I love to complain while riding my bike. I hate the hills and the wind and I’m a champion whiner. I hate when it’s hard to lock it up or when the roads and bike lanes are bumpy and unfinished.
My bike itself I love. It’s extremely well-outfitted and slathered in pink accoutrement. There’s a computer to track my mileage and speed, a pannier rack and of course, a matching floral bag. My pedals are pink.
There’s Pip the Squeaker, my penguin-shaped horn.
There are flower-shaped lights and pink water bottle cages.
The most important thing on my bike is me.
We spent five weeks riding hundreds of miles across multiple counties to earn the 24 stamps and obligatory free space on the Bicycle Benefits bike bingo card for Milwaukee. this summer. The entire game was akin to elementary students’ summer reading programs. Read books for points and coupons to the local pizza place. Like many of us, I did that and reading became a habit.
And the prize is more than just pizza coupons. Local businesses have committed to our end goal, providing free beers, discounts, t-shirts, pounds of coffee, bike tune-ups and a grand prize at the finale night raffle: A 12-pound wheel of cheese.
Last week, I finished my bike bingo card. A total blackout.
On our adventure over last few weeks has taught me something important.
Real social sharing is with others in groups.
Status updates are more fun in person when the bike shop staffer gleefully punches your card and asks you about your miles.
My bike failed me once and we loaded it onto the bus and sat down in front of a dad and toddler daughter. We could only hear them or sneak peeks out of the corner of our eye, but he was playing along with her as she narrated what each of her Barbie dolls were doing. And when she tasked him with bringing the chicken for Barbie’s birthday party, he not only obliged, but arrived with, “cock-a-doodle-doo!” live chicken. Their game of make-believe lasted the entire ride and charmed everyone near.
I would have missed that if I hadn’t been riding to the furthest reaches of our county to stop in a coffee shop for a stamp.
We met with some the greatest customer service. Instead of heading into a restaurant or business with a coupon that no clerk understands or requires the approval of some mysterious and missing manager, people welcomed the Bike Bingo cards. Nearly every stamper asked us where we’d biked from, how far we were going and praised our stamps thus far.
I’ve never felt so famous for being so sweaty and exhausted.
We ended up in one couple’s engagement photos as we joined the Tuesday Night Ride bingo event and pedaled onto their set—the public Milwaukee Lakefront. Groom-to-be was thrilled and included our entire 30-person group in a shot or two.
We met some infamous tandem riders we’ve seen on our neighborhood bike race, the Riverwest 24. We talked to them the evening of the Tuesday Night Ride and miles away the following Saturday, spotted them like old friends in a bike shop south of Milwaukee.
Our friends joined us on the journey and we shared beers and pizzas with them.
We heard accordions in the rain. We pedaled with the neighborhood kids. We learned how to fix a flat at Vulture Space.
We drank with discounts.
We saw two high school kids singing horribly and playing Green Day songs on guitar on a lonely street in South Milwaukee.
We stopped by shops we’d never patronized before.
We made it to Jackson, Wisconsin, an unlikely stop for us city dwellers.
We had a deer walk right across our path on the Oak Leaf Trail.
We ran into friends while biking, cheering us on.
We cruised the country side, pedaling past one red barn after another.
We saw the sign in northern Washington County advertising “Country Dancin’” one August weekend, no “g” required.
This was our summer reading challenge:
Build a habit.
We’re more fit. The hills are easier and now I’m an old pro dealing with my lock.
That’s when I figured out that writers should all be cyclists. You can’t take pictures while cycling. At least, I can’t. And our screen-regulated communication can’t tell this story anyway.
You can’t accurately capture the feeling of coasting down a hill on Snapchat.
Instagram can’t portray the luscious smell of riding through the Third Ward and near south side of Milwaukee on fish fry Friday night.
No Boomerang can immerse you in the smell of fresh cut grass as you pedal past the multiple suburban homeowners mowing their lawns in unison.
Facebook video doesn’t accurately convey raindrops on your face and the childlike bliss of splashing through puddles on your bike.
Only dreaming of the words while your wheels go round and your mind is clear comes close to commemorating the feeling of hitting the countryside and soaking up the sunshine of a great ride.
I rode to work today. I do that regularly now.
Feminist, activist, outdoor advocate, animal lover, chocolate shake lover, reader, watcher, talker, actor, speaker, worker, writer, urban adventurer, hustler, involved, passionate, excited, ready.