aimlessly toward anywhere-but-there and wandered back carefully minutes later.
I still haven’t gone on a run by myself to this day (which is fine since I haven’t found running enjoyable since high school).
Plus I can get away more quickly on a bike.