When I was a kid, I had dreams of growing up to be a stereotype, which is why when I started teaching I also started riding my bike to campus, wearing a jacket with patches on the elbows, and carrying a messenger bag. Suffice to say, I’ve adopted the role of smug, artsy new educator. I’m even smug enough to call myself an “educator.” However, nobody warned me how difficult it would be to keep up the image. It’s not hard to carry the bag, and I think the jacket fools people into thinking I’m actually clever. No, the hard part is the biking.
I remember riding bikes with friends. No child has ever had anything important to do so I can gather that we did this for fun. We did it on purpose. The actions of children, including little me, are totally confusing. Now that I’m an adult and have gotten–a little–taller, I can’t begin to understand what possessed me or the kids in Stranger Things to slap a rear to way-too-narrow seat, and roll through the streets. Bikes are Flintstone cars with fewer wheels. I’ve been riding my bike a lot lately, and it has helped me come to terms with the inevitability of my corpse smeared along the bike lane for 10 blocks by a truck driven by someone who will register my death only after parking and noticing my goopy viscera plastered across their front bumper.
A friend of mine told me not to think of biking as an exercise because it’s so fun. It’s an interesting experience being confronted with absolute shoes-on-hands insanity from someone you once thought was relatively stable. Not an exercise? Excuse me, if riding 5 miles to work at 6 in the morning isn’t an exercise than I have been lying to myself, my students, and the fitness tracker on my phone–which I’ve already been disappointing, and frankly I don’t think it can take another betrayal. To me, anything uncomfortable that makes me sweat is an exercise. That means biking, running, conversations in hot rooms, and anxiety are all exercises, and nobody can take that away from me.
I have never been so respectful to the people around me as when I am on a bike in the road surrounded by hulking metal death wagons piloted by people I wouldn’t trust with a lit stove. A truck sped by me, two wheels well into the bike lane, I said thank you as the black cloud of muffler dust blasted my lungs and my emphysema will forever be a symbol for how grateful I am that they didn’t fuse me and my bike into a wet meat and metal modern art piece.
I feel about biking like a lot of people feel about hot pockets: they are necessary but will undoubtedly kill me. All of this fitness stuff is to get into a shape I find more pleasant, but why does it have to be at such great risk. My helmet has the side mirrors of a dozen different cars embedded in it, and I now have a healthy fear of trash bags on sidewalks. The only weight I’ve lost is likely from fear-sweating away every molecule of water that has ever entered my body.
Sometimes I wish my hate for my body wasn’t so strong. There is a race in my body between which can kill me first: unhealthy lifestyle or courting death in order to get healthy. I eagerly await the results and based on how much I’m sweating about it, the anxiety I’m feeling about both count as exercise.