Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Lake Tahoe and Life on the Edges

Mark and I are on our way to San Francisco to ride with a friend in the Marin County Century - my first 100-mile bike ride. It had been suggested to us that we stop at Lake Tahoe on the way out and someone - we're not quite sure who, because neither of us want to take responsibility for this decision - suggested we ride around the lake, a 72-mile journey.

The ride was unquestionably beautiful - well, most of it. For some strange reason, I had expected the road to hug the lake all the way around. It did, but only for a few miles. The rest of the time we were primarily either climbing up above the lake, giving us some great views like the one below, or riding in pine forest, as depicted above. 

This part - through the forest - was nice. It reminded me of our tour in Corsica and reminded me why I enjoyed it so much. Riding through the beautiful countryside on roads with very little traffic. Soaking in the sun and breathing the fresh air. This is one of the reasons I enjoy cycling so much - being outside, experiencing and seeing things that are never experienced or noticed when inside a car. I also love the thrill of a descent - particularly when there are few cars to worry about when you can glide down the middle of a road, not worrying about the edge of the highway.

But back to yesterday's ride, there were bike paths through some of the pine forest on the west side of the lake, which was great because we could get off the busy road which had absolutely no shoulder. The issue then became all the walkers and vacation bikers who were definitely not looking at completing a 72-mile ride that day.

The main problem and downside of the whole ride was the traffic. There were a few stretches on the west side of the lake where we actually rode in silence. No cars. No trucks. However, once we approached the northwest corner of the lake, there was steady traffic all the way around the north and down the east side. It got particularly bad the last 14 miles as we descended into South Lake Tahoe, where we were staying. 

And thus beginneth the lesson about life on the edges. A lot of drivers have absolutely no idea of what lies at the edge of roads. They think that so-called bike lanes should provide cyclists with lots of room. Or shoulders of roads (when they exist). But if some of these drivers would per chance get on a bike, they would see that bike lanes and shoulders are often full of gravel, broken glass, storm drains, man-hole covers, and other hazards. 

This, of course, assumes there are shoulders or bike lanes on which to ride. Sometimes, like yesterday, there literally is no place to ride at the side of the road. This is when we cyclists have to assert our rights to be on the road along with cars and trucks. But there is a risk. While many drivers will be courteous and give us a wide berth, others seem to think that they should be able to whiz by at 65 miles per hour, no more than a foot away from us. That is when I take to riding out in the middle of the lane, particularly when the road is 4-lane, as was the case yesterday afternoon, thus forcing cars (hopefully) into the left lane.

As I have encountered various hazards on the edges of roads, I have had occasion to think about a lesson that such encounters teach. I thought about how so many of us glide through life, oblivious to the hazards and pitfalls and conditions that exist on the edges of our families, our communities, our society and our world. And we don't understand them because we have never traveled in that path, along the edge. We may tend to metaphorically do what some drivers do, i.e., curse those who travel along the edges, yelling at them to get off the road, not remembering that those people have just as much a right to be on the road as we do, or deciding ourselves how much room at the edge such people need because, after all, we are bigger and more important.

I gained and continue to gain important lessons about life on the edges as a result of coming out. Many people remain ignorant of what it means to be gay because they are riding comfortably down the middle of the highway, secure in the size, power and speed of their vehicle and everything else that makes traveling in a vehicle so comfortable. Many metaphorically or literally jeer or crowd gay people to the side, thinking that they have no rightful place in society. The truth, however, is that gay people have just as much right to exist and ride down the highway of life as do others in more comfortable, more powerful positions.

Of course, being gay is only one example of life on the edges. There are countless others. I would hope that all people might have an opportunity to metaphorically get out of their comfortable vehicles and get on a bike and go for a ride to witness what life along the edge of the road of life is like - not only so that they could become more aware of the hazards that are there, but also so that they can experience what I described above: the thrill of being out in life, of seeing its vistas and minutiae from another perspective and, as a result, feeling more alive.

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