My fiancé commutes by bike most days. Roundtrip, it’s a five-mile ride, and from what I can tell, it’s uphill both ways. When I moved here to Atlanta from Boston in June, he’d been riding this route nearly every day for a year. Before that, he’d been riding in Boston, unphased by snow and ice and rain and groceries. There, he taught me how to ride in the city and waited patiently while I freaked out about traffic and potholes.
On Sunday, I surveyed the unfamiliar bike that had been borrowed on my behalf---I’d left my rusty Schwinn in Boston---and agreed to come along on his daily route. For the past few weeks, I’ve been busy trying to carve out a place for myself in this new-to-me city. In countless interviews and new-girl conversations, I’ve been trying to find a way to explain that I belong here too, as an individual, even though we’re in this together.
Finally, on Sunday, I decided it was time to catch a glimpse of the shape of his life---those mysterious pockets of “his life” scattered at the periphery of “our life,” which we’ve been working so diligently to arrange, together.
For him, riding is a way to get where you’re going, and fast. It’s about independence and shortcuts and bypassing traffic jams. For me, riding a bike is something I did as a child, meandering around the block, keeping to the sidewalk, never traveling much faster than a jog.
I have visions of the two us riding off into the sunset on our bikes. It’s a vision that’s soft around the edges, and in it, I’m wearing a chambray sundress that somehow never flies up or gets stuck in the wheels. Somehow I never have trouble keeping up with my handsome partner, and I certainly never sweat.
Our real life Sunday ride turned out to be a vision of another kind. Stephen cruised along effortlessly, perfectly suited up in his bike gear. I lagged behind, sweating and huffing the whole way, silently cursing the gods who created bicycles, and even worse, hills. My imaginary self would have made pleasant conversation (“What a lovely morning!”), but my real self could only muster the occasional pathetic squeak in response to check-ins as to whether I was still alive.
He looked at me with concern and a bit of remorse as I dragged myself and my bike up the very last hill.
“Maybe we should have started with a shorter ride?” He wondered out loud.
I quit panting long enough to shrug my shoulders. “Might be more fun on a tandem bike,” I offered, wading through the thickening summer heat.
Often it feels important and necessary to test my own limits and prove my own strength. Perhaps sometimes it’s simpler, though, and sweeter, to partner up, pedal in sync, and push through the hills and valleys together.