Dispatches, thoughts, and miscellanea from writer Jon Konrath

Back on the bike

I rode my bike to work today, for the first time in a while. When I originally bought it last spring, I planned to ride it every day, but I was thrown off by cold weather, hot weather, food poisoning, vacations, and a bunch of other lame excuses. But today, I made it. Of course, I cheated a bit. I’ve been spending more and more time at Sarah’s lately, because my apartment sucks, and I’ve been gradually moving over things. First, it started with an extra deodorant and toothbrush, then a few extra pairs of unmentionables and socks, and then I started leaving books and DVDs. Now I’m moving over stuff a gym bag at a time, and on Saturday we got a limo (no, you non-New Yorkers, not a 68-foot-long stretch Caddy with a wet bar and hot tub – here limo means “non-yellow cab”) and pulled over a few hundred pounds of stuff, including my bike. So, now I will try to ride more.

It’s in my favor that my door-to-door trip is about a mile. (Okay, 1.59 – thank you mapquest.) It’s also much easier for me to get the bike in an out of the place here, since the old place involved a dozen tight turns to get out of the door. There’s no bridge to contend with. And a horrific trip through midtown is no longer needed. But, I no longer have long passages of nothing in Queens, which is kindof nice, and I have a lot of pretty testy drivers and pedestrians on my trip through Chinatown. Most of the ride is of the heavy-defensive sort, with little in the way of long cruises. So that sucks, but it’s still fun. Bicycle is about the best way to get around Manhattan, if you’re up for it. After riding a bike, I really hate walking – it seems so slow and monotonous, especially after you can cruise down a long block in a matter of seconds.

I’m glad to be back on the bike, too. There’s a real difference between your time and personal space on a train versus driving or being on a bike. I’d really want to be in a car, where you can totally cocoon yourself from the world and just have totally private time to yourself. From the second I had a license and a set of keys, I totally enjoyed being able to just put in a tape and drive loops around nowhere, to the mall and back, out on the back roads, and to friends’ houses for no reason. I always bitch about it, and even at three bucks a gallon, I miss that freedom. That’s one of the biggest problems with living in New York. (I mean, aside from the smell.)

But before I had a car, I had a bike. And I spent ALL of my time riding somewhere, or nowhere. The same people who have a hard time imagining that I used to weigh a hundred pounds less than I currently do probably wouldn’t believe that I used to ride hundreds of miles a week. I was not competitive about it; I just liked to get out and explore. Northern Indiana was set up for it, since most of the outlying area was meshed by county roads a mile apart in each direction. That made it easy to keep track of mileage: you get on CR 17 and ride from CR 26 to CR 28, and that’s a mile. CR 30, another mile. I used to have this loop from my mom’s house to Bristol and then out almost to Nappanee and back, and it was just over 25 miles. I used to ride that pretty much every day, and I’d double it on Saturdays and Sundays.

This started back when I was 15. I bought a new 10-speed, and it wasn’t anything special, just some Huffy piece of shit or something. But every time I had a couple of bucks, I’d buy some gear for it, a new helmet, some gloves, whatever. No spandex. I rode all through the fall, and rode this St. Jude’s rideathon where you did laps of a church parking lot that was a quarter mile around. I brought a walkman, extra batteries, and about 50 tapes, and spent the whole afternoon doing the same stupid lap, over and over. This was the kind of thing where kids came and rode their BMX on training wheels and made 5 laps and everyone was all happy and the money went to The Kids or whatever, and I listened to like every Rush album to date in a row and ended up doing 50 miles.

I kept riding into the fall and through the winter, still going to Bristol every day. The cornfields went from amber to wispy brown and then fell into husks and broken stalks, and the cold made it harder to pedal, but I could do the 25 miles in my sleep at this point. I explored the back roads and took different routes, but they were all mostly the same, identical miles of farmland, with the occasional farmhouse. I had the roads to myself for the most point, except for the occasional car that blew past at sixty. I probably averaged about ten miles an hour, sometimes faster. I usually went out for about two hours, longer on the weekends.

I thought about a lot of stuff back then, which seems stupid, as I’m more than twice as old and I have way too much stuff to think about, to the point where I wonder if I need some prescription medication to possibly think about less. But back then, I somehow needed the time away from my family and away from friends and classmates to – I don’t know what. I mean, I listened to a lot of music, and I guess at that point in your life, your favorite bands require some great amount of dissemination, whereas now you listen to stuff just to have a sound in the background that sounds nice. But when you’re 15, that Rush album Subdivisions – it means something, because that’s you. And I’m sure I thought a lot about the opposite sex, and how I’d ever talk to girls, and all of that shit, and I wish I had a record of that, because it eventually all worked itself out, but I remember burning a lot of cycles thinking I was different and I’d somehow need to escape all of this. But I also spent a lot of time thinking about my first car, and maybe how cool it would be to ride my bike across the country, like maybe by strapping a bunch of racks to the front and rear and filling them up with bottled water and snickers bars and maybe some kind of tent so I could camp between stops. Now that I think about it, I have no idea what the fuck I thought about, but I spent a lot of time doing it.

And I still remember Indiana roads, and the kinds of roadways they had there. Most county roads were this asphalt, but they were old, and weren’t black, but maybe this greyish color, like a really overdone hamburger. The roads had a decent texture, like the kind of thing you could only mold out of plastic now. And those had a lot of cracks, and gravel in a bead on the side, and cars made this humming sound from ten miles back on this kind of road. When those got really old and fucked up, and they weren’t a main road that got a lot of use, the county would spray them down with this gluey tar and then dump a fine gravel on them. This kind of road totally sucked shit for a bike, because the underpainting of glue stuck to everything on your bike and was a horrible smelling petroleum product – it was like they just dumped out a bunch of engine oil, and then covered it with coarse sand. And that sand-gravel didn’t do much good on a bike with one inch wide wheels, either. Those roads sucked, and I always avoided them. The best were the main roads, like State Road 15, which were more concrete-like, and made from real asphalt, with a good surface that made you feel like you gained five miles an hour on it.

So I rode a lot. I think the last big thing I did was this 100K bike ride sponsored by WTRC, a local country station. It ended up being closer to 80 miles, and I think I rode it in eight hours. It was total hell, and it rained all day, with huge wind gusts. I remember turning into this really long stretch, and it had a totally killer headwind, and I was pretty much ready to just put down the bike, lay in the road, and hope someone would kill me. It was an okay ride though, and it was pretty weird because it went way north into Michigan and through Edwardsburg, and I saw all of these things that normally I’d just see when hanging out with my dad, like my uncle Don’s house, the golf course, and a bunch of other little landmarks. It was fun, and I wonder how I ever had the discipline to stick out eight hours of that shit, given that now I seldom have the discipline to make a sandwich.

Anyway, a year later, I got a car, I almost never rode the bike after. I brought it to Bloomington for a year, but almost never rode it. (Tip: do not wear toe clips in a college town.) I brought it back, had to ride to the mall when my car was broken, and got a flat. Left it at Concord Mall, and forgot about it until months later, when it was gone. Oh well.

Speaking of sandwich, I’ve been writing forever, and now I’m starving. I was going to put some kind of lofty conclusion on this tying together how much I like riding my bike now and all of that stuff above about how I used to ride my bike and think about stuff, but now I’m thinking about food instead, so you’ll need to put that one together on your own. Bon appetite.