Elements of Bike Riding 29

By Peter Burns

Helpful Hint 

Clear safety glasses or goggles are a great option on a cloudy day or when it is dark outside. You can get them at a hardware store. They protect your eyes from dust, bugs, or snow when you don’t need protection from sunlight.

Street Finds

On November 11th, I was riding to Winooski from Burlington on Mansfield Avenue when I noticed some laminated cards scattered on the road. I stopped and gathered them up along with a small wallet. The cards included a driver's license, a gift card to Barnes and Noble, and a UVM ID.  I was glad to see the UVM ID because otherwise I would have felt obliged to take the wallet to the Burlington Police Station which was in the opposite direction from my home.  I knew that the UVM Police headquarters was closer, over on East Avenue. I rode to East Avenue and returned the wallet. I believe that many cars drove over the lost items without seeing them.  

On a bicycle or when walking, I often find things. I am attuned to unusual things on the ground. What I notice depends on what interests me.  If I was passionate about trees, I would look at them more. There are so many things in our field of vision that I only pay attention to what is important to me.  Sometimes I zone out completely and go on automatic pilot. I am sure you have experienced driving somewhere and afterward having no memory of the drive. Because bike riding is usually more challenging than driving, that rarely happens to me on my daily commute. Sometimes I go into a kind of trance on longer rides through the countryside.

In the last five years, I have found three wallets and a cell phone. I have also found coats, hats, gloves, food, and tools. Handkerchiefs are very common. I have so many of them that I don’t stop for handkerchiefs unless it has an unusual color or pattern. I sometimes stop for fruit, but often it is bruised and not edible. When I see gloves or mittens they are usually orphans. Tom Hanks posts pictures of lost mittens and gloves and on his Instagram feed and he has so many followers that sometimes people recover a lost item. I have toyed with the idea of trying to get through winter using only found gloves and mittens.  That would mean having to wear odd gloves and mittens most of the time but I think it would be doable, at least in moderate temperatures. 

In the last year, street debris has changed. There are now many masks on the ground and few if any plastic shopping bags.

Although I have the scavenger mentality I have never felt tempted to keep the wallets or cell phones I have found.  I have considered just leaving things where I found them to avoid the trouble of returning them, but I know how horrible it is to lose your wallet or keys.  

I try to be an ethical scavenger.  On North Winooski Avenue there is a wellness drop-in center and they always have give away food in boxes outside the building.  I don’t ever help myself because that might mean that someone who really needs the food would miss out.  On the other hand, I don’t hesitate to pick up apples that have fallen from trees.  On December 1st I was on Airport Road in South Burlington and I saw a bunch of yellow apples on the ground under a tree.  I stopped and picked up three of them. 

The apples reminded me of the last lines of a poem by William Butler Yeats

“And pluck till time and times are done,

The silver apples of the moon,

The golden apples of the sun.”

I also thought of Paris who agreed to judge which of the goddesses was most beautiful- Aphrodite, Hera, or Athena.  He gave the prize, a golden apple, to Aphrodite who in turn gave him Helen, which was the cause of the Trojan War.  Judging the beauty of goddesses is a dangerous business.

At City Market, I always go to the reduced price produce basket first, where I often get great deals! I look at it as a challenge to cook with whatever vegetables I find. 

On Christmas Day I found two sweet potatoes on the sidewalk on Pine Street.  I brought them home, washed them, and popped them into my toaster oven.  The sweet potatoes were my gift from the streets and I was grateful. 

Ongoing Practice

Riding a bike is something I have done for many years.  It is an activity that develops and changes over time. It shares that quality with other things that have been part of my life for a long time — swimming, stretching, reading, walking, storytelling, writing, teaching, meditation, and cooking. I am blessed with regular practices that continue to be rewarding and hold my interest.  They are essential for my physical and mental health.  In all these activities there are long plateaus when not much changes and then there are spurts of insight and inspiration.  At a certain point getting better or attaining goals is not the point. The satisfaction is in the daily practice, in the experience.  In the Soto school of Zen meditation itself is enlightenment. We are what we do, and my identity is tied up with the things that absorb my time and energy.  I plan to sustain all of my daily practices as long as I can.  During this extraordinary time, I have really missed teaching swimming, doing bike workshops, and storytelling. I hope to be able to do all of them again.

Coping with Pain and Injuries

For years various aches and pains have been part of my life.  This is an inevitable part of inhabiting a human body and being very active.  From time to time I have pain in my knees, upper back, lower back, right ankle, and left wrist. I also get headaches and lightheadedness.  I know, I sound like a mess!  Luckily I seldom suffer from injuries because of a fall or other trauma, my difficulties are a result of old injuries or just the wear and tear of exercise and age, and ongoing stress.  I find that excessive focus on the problem area just increases anxiety and pain.  

For some time I have been interested in Bowen Family Systems.  One of the principles of this system is the power of taking a strong clear position.  What this means in a relationship is that if you take a principled stand on a difficult issue and stick with it, the people around you, after the initial protest, will change to accommodate your position.  This happened years ago, when, as the only breadwinner, I decided to take control of our family’s finances. I did this because otherwise, we would have lost our house.  After some painful difficulties, everyone involved grudgingly accepted the new reality. This positioning technique will not work if you are using it to try to get others to change.  It is only effective if the change is one that you are making for yourself. 

This technique also works for aches and pains.  If the injury is not caused by the trauma I say to the sore part of my body, “I know you are sore, I acknowledge it, and I will do what I can to help, but I am also going to continue to walk, swim, ride and stretch as I would normally.”  This seems to help the pain move through my body and eventually go away.  I am not denying that it is there, just stating clearly what I am going to do.  I am not using this technique to try to get rid of the pain, just to adapt to its presence. I am also avoiding getting obsessed with the pain and focusing all my attention on making it go away.

If you are interested in Bowen’s theories I suggest you read “Bowen Theory’s Secrets” by Michael E. Kerr.  

Happiness Lab

I have been listening to ‘The Happiness Lab’ podcast hosted by Dr. Laurie Santos.  It is about what science tells us will make us happy.  The podcast also discusses things that we think will make us happy but turn out not to.  Science tells us that once our basic needs are met, having more money and material things doesn’t actually make us happier, but most people don’t believe that. My grandfather used to say, “I know that money can’t buy happiness but I would be willing to try!”  The podcast emphasizes the importance of making social connections, especially in the time of COVID. Bike riding helps me see people every day.  Santos says that even casual conversations with people in grocery stores or at the gym can make a big difference in our mental health.  The bike rack outside City Market is a place where I often have conversations, sometimes about bikes, sometimes about other things.  It reminds me of the hitching posts you see in front of saloons in Westerns. People sometimes ask me about my bike and when I see an interesting bicycle I am not shy about striking up a conversation.  


About the author:

Peter Burns is a long-time bike enthusiast, and one of the original year-round bike riders in Burlington.  He writes amazing monthly blogs and teaches a variety of Everyday Biking workshops.  In addition to his work at Local Motion, he also works at a group home for people with Psychiatric disabilities, teaches classes for the Vermont Humanities Council, teaches swimming at the Burlington YMCA, and is a regular host of Storytelling VT. 


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