Cycling in traffic as spiritual practice.
I prefer riding my bicycle on city streets than in the ever expanding suburbs of Washington DC. Areas such as Silver Spring, Bethesda, and Rockville, MD are this cyclist's horrid nightmare. Within the actual city of Washington, DC the foundation for safer cycling exists. It has a long way to go however. There are bike lanes, bike racks, and even the METRO with its failing infrastructure allows bikes on trains.
I’ve been in this area a little more than a month and have cycled on average about eleven miles a day. Not much by some standards but I’ve ridden every day since I arrived here in mid-September. A few bike trails such as Rock Creek Park Trail and The Capitol Crescent Trail offer respite.
Although somewhat limited, these bike trails are a great way to get around DC. I cycled the GAP and C+O from Pittsburgh to Georgetown late this summer. The trip took about five days. The trails combined offer about 330 miles of mostly car-free cycling. There are even free camp sites along the C+O administered by the US Park Service. See http://www.nps.gov/choh/index.htm for more info.
The GAP/C+O are great examples of repurposing infrastructure to create alternatives to driving. The cancerous sprawling suburb that has become the eastern seaboard needs a new vision.
In the meantime, I cycle in traffic. When I get on my bicycle to go somewhere, I utter a little prayer to whoever might be listening. I hope to arrive at my destination unscathed. It’s treacherous. It's more than a thrill of cycling in traffic as a “cheating death” type of adventure activity. It challenges me to see the people behind the wheels of their cars as something other than demon spawn. In my mind they can become anonymous instruments of death wielding weapons of mass destruction. The next time our government goes looking for the WMDs, we need look no further than the 495 at rush hour. It was right in front of George Dubyu’z face the whole time. Silly sot missed it. Ask any roadkill, they’ll tell you. OK, they’re not talking because 1. They’re animals and 2. They’re dead. But you get the idea.
I am learning compassion through cycling. I find driving in this area stressful. I watch people up close, in the car with them going about their day and some seem to do alright with it. It’s what they know. I’ve also seen my brother's exasperation when for no clear reason traffic has slowed to a crawl. The road is closed five blocks ahead but there is no warning. Driving with two small, hungry children is no easy task. He gets flustered. Who wouldn't? My heart goes out to him in these moments.
Countless unknown drivers believe that when they drive their cars they are in “control”. They are operating two tons of steel and rubber and it’s hurtling through space in my direction. Can I maintain a level of compassion for them? It's tough. But I have to. Otherwise I am judge, jury and executioner of someone I don’t even know. How can this be a bad thing?
I consider cycling a means of communication. I travel a lot by bicycle. It’s my preferred mode of transportation. As soon as I figure out how to cross the ocean, I’m going to cash in. Everyone will want to do it. I carry the message that we are all one. Travelling by bicycle, indeed any travel gets us out of ourselves, out of our comfort zone. Meeting people the world over helps us to see the sameness in our everyday and ordinary existence. I can see and experience you in me and me in you. As such, we have connected. We are related and I cannot be the arbiter of you. If I cannot judge you, I cannot hate you. Without hate, there is only love and understanding. This is the mandate handed to me from Spirit. And so I practice. Is there a less dangerous way to learn this than riding a bicycle in traffic? Perhaps, but it's my training for now.
Thanks for reading.