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Well, I guess I’ve established that I’ve been hell on wheels for the greater part of my life so far, but I don’t think I’ve articulated exactly why I love biking so much. Now some of it dates back to my early, childish epiphany that being able to balance on my own two wheels was a ticket to freedom and adventure. Though my travels and adventures have been small, there’s still always this sense of possibility–that I could just keep on going, not stop at the office on 11th & Oak, but keep on, to meander through parts of town I don’t yet know, to kit up and head for Alaska, who knows?! Of course, more immediately, realistically, and practically, having my bike with me means I can run errands during my lunch hour or go home immediately after work without having to wait around for the slow and smelly bus to arrive, then dawdle its way along Independence Avenue.

Of course there’s joy in the mere act of cycling, itself. I love the feeling of zooming along the street, a cool breeze coming through the little vents in my helmet, and the warm sun loosening up the muscles of my shoulders. Sometimes, when it’s very hot out on my way home, I’ll detour through the park, or even through the grassy area around the pergola and flower beds on Paseo and dart through the lawn sprinklers to cool down. Sometimes, if it’s really obnoxiously hot, I’ll even take my helmet off, and soak my head in the cold water before getting back on my way. If I’m horsing around in the sprinklers off 12th & Paseo, I’ll often garner really odd looks from motorists waiting at the stoplight, but darn it, they don’t have to deal with the heat out there like I do, and on the other hand, they will never know how darn good it feels to take a little break and enjoy the sprinklers.

Of course sometimes it rains, in fact, as the summer gets into full swing, it rains at least two or three evenings a week, and likely as not I’ll get caught in it. I don’t mind getting caught in the rain if I am going home, especially not if it is high-summer rain, where the ambient temperatures are still plenty hot; then it’s a lot like having a shower, only without the soap and with a lot more grit (well more grit if you are like me and are too lazy to exfoliate). It’s kind of fun to hit a big puddle in a low spot in the road and cut a wake that splashes up to your knees, your bike’s wheel spokes churning up an eggbeater noise. Sure, by the time I get home I’m pretty sick of the sand that has infiltrated my shoes and shorts, and my glasses will be pretty well useless, but there’s still a kind of rough-and-tumble appeal to it all. It’s that hardcore little spark of tomboy-ism in me that revels in mud and mess and ruining, simply ruining my hairdo. Who wants to play nice and stay tidy when there’s the opportunity to tear-ass through the mud like the hoyden you are at heart?

My ride is also my own little slice of personal down-time every day. It’s just me out there, nobody calling my phone, stopping by my desk, no cats climbing on my lap or destroying things, no husband groping at me. It’s a little peace and quiet that I really need in my life. Not only that, it’s great stress relief. After a particularly bad day of work, I can bomb around town and take out my aggression on the little miniature hills that Kansas City has to offer, or take an extra-long ride home via a particularly scenic route and just calm down. That way I don’t take my bad day home with me, which does a great service to pretty much every aspect of my personal life.

Sometimes I just go cruising, for the sheer heck of cruising. I’ll toodle around the neighborhood, looking at how people have their front gardens planted, or admiring the crazy old architecture in the more grand parts of the neighborhood. There are several parks right within bike range where I can commune with citified, man-made nature, should I so desire. I can head on down to my old neighborhood, Westport, and cruise around old haunts and people-watch like a champ. Sometimes, of a weekend, if I’m a bit at loose ends, blah and moody, I’ll take myself on a field trip and go up to the City Museum, or down to the Nelson Atkins, or tour the grand old neighborhoods like Pendleton Heights or Hyde Park around Janssen Place, or the old Valentine neighborhood. Sometimes I’ll hie myself to the Plaza and ogle the upper bourgeoisie as they put on posh shopping airs. I’ll take that same opportunity to lock up my bike and go into the Better Cheddar to sample tasty, stinky cheese, or to traipse the gossamer aisles of Halls Plaza shopping center and rub shoulders with Prada, Escada, and Zac Posen. Obviously I don’t play my game of trying on unfeasible clothing while I’m drenched in sweat, ’cause that would be just plain rude (not to mention gross) but for a little cool-off in the air-conditioning, a view of the newest fashion trends, and a little glimpse at the pretty, primped-and-fluffed girls I’m so unlike, it’s just as good as a trip through the museum or the zoo.

Of course, when you’re down on the street, traveling at the pace of human power, you get a much more immediate appreciation for the world around you. I know the smell of summer progressing, from the first tantalizing scent of thawing earth early in March, to the sweet-stinky plum-tree blossoms, to the honeyed scents of blossoming clover and wild mustard, on into the hot-hot-heat of July and August, where the air and the earth are cooked, and you smell the humidity in the air and the tar in the pavement. You smell people’s bar-b-que grills from backyard patios, teenagers’ overenthusiastic use of colognes on the street corners, the smell of laundry drying or potatoes frying in small houses set close to streets in humble, comfy neighborhoods. You hear all of the show-off car stereos, the butt-thumping bass in one rap enthusiast’s car, the trilling accordions in a Tejano-lover’s truck, or the faintly pathetic smoove-jazz noodlings from a middle-aged wannabe playboy’s impeccably groomed sedan. The sights, sounds, colors, and scents that make up the texture of the world are right there and you’re right in with them, and that’s one of the many things that I love about riding.

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