Two days ago marked my one year anniversary of having moved to Bogotá. In the evening, I celebrated by joining a group of cyclists. Every Wednesday at night there’s a group called, “Ciclopaseos de los Miércoles,” a Wednesday bike ride. That is not what I did. A separate group rides on Wednesdays that’s called the Gonorraiders (pronounced: Gono-riders), who do what they refer to as a “pique,” which either translates to “rivalry” or “a full gallop.” To say I came in dead last would be too generous. First of all, a large amount of the group rides “fixies,” or fixed gear bicycles, which means (a) it has no freewheel mechanism, so there is no coasting and the cyclist must pedal at all times; (b) it has no gears and therefore is extremely more lightweight; and (c) it is often the model of choice for speed-riding. Second of all, I just had new gears put on my bicycle and am still learning how to use them. During the ride, I tried changing gears a few times and one of the changes caused my chain to fall off and provide no resistance. I had to stop and manually put it back on, which caused me to fall behind. Also, I recently got a new bike seat that isn’t so mini-skirt friendly: I had to slow down some to adjust it several times. All that aside, I still wouldn’t have been able to keep up: these guys are majorly fast and major risk-takers. There were about 25 people in the group at the start of the ride and I believe I was one of three girls.
One of the typical meeting places for these rides is a large plaza in front of a 24-hour Carulla, a supermarket. Conveniently, food is always a jump and a hop away and booze is sold until 1 in the morning. The temperature only drops as low as about 40 degrees Fahrenheit and public drinking is legal (so long as it isn’t disorderly), so the plaza is lively until very late hours in the night; especially on weekends. We left from the Carulla at 8:30 at night to head off to La Maloka, which is basically an interactive science center about 8 miles away. I had never been there and since I lost the group, I got… well… lost. Despite my best attempts to pedal as fast as I could, with all the turns—made at the whim of the leader—I lost the route. Trying to not get frustrated, I put on some music and head in the general direction. Finally, I called my friend to get the exact address. By the time I arrived, the group had already been hanging out for a while, drinking beer and chatting. The moment I arrived, it began to pour. As my friend from Minneapolis, Tim, explained, “The fastest people in cyclist groups always get to rest the longest.” Many of the people in the group decided to go back home, while about 10 people decided to return to the Carulla, where we had started, in the pouring rain. I joined them. I kept up with the group at the beginning—when it is raining, fixie riders have to take extra precautions—but then once again, I lost them. At least this time I knew where we were going. My guess is that I arrived about 15-20 minutes after they did. Everyone hung around chatting for about 15 more minutes and then decided to call it a night. Those of us going in the same general direction left together, taking our separate ways when the time came.
As I was finishing the final stretch home, about five minutes from my apartment, a bolt of lightning struck a power line up the road. For a moment, the sparks lit up the sky like fireworks and then entire neighborhood went dark. This meant two things: when I got home there would be no light and my electric-heated shower would be out until the following day, at best. So, I got home, lit a three-wicked candle which one of my students had given me and put on some dry clothes. Coming straight from class, I hadn’t eaten anything in about 10 hours and I was nearly out of food. By candlelight and my gas stove, I prepared all the food I had left in the fridge and cabinets, which wasn’t much because I hadn’t gotten around to going shopping.
I definitely felt a little disappointed in myself by the end of the night: for not being able to go as fast as the rest of the gang; for not having bought enough groceries; for leaving stuff on the floor that I tripped over in the dark, almost causing me to drop my candle; for not having charged my laptop so I couldn’t listen to music. And yet, I recognize I have a tendency to be overly hard on myself and to get all Negative Nancy very quickly. On the flip side, although I couldn’t keep up, I managed to complete the entire route and I was the only girl to do so. Also, these people have more experience cyclist than I do and way more experience riding across a hilly landscape: all my life I’ve lived on flat terrain. Plus, just because I couldn’t keep the same pace as them doesn’t mean that I never will be able to; just that I need more practice. And the other stuff? Well, being an adult takes years to perfect. When I finally do, maybe I’ll be bored out of my mind.
It’s hard to measure our accomplishments between now and a year ago or five years ago, but even more so when we measure ourselves against the version of ourselves we wish we were. Being grateful for what or where we are instead of what or where we wish we were is an ongoing struggle. Why is letting ourselves see our accomplishments often like walking through a dark apartment by candlelight?
Moving to another continent or country or even city, if you want help or love or respect from yourself then you have to demand it; to convince yourself that you deserve it. Being on your own isn’t easy. You have to pedal ‘til you are sore not because you want to be where someone else is but because you love the way it feels. The greatest gift you can give to yourself is compassion and understanding for your circumstances; to recognize that the most vulnerable place you can possibly live is in your own skin. It is up to you whether or not you make that skin feel like home.
photo by Juan Davila