Thursday, December 9, 2010

On Movement as Grace

This post is not as grandiose as its title, but it begins to engage some larger ideas I've been thinking about.

Our recent move from one San Diego neighborhood to another was accomplished in increments over about two weeks. We were fortunate enough to have a large window in which to move, so instead of throwing all of our stuff into a rented truck on one day, we were able to take all of the boxes and small things in a number of car trips, saving the actual Moving Day for the large stuff that wouldn't fit in the car.

We also took a number of donation items to the San Diego Rescue Mission thrift store and made several trips to the hardware store and to other stores. Most all of the stuff we either picked up or dropped off was too large or oddly-sized to take on a bike. With a bit of ingenuity and a little extra time, we probably could have made more of it happen by bike, but we were short on both, so the car was easier.

The car worked better for the kind of stuff we were hauling and the kinds of errands were were running. It could carry more stuff more efficiently than we could on our bikes. I'm always impressed by moves accomplished by bike, and in some situations they seem to work quite well. In our case, however, I'm quite certain that a bike move would have been more trouble and stress than it was worth.

In our multiple car trips we saw a lot of very bad driving (and a bit of bad cycling as well). But more than anything I noticed the large number of people riding bikes. What struck me most about almost all of the cyclists we saw is that they looked like they were having a great time. While I was getting stressed behind the wheel, I couldn't help but notice the free and easy movements of the cyclists.

So the car was the right mode choice for our move on a purely practical basis, but I couldn't help feeling like a chump for not getting to ride my bike. Driving made me feel dependent, slow, clumsy, stressed, and vulnerable. Moving in a car is not graceful, I can't think of any way that it could possibly be described that way. But the cyclists were gliding independently, quickly, nimbly, freely, and yes, gracefully. Perhaps it's a bit romantic of me -- since the bicycle is obviously my preferred mode of personal transportation -- but from the car, I saw the cyclists moving in what might be called a transcendent state, traveling on the same roads, but traveling differently (indeed, transcending) the limitations I found myself subject to (I do not mean legal limitations, but more intangible physical limitations imposed by the machine in which I was immersed).

Now that the move is finished, I've been doing more errands by bike again, and I'm certainly more aware of how I'm moving through my environment. When I've been riding a lot, I tend to forget (or if not forget, then at least take for granted) how special it is to travel by bicycle. Nothing like a few extra car trips to really drive (harr-harr) that lesson home.