So we’re back to issues of transportation, although I really should refer to this by the (NERDIER and) more general term of “mobility”, in the sense of simply moving around and going places. Because while it’s true that all ways of getting around are methods of transportation, I believe that mobility is more inclusive and is less implicitly tied to an idea of a machine or tool than is the word transportation but I’ll stop now because I’ve really gone too far.

Anyway. Recently I wrote about my favorite form of transportation, but I guess I should have qualified that it was my favorite form of transportation from a policy standpoint. In all honesty, I don’t have a favorite form of transportation from a perspective of sheer enjoyment, because I really love just about all of them (don’t I sound like a grandparent? “No, kids, I don’t have a favorite. You’re all my favorite. Now let’s go fishing!”). So instead, I’m going to talk about two of them for which I have been discovering an ever-deepening love: walking and biking!

(crickets)

While I’ve always been a fan of walking, my time in Europe really made me realize that walking is actually a preferrable method of transportation for connecting to a place, provided one isn’t in a hurry. Every other way to get around takes you through a space too quickly (with the exception of a unicycle, or perhaps a really slow horse) and become destination-oriented forms of mobility: where you are is not necessarily where you want to be. I understand there are joy rides and pleasure cruises and other combinations of positive nouns with journey-based nouns (I just came up with flight delight, for which I should be soundly kicked), but even these require a certain amount of focus that ultimately brings one towards the destination rather than the surroundings.

But walking isn’t like that–walking requires almost no focus (unless you’re one of those weirdos who don’t like collisions) and is easily subjected to impulse. When I was traveling around Europe, I felt a small burst of wanderlust-driven excitement every time I was walking with someone and they pointed at something to our left or right and said “I wonder what that is?”, because curiosity was all the reason I needed/need to be convinced that changing direction is a good idea. And walking is impulsive–when I make the decision to change direction, all I need to do is turn my body and within a few feet I’m off somewhere else. If I try to do that in my car, catastrophes occur. Which is why walking opens up all opportunities–my mantra while in Europe was frequently “I’ve got a nice day and two legs that work”, because this is all I needed to convince myself that lengthening my journey was a good idea. As a result, I felt very connected to many of the places I traveled, simply because I felt like I understood how streets connected to each other, and knowing the lay of the land is the first step towards feeling comfortable with a new neighborhood (and, according to Sun Tzu’s Art of War, the first step towards military conquest. You know, either/or).

This experience is (hopefully) going to shape my behavior next year (and in years to come). I’ve made promises with friends of mine that we’re going to take on cities that we don’t know and take them on on foot–there are far too many places that I’ve lived in or been in for a long period of time (which is defined as “more than three days”) that I don’t know well enough. Even Providence, where I go to school, is largely unknown to me. I know the neighborhood around my campus and a handful of locations in the downtown–the rest may as well be shrouded in mist or covered in dandelions (isn’t that a lovely image?). I so deeply want to walk down the streets of this city that’s been sitting there like a neighbor’s house across the street and see what’s there. Some tell me that there’s not much to see in Providence, but even if they’re right, I want to know it firsthand. At the very least I’m sure I can get some mediocre pizza out of it*.

Now, as great as walking is, my friend Allison pointed out something important: if you go walking for an hour, you realize that you’ve walked a mile and you think “Oh, that’s great.” But if you go biking for an hour, you realize that you’ve gone into another town (and if you’re in Rhode Island, you’ve gone through two or three towns!). My love for biking was first started in Denmark, during a two-day bike trip on the island of Samsø, a small community run almost entirely off of alternative energy but here again I’m stopping because I’ll go to far. ANYWAY, I realized how liberating a bike was–the feeling of movement becomes automatic very quickly, such that if the left leg pushes down on the peddle it seems only logical for the right leg to push down on the peddle as well. For me, the act of peddling quickly becomes subconscious, at which point one need only maintain balance and steer.

In return for this effort, you get to move quickly and move with the knowledge that you are almost wholly responsible for your own mobility (gears do some of the work, I guess), unlike in a car, where this whole internal-combustion-engine-gobbledigook is taking care of everything once you learn which peddle is the break and which is the gas (which is challenging, I acknowledge, but not as satisfying). For some reason, this sense of responsibility really adds a lot to the experience–I think it gives me a separate satisfaction when I reach my destination and can say “I got here on my own effort.” And as I (or rather, Allison) mentioned earlier, that “I got here” becomes remarkably impressive when you realize how far you can go on your own steam. On a related (but really nerdy) stream, it’s also impressive because bicycles are by FAR the most efficient form of transportation when efficiency is defined by distance traveled per unit of energy input. Sadly, I don’t have statistics on hand–not because I think anyone is going to argue with me, but because I remember the numbers being so impressive that I wanted to share them with everyone (seriously).  So if the satisfaction of walking comes from being able to act on impulse and be free of destination, the satisfaction of biking comes from being able to move almost effortlessly (I say “almost” because hills are a pain in the ass no matter how “automatic” you are) and to be the one responsible for that movement.

Plus, bicycles are oddly liberating, especially when you consider that they’re basically a step up from walking, as far as “reliable ways one can usually get around” goes. The ability to zip along and cover ground so quickly gives me the same sense of freedom that being able to instantly change direction with my two feet gives me. This came clear for me this past weekend, when I was in Bristol, R.I. with some friends of mine. We decided to go biking along the Bristol bike path, and in a half an hour’s worth of peddling at a leisurely pace, we had gone from Bristol to Warren to Barrington, and done so along a lovely series of neighborhoods and Narragansett Bay. Now I know this is Rhode Island and I’ve tripped over shoes bigger than the state, but it was still pretty damn impressive to cross three towns, and do so in a “behind the scenes” manner that took us through wooded paths and neighborhoods rather than down a big strip of tar and traffic lights. I want to go back to this bike path next fall and travel along it while the weather is still good enough to bike without a winter coat.

So I end this with a request to anyone reading this: if we are near each other and you are motivated by a desire to get outside and go, find me and take me along for the trip. I want to walk and bike as much as possible, and doing so with company is preferrable to a solo flight in my book. Barring previous engagements, I will refuse to let go of any opportunity to get my feet on the ground or on the peddles and go exploring. If my blog post be my word, then consider this my pledge to go.

*Side note: This weekend, I had a conversation with my friend Steve in which we realized that every town, no matter how small, seems to have a restaurant specifically labeled “[Town X] House of  Pizza.” Having been through some truly tiny towns in the Midwest, I really can’t think of any where I didn’t at least see a pizza place bearing such a name. Okay, well, maybe not in Iowa, but I’m impressed when I see four walls standing together with a roof over them in Iowa. Anyway, I would love to know when this became a phenomenon, and why it’s always a “House of Pizza.”

P.S. I know that the title of this post isn’t exactly unique, and it leaves out half of what I discussed in this post, but I cite it with a very particular source in mind. That source is Hem’s “Pacific Street”, which is a very beautiful song that connects wanderlust to love in a very sad way. If you’re in a sad mood, listen to the song and wait for the lead vocalist to hold the note on “far” at the very end of the song. It will break your heart, and it will do so wonderfully.

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