July 3, 2014

The uneventful miles

"You could totally bike that."

A coworker, whom I've never met, posted those words to me on a discussion forum 2 months ago. I work in downtown Minneapolis and live in an outer suburb, separated by 25 miles of busy freeways.

I am the highly suggestible type, and positive reinforcement works very well on me. That's why, today, I had a 2-hour, zero-emission, 1400-calorie-burning commute home.

After my coworker's bold assertion, I sent away for a map (a paper one!) of the awe-inspiring Hennepin County trail system. With the exception of a few blocks of city streets and a short jaunt near my house, I could make the entire trip on designated bike trails, safe from cars.

The logistical questions popped up like little puzzles begging to be solved: How would I avoid sweat and helmet hair at work? Take the bus to the office and bike home. How would I carry my things? Wear a backpack. How would the timing work? Leave the office early, on a day when Sam's working from home and can pick up the kids. What will I do if I get lost or hurt? Use my phone to navigate or call for help.

Last night, I could barely sleep. What if I couldn't figure out how to attach the bike to the rack on the bus? What if my bike got stolen while I was at work? What if I couldn't find the trail leaving downtown? What if I got hit by a car?

The bus rack was complicated, but the driver helped me. I couldn't find the trail, but a nice old man gave me Minnesota-style directions: "Keep going until you see a brick building that's kind of white, then turn. If you see Lee's Liquor, you're going the right way, but it's not by Lee's, it's the other way. If you get to a bridge, you've gone too far."

Once I was on the trail, and downtown was safely behind me, I fell in love with my adventure.

This was the best idea ever.

The Cedar Lake Trail is a smooth, paved mini-road with no cars allowed. It weaves through fields of wildflowers and native prairie grasses. I stopped for a moment to take these pictures, and I found wild blackberries.

It passes under bridges and through tunnels that feel old and magical.

Because the trail follows old train tracks, it's very gentle and flat. Trains can't handle a steep grade, which works out well, because neither can my legs.

The trail runs alongside and underneath major highways and roads. In this wild, quiet place, I was moving in parallel to the stressed-out commuters in their cars, the weary businesspeople falling asleep on their buses. I pictured my regular weekday self, reading a novel or playing Candy Crush while this whole world rushes past me out the window.

I had no idea this was even here.

Along the way, my bike ride began to teach me things about myself and my life.

My brain likes to jump ahead to the next point of uncertainty. After I found the trail, I immediately began thinking about whether I could find the next trail - which wasn't for 10 more miles.

Stop, I told myself. I needed to give myself permission to enjoy those 10 uneventful miles, to look around, to listen, to feel the wind, to smell the freshly cut grass, to notice the parks and forests and lakes and neighborhoods until suddenly, right in front of me, was the Depot.

This cute little coffee shop, and former rail depot, lies at the intersection of 4 bike trails. They are accustomed to sweaty, helmet-headed customers. It was also the halfway point in my journey, and I happily hopped off my bike and enjoyed a caffeinated treat.

There were still things to worry about in the second leg of my journey: A confusing detour. My phone giving its "low battery" warning. Cars, of course.

With each mile, I felt stronger. I was probably going to make it. If I didn't, I would ask for help. It was very likely to be OK. The trees over the Lake Minnetonka Trail reminded me of the vaulted ceiling of a cathedral. I found another of those straight, long stretches of uneventful miles in which I had to focus my thoughts on moving forward, observing the world, and allowing myself permission to fully be in it.

Sooner than I expected, I reached the lake, where the ducks and geese and lily pads and yachts live.

I was sweaty and tired and sore when I made it home, and completely alive. Surprisingly, so was my phone. 

I am already thinking about my next bike commute. Now that I know the way, now that I know how to attach my bike to the bus, and now that I know I'm physically capable of riding the whole way without collapsing of exhaustion - I'll be able to enjoy the next trip even more.

I don't regret the worry that I put into today's adventure; it was probably smart of me to plan ahead, study the map, pack the right things, and have an exit strategy. But the act of riding reminded that it's not just the busy intersections and the crisis moments that matter, and I can't spend all of my energy there. The uneventful miles matter, too - and if I let myself forget that, I just might miss them.

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