Small Wonders: Riding the streets without a frame

January 18, 2013|By Patrick Caneday

“In a car you’re always in a compartment, and because you’re used to it you don’t realize that through that car window everything you see is just more TV. You’re a passive observer and it is all moving by you boringly in a frame.” — Robert Pirsig, “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”

I sold my bicycle a few months ago with the expressed intent to flip the profit into a new and better bike. Then the holidays hit.

Thing 1 wanted Nicki Minaj perfume and cash. Thing 2, an American Girl doll. So Dad waited, suffering through a case of bike-seller blues.


But to start the New Year, I gave myself the gift of a new road bike, and last weekend took it for my first ride in more than three months.

I’m still sore.

It was one of those deceivingly rare, crystalline SoCal days: no clouds, plenty of sun, but warmth was elusive. And not long into my pedal-powered excursion through our Elysian Fields — getting familiar with new gears, brakes and handlebars, exposed and awkward before the world, its traffic, potholes and low-hanging limbs — I was reminded of the realness of life when one isn’t sheltered in a house, office, gym or car.

I set out through the Rancho, the aroma of hay, dust and dung thickening the air. An ominous sign.

Past movie studios and entertainment companies, reminders of our humble suburbs’ place in the economy and culture. Past parks where children play and adults practice martial arts with samurai swords and plastic bats.

Roads narrow through neighborhoods where no two homes look alike; the specters of childhood friends come running out to greet me; places I’ve passed a thousand times, yet see the memories now for the first time.

The faster you ride, the colder the wind. Avoid shadows.

Farther on and up that hill, the scent of pine hits you hard, like the sweet smells and sounds from a Sunday farmers’ market; like the memories of my babies and so many nieces, nephews and godchildren being born at the nearby hospital.

Under oaken archways past Descanso’s glorious gardens and palatial homes; how I covet the circular driveway not for its measure of wealth so much as its convenience. On these winding, hilly back roads a cyclist must be wary of the unexpected round each bend.

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