Natalia Goncharova. The Cyclist. 1913.
There was one thing that I discovered while on vacation in Italy, that I did not expect to discover, but was very pleased to discover, is that I can still ride a bicycle. I ride much more slowly than most other peddlers, but hey, I’m well-balanced, steady, and able to hang in and most importantly, keep going.
The last time I cycled on a regular basis was durning a particularly turbulent period in my youth, when I was filled teenage angst and doing my best to stave off an outright existential crisis. What did the staving? My Wal-Mart ten speed, with its rusted bell and hot pink handle bars. My neighborhood video store. And Madonna.
Every evening I mounted my bike and escaped from my house, peddling off as fast as I could with the VHS cassette of Desperately Seeking Susan or some other cult classic of the 1980s bouncing along in my backpack as I navigated my neighborhood’s endless rolling hills. I had never felt so free before.
One thing I will say about adapting to a mobility aid is that it does often leave one feeling a bit constrained. The world around us (ahem. especially the former Soviet world) is just not arranged in a way that allows aided mobilizers to sail through it with the greatest of ease. When you employ a mobility aid, you are its minder. It is after all an extra thing, and you constantly have to be aware of where it is in space, how you are wielding it around tight corners, in crowded cafes, up rickety stairs, in crowds, and in really tight, up-close and personal spaces (For example, the aisle of an airplane, which has more than once been the site, for me, of aided mobility folly, as I have watched my precariously balanced crutch tip over and crash into A.) someone’s lap or B.) the suitcase full of handblown glass (Seriously, yes, that happened–nothing broken, fortunately.) Aid minding (and its associated folly) does not leave one feeling carefree and unrestricted as one moves through the world. I really miss feeling unrestricted. I think this is why I enjoyed cycling in Italy so much. From its saddle, I could cover distances that would be difficult or impossible to walk smoothly and with no disruptions. Once again, unrestricted. (Although my (dreaded) folding cane was tucked away safely into my bike basket for use upon dismount.) And what’s better? A week of cycling did way more for the muscles that compensate for my failed hip abductors than that damn hula-hoop that I bought a couple of months back has done. What did I learn from this? When I leave Moscow I’m ditching the hula-hoop. When I arrive back home in the Mid-Western Megapolis, one of the first things I’m going to do is go out and buy myself a bicycle. With a basket. And a working bell. This also means I’m going to be in the market for a folding forearm crutch. Preferably one that will collapse to fit into a bike basket. I know SOMETHING has to exist, besides the QuickStep. All suggestions are most welcome.