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It’s rush hour on a California freeway, and I am going the right direction.
A wall of white lights trace out the highway in front of me for a string of blinding miles. In my lane, red lights are sparser than I would think they would be on a holiday weekend. For one moment as I round a sweeping curve, there are no cars in sight. I wouldn’t have thought it possible to ever be alone in an metropolis of such millions.
A familiar anxiety settles over me as I enter the city. It all moves faster than I am accustomed, cars squeezing in on all sides of me, pushing against the warning of yellow signals, cresting steep hills, merging through splashes of pedestrians. I park tentatively in an area that simultaneously warns”no parking” but permits it, depending on the time.
We gather beneath a large clock tower that marks the ferry building, draping forearms against our bikes, feathering brakes, leaning over tires as the regulars hug each other and the newbies shake hands. A bike bell marks the end of social time. Then the pack of us fan out, breezing in the bike lane, jockeying amid each other. The ocean laps on one side. Cars ease around us on the other. Despite the early darkness, the city is alive with blinking signs and street performers and car horns. We make periodic stops in the light-less enclaves of parks, clicking off our headlamps so our voices must find each through the dim. The familiar silhouette of the Golden Gate Bridge provides orientation.
Then five of us break off from those with thinner tires and head onto dirt lanes under the shelter of trees. We hop from park to park, where swathes of vegetation seem displaced in a city. The pace is quicker now with fewer people. Now that we have begun the serious portion of the ride, our stops lack the leisure of before.
There is something soothing about riding in the dark. It is quiet. The circle of light in front of you is your present reality. Nothing else exists. Each challenge comes one at a time. That makes them seem less daunting. If only life were like that.
Ahead of me, the others have peddled over a dirt lip back onto the next patch of pavement. Red lights on backpacks and seat posts flash at intermittent intervals. My heart is pounding.
Later in bed I feel stretched and thinned and parched. But I plot the next time I can do it again.