Freedom on Two Wheels
It’s 4:59. Even if my eyes weren’t dutifully tracing the triangle from my wrist to my laptop to the clock on the wall, I would be able to tell you that the day is almost over. It has to be. For each of the eight hours that I’ve sat wedged between cinder block walls in an off-balance swivel chair, I have felt time passing as if second hands were flicking my shoulders. I’ve felt the fluorescent lighting aging my 23-year-old skin. I’ve felt wrinkles sneaking across my forehead. I’ve felt emails infiltrating every corner of my brain.
But now, it’s 4:59. 4:59 is a sacred moment, a portal from one world into another. 4:59 marks a transformation of the mind, body, and soul. It’s a cosmic shift that Buddhist monks search for on the mountains of Asia, that philosophers attempt to imagine in stacks of treatises, and that musicians yearn for in each back-breaking, life-shaking guitar solo.
4:59 marks the moment between the world of my cubicle and the world of my bicycle. During the minute that divides those two worlds, I am Alice in Wonderland, falling down the rabbit hole, watching time slowing down and observing its idiosyncrasies. In this freefall through time, I continue to stare at my computer screen, locked into the world of corporate pretenses for one more minute. But while my eyes hold the last link to 4:58, the rest of my body prepares for transformation.
Without moving my head, I grab my keychain and run my fingers over it until I find the key to my bike lock. With my other hand, I reach for my helmet from under the table and gently place it in my lap. My right leg taps up and down, twice per second, counting the moments until the transformation.
And then the trifecta of time-bearers alerts me at the same time, sliding into place like a slot machine revealing three cherries. The second hand on the analog clock ticks to the ready position, and my watch and laptop screen simultaneously shift to 5:00:00. I can’t reveal my transfiguration, darting off like a werewolf at sundown, so I stand up slowly. My head swivels around, and I wish everyone a good weekend, and then I walk casually towards the door.
And now I’m darting down the hallway, pushing open the heavy double doors, and reaching for the key to my transformation. I plunge it into my U-shaped lock, break my bike out of its shackles, and click on my helmet. I slip my phone into the front pocket of my jacket, turning up the volume just loud enough that only I can hear Bruce Springsteen telling me that together we could break this trap.
I slide the bike out, wrap my fingers around the handlebars, and find my place on the seat. With my left foot pressed into the ground, I find a pedal with my right foot. I hover for a second there, savoring the last moment of transition. Then I push down on the right pedal, and suddenly I’m cruising. I’m free.
I fly through the parking lot, past other employees walking to their cars, secretaries checking their phones, lawyers looking for their keys, and students drifting towards the bus stop. The guest speakers, caterers, researchers, and vice chief assistants of analytical management are all a blur.
I hit the slow streets of Chapel Hill like I’m Lance Armstrong on the Champs Elysees. My heart races to keep up with the pumping of my pedals. Within seconds, my entire being is released into the motion of the bike, lost in the movement like these spokes are part of my own body.
I can’t remember where I’m going, and it doesn’t matter. One does not ask the ticket attendant if a rollercoaster will kindly end its course at the snack bar, or ask the stableman if I could please finish my pony ride at CVS. There are cars for that. Destinations and estimated arrivals evaporate into the autumn air, becoming as trivial as the emails sitting on my laptop.
My maroon machine moves beyond two dimensions, carrying me to a higher plane that I could never have dreamed of on two feet. Each squeak of the chains not only takes me in a straight line down East Cameron; it propels me into a world defined by bursts of vivid colors and waves of lucid feelings. The trees are a blur as I glide by, but their branches shout out to me in the joy of their new red and orange garments.
The air swims into my lungs, eager to give me more as I blast up the hill. The breeze fills my nose with the scents of fall in North Carolina, letting my nostrils experience a mix of deep nostalgia and profound newness. My work clothes, which had trapped me just minutes before, now let starchiness give into sweat. The wind sneaks through each layer of H&M fabric to touch my skin.
I slow down as I approach the big intersection. When I’m on foot or in the car, this traffic light sends waves of impatience through me, reminding me of tasks to complete and errands to run. But on my bike, the stoplight is a holy juncture. Students, professors, Uber drivers, and delivery men all gather as a community for a fleeting moment, 72 times per hour. We ease off gas pedals and hit pause on our Garmin watches to engage in the most basic Southern courtesy of letting our neighbors pass by. We see each other for who we are at this moment. The traffic light strips our ranks and doles out time equally. Everyone passing through Chapel Hill gets open invitations to this fleeting community gathering.
By this point in my ride, my body has made the complete adjustment from office chair to bicycle seat. The red light is a 50-second meditation, a moment to feel the warmth circulating through my body, and the currents of energy waking up my brain.
Then, the light turns green, and I’m back at it, spinning my feet and welcoming the rush of time and air that envelops me. The watch on my wrist and laptop in my backpack seem to float away, replaced by a glow that sinks into every inch of my skin and flows through my veins. Each crank of the pedals pumps more color into the world around me. On this metallic miracle, cogs crank, rubber rolls, and handles help me home. I breathe in the joy of movement. On this bicycle, I’m free.