A New Cycle
The air inside the bus tasted stale. I wrinkled my nose and turned my head, hoping to distract myself with the scene outside.
Grey roads, grey buildings, grey suits, grey clouds rolled past the window; my eyes lost focus, and the whole, dull picture became one damp blur. Even the expressions on the other passengers’ faces were grey.
I closed my eyes, a tight fist clenching and unclenching in my stomach as I tried to ignore the question pushing towards the front of my brain.
Is this really it?
I looked around again, this time for something I could use to defend myself with; something to justify my increasingly drab existence. A wall of blank faces gazed through me – zombies in the land of the living, all of us trapped on a road without a visible exit.
My eyes flicked back to the window, searching for something more, as I tried to shake off the growing anxiety in my gut. A light shower sent droplets slicing down the pane. A neon shape darted across my vision – a shooting star made of Lycra and wearing a bicycle helmet.
My heart rate responded enthusiastically. I pressed my cheek to the glass, peered down the street, and watched the spark of color with spinning wheels fly through the monochrome rain. It disappeared, swallowed by the city’s dark ocean, but my eyes held its bright reflection as they mirrored the idea that was turning in my mind.
Twenty steps from the bus stop and I stood outside my front door, key poised, ready to play out the same daily routine.
Something on the side of the house caught my eye, though. Instead of allowing my inner autopilot to direct me through the paces, I dropped my arm, turned around, walked over, and pulled back a crinkled tarp, despite the drizzle leaking from the sky.
Underneath, I found my old bike. The last time I’d used it was a faint memory, but it appeared to still be in good condition, with its light blue frame winking at me as I stared hungrily at my ticket out of this mundane cycle.
I dropped the tarp as my flat mate’s voice reminded me of the rain.
“What’re you doing out here? Come inside!”
“Just got distracted,” I laughed, hurrying into the house. My body and mind began to burn with adrenaline as ideas and plans formed in my head. I received a quizzical look as I shook the water from my jacket.
“You seem different. Where’s all this energy coming from?”
I grinned, the answer bubbling up inside of me, but I didn’t want to throw it into the world before it had fully developed.
Instead, I shrugged and replied, “Friday, I guess,” before ducking into my room to begin unfolding my plans.
The rain was coming down harder outside, making the room unusually dark. I turned on an extra lamp, lighting the walls with a deep yellow glow. I set my bag down and started rummaging through desk drawers, pulling out a wad of lined paper and a couple of pens. My map book was under a stack of unread novels and opened envelopes, and joined the pen and papers on my bed.
Next, the seat and handlebar bags that collected dust at the back of my wardrobe, and a small tent from two Christmases ago. It was a beginning.
I settled myself down in the middle of the collected items and began to scribble a quick list while intermittently flicking through the different maps on each page, pausing now and again to make a mark or note. Hours disappeared, and the bags started to fill. As midnight approached, I set a neat bundle by the door, placed my shoes beside it, folded a set of clothes on the desk, and set my alarm for 6 am. I was leaving.
Chimes pulled me from sleep, and I groaned into my pillow as I reached for the phone. Peering at its screen, I saw the earlier-than-usual time and suddenly felt fully awake, excitement coursing through me as I remembered what lies ahead.
Ten minutes later, I was quietly leaving the house, my heartbeat the only sound besides the early birds hiding along the tree-lined road. I fumbled with my gear, trying to remember the last time I’d balanced bags and bike while shouldering a lightly filled backpack with snacks I’d found in the pantry.
Water bottle, helmet, lights, ready to go. I backed out of the driveway, astride my newfound freedom, and began pedaling toward the waking sky.
Two hours later, and the buildings had disappeared. Grey was replaced with green, and aside from the odd stop to check my maps and hydrate, I was nowhere near tired of this new kind of life cycle. Another hour rolled away, and I pulled over to a quiet, shaded shoulder to eat a breakfast of peanut butter and crackers. The sun was beginning to warm up, and sent strands of white light through the tree above me, dappling my face – and warning me that the next leg of my journey wouldn’t be so easy.
I hauled myself to my feet and onto my bike, body tingling with adrenaline and a smile pulling at my mouth as I put my legs back to work. The sun crept higher into the sky. Thin clouds attempted to block her light, throwing themselves across the royal star, but each time they withered and dissolved, no match for her fire.
I was sweating, but it was the good kind, the kind that reminds you how alive you are and the incredibleness of each muscle in your body. My wheels hummed as they spun, like marching soldiers on their first day, optimistic and energetic; the wind I invented with my movement wrapped itself around my face and cooled my wet forehead.
Fields grew into forests as I raced further away from civilization. The roads narrowed. I was flying. Trees whipped past my vision while the blue sky stayed still above the rotating planet. I was the only person in the world, turning the Earth on its axis as I turned the pedals under my feet.
Like a mechanical diorama, the sun began to set. Its orange hue warned me of the looming change, and I hurriedly made the last few turns towards my destination.
A small wooden sign pointed me in the right direction, and as I crested a low hill, my breath caught in my chest. A vast lake opened up in the space before me, its surface shivering in the evening breeze as it glowed like liquid amber beneath the lowering sun. Silhouettes of birds rose and dipped, chasing the last insects of the day, their wings skimming the burning water and sending sparks into the air. I hung over my handlebars, feet rooted to the ground as my spokes slowly came to a standstill. We were both in awe.
I jumped at the first voice I’d heard all day. It came from a short, athletic woman with a mass of dark hair pulled into a wild bun, smiling at my incapacitated state.
“Bikepacking,” she laughed, “It’s a backpacker who goes on the road with a bike. It’s supposed to be witty.”
She laughed again.
“You staying here tonight?”
“That’s the plan, is it busy?”
She shook her head, “Only about seven of us here; three tents and a couple sleeping in their car. Want me to show you? We’ve all kind of congregated in the best spot. Might attempt a cliché campfire.”
I nodded, determined not to be shy, and followed her between the trees.
A few hours later, the sun had been replaced by a thick, black night, which we were combatting with a crackling fire. The group of strangers already felt like old companions; our souls curiously connected by the ethereal environment we had all happened across on this same evening. Faces flickered in the yellow heat.
“So, tell us about your life story.”
A blank canvas stretched across my mind as I furrowed my brow, trying to dig up anything of interest.
“You know what,” I replied, taking a swig of beer as I turned my answer over thoughtfully, “I’m expecting my life story to begin now. In fact, I started it this morning and,” I continued, the response more for me than my small audience now, “I plan on making each of the chapters from this moment really count. I’m finished living inside empty pages.”
I looked up, a triumphant smile on my face.
“Yeah! Nice one Liz, love it.”
Scattered applause and whooping echoed around the fire, and I blushed in the dark, my veins full of excitement. I already couldn’t wait to get back to my new cycle.