I #lovemnwinter! Today, I love ...winter!
As a transplant from that little blue island in a red Texan sea, it took me more than three years to be comfortable with winter. The first winter, everyone assured me that the unusually cold weather was an anomaly, and that the following year would be better. Another polar vortex came and went the following year, during which I incurred stage one frostbite in two fingers but went on to explore the Apostle Islands ice caves. Determined to make the third winter more tolerable, I managed to incur a season-long illness that literally knocked me off my bike and I wouldn't emerge from my fever cave until the following spring.
This is the year I fell in love with winter. Mild and forgiving weather, paired with a newfound sense of confidence in my bike handling skills sparked by my first season of racing cyclocross with some of the most supportive people in the Twin Cities this past fall, has resulted in near daily bike rides. All of the elements I had feared the previous winters - thick snow, rutted ice, bitter cold, deep darkness - just create another ever-evolving cross course, stoking the flame of gratitude burning in my heart for all of the opportunities that have brought me where I am today. When I ride my bike, I feel free, I feel independent, I feel strong, I feel accomplished.
Except when I don't. The one element that continues to incite my fear is people driving aggressively or distracted around myself and other street users, especially when that behavior is happening on winter conditioned streets. On many days, riding my bike along busy avenues or trying to cross other notoriously busy streets, feels like this:
A near-hit incident can fling me into a wide-and-wild-eyed-zebra-like existential crisis in which I question my own humanity. When someone nearly hooks me, or illegally passes me within inches of my fleshy body, or feels comfortable speeding along Portland Avenue at 38 miles per hour while checking their phone with zero disregard for the safety of those around them, I want to shout,
"HEY YOU, I AM HUMAN! I AM HUMAN! I AM HUMAN! I AM! HUMAN! I am...Human? Am I....hooooo-maaan. What is hoo-man? Are you hoo-man?"
Of all the driving-induced challenges this winter, one of the greatest challenges is reminding myself that everyone around me is human. Cars are not autonomous vessels (yet), there are drivers inside. And those are not drivers (or lizard brained crocodiles), but those are people with thoughts and dreams and feelings and emotions and families and goals and are capable of being kind, wonderful human beings. And what I want is for people driving cars is to acknowledge me not as a person on a bike, but as a fellow human being.
Biking has taught me to slow down and to be in the moment because I'm travelling at a speed where the world around is no longer a blur, but a high definition stereoscopic landscape. Colors are crisper, license plates are legible, and faces are more readily readable. So the past several weeks I have made it a point that instead of memorizing snow dusted license plates to make eye contact with the people in the vehicles stopped beside me at red lights, so they can see my human face tucked tightly in my buff and helmet underneath my imaginary zebra ears and mane. People don't always acknowledge me but when they do, they sometimes smile while calming taking off from the light and I feel those imaginary zebra (f)ears start to melt away.
So while people driving are sometimes the worst part of winter commuting, this is a huge love letter to all of the people who continue to recognize my humanity by showing me some of theirs. To the bus driver with whom I had an entire nonverbal conversation with about the weather at the Washington and 5th Avenue light, you're awesome! To the people who gives thumbs up for continuing to ride in the winter, you make my commute more enjoyable and I feel safer! To the people who kindly acknowledge me as a fellow human being, thank you for being human! For all my lovely winter riders and street users, be kind to one another. You're all awesome!
Read about this collaborative challenge to love one thing about winter everyday in February, and post about it on this blog. Tweet your own loves: #lovemnwinter @greaseragmpls, or check out last year's #lovemnwinter posts.