Make things hard
It was a hot dry day. Seth wanted to go on a thirty-mile bike ride. We were bikeless. We found a bike store. They had normal bikes. They also had tandem bikes. Just one was left.
I tugged Seth’s hand. “Oh, please?”
This is one of those things that I always say I’ve wanted to do for years, but is more like a passing ‘wouldn’t that be funny’ thought. Wouldn’t it be strange to bike this weird contraption. To take up too much space. To curve awkwardly and fall. Once I tried riding a tandem and that’s what happened. The seat was too tall. We fell. But I wanted to try again, and, in that moment, it was something I’d desperately wanted to do for years, and couldn’t imagine not trying again. It was my dream and here was our opportunity.
Seth was skeptical. We were in LA, getting ready to bike on a crowded winding beach boardwalk. And thirty miles! It was a commitment. He thought it would be too challenging. The bike people said no it wouldn’t. The bike people told us we’d be fine. The bike people know everything. We love the bike people. They gave us half off when we returned. Why? You’ll find out.
There was… a lot of wobbling.
I wanted to remember the challenge. To reacquaint with the bike itself. What does it mean to pedal? How funny to wheel down a road. This push and pull between having and giving up control. Especially in the back seat of a tandem, where, once it got going, I had no say in the direction or speed, but if I stopped pedaling, Seth would stop too, so on the other hand, I had all the power.
When you ride a normal bike, you don’t have to think about biking. On a tandem, you can’t not. Every time you take off you need to come to an agreement with the other person. “Ready?” “Ready. Wait.” “Now?” “No, not yet.” “Now?” “Okay.” Seth, from the front, steered the bicycle, while I, from the back, yelled at pedestrians: “PASSING!” Seth, from the front, pressed on the brakes, while I, from the back, yelled, “FASTER!” Seth said, “You good?” while I said, “Let’s pass this asshole.” Seth said, “Look at my ancestral home,” while I said, “I can see your butt.” He lived for five years in this place of pure shoreline, mile after mile of beach after beach, but was too concentrated on steering to soak up the nostalgia.
We passed two muscle beaches and a skatepark full of dancers. Glassy highrises and Italian cottages. An airport and a power plant. A million piers and two million beaches. Seth pointed out his favorite beach: it looked like every other beach. Necklaced bros took group selfies and jumped off bridges. Retired elders sunned themselves and laughed every time we wobbled. We got lost in Venice, pulling our bulky machine through tiny paths around families along the canals. Seth said there was a “secret bike path” that would get us around the wetlands, and proceeded to get lost five times on the way there, which, once found, was well-designated with signs.
Our newly married friends were biking with us (tandemless). It was hard to tell which was the faster couple, which more in sync. They would be together behind us, or together in front of us. It was difficult for Seth and me to veer around curves or pass pedestrians, and uphill was a challenge, but on a straightaway, we had double pedal power. They swooped around us with ease, but during certain stretches, we left them in our dust.
You only notice a bike when it’s hard. You only notice how scissors work when they’re dulled or broken. You only notice a window when it’s smudged or stained. But stained glass is worth noticing. Why do people sew their own clothes or grow their own tomatoes? The challenge is the point. The process is the answer. You make things hard because you’re making things. Full stop. You relearn a skill you’ve known for years or that’s been passed down for centuries because every day is an act of recreation.
We made it to the endpoint, Redondo Beach, where we swerved around pillars in an underground parking lot with expert skill, like a videogame, until we found the bike racks. We ran to the beach, ready.
If this was a test, I guess we succeeded.
Because then he got on one knee.