50 miles through Boston, one pedal at a time

The sun was setting over Boston Harbor as we began our return trip.

I recently returned — intensely sore — from a trip to Boston where my friend David and I went to visit our friend Sarah. We talked about the idea of visiting Salem, and Sarah, who is used to zipping around most of Massachusetts on her bike, suggested we make the mere 18-mile trek by bicycle.

David and I — not nearly in good-enough shape and wanting to call this trip a “vacation,” not an “exercise session” — were able to talk her down into taking a more modest trip to Boston Harbor.

We rented bikes in Cambridge, three-speeders that the girl at the shop said were this year’s model but I thought would look more appropriate with baskets of flowers and squeaky horns, and started off into the New England traffic.

Despite Boston being a very bike-friendly city, urban bicycling still is terrifying. Even riding in a bike lane requires the cycler to enter a zen-like state of hyperawareness. Will this car door open and send me hurtling face-first into the pavement? Will I be able to fit between these two cars or should I just close my eyes and hope for the best? Does Sarah really know where she’s going?

Turns out the answer to that last question was “no.” In addition to heightening one’s senses, urban biking heightens experiences. Ritzy areas of town become extra ritzy. Sketchy areas become extra sketchy. As Sarah took us through nearly every neighborhood in the greater Boston area, I realized I was connecting to the town in a way I never could if I was in a car.

I came to see biking as an amalgamation of walking and driving. We could go faster than pedestrians but didn’t have to obey all those pesky traffic laws. If we wanted to stop and see something, we just pulled our bikes off the road. If there was a red light and no cars coming the other direction, we would venture through it. We could feel the wind on our faces and the pavement under our bottoms. Oh, the pavement…. We felt every bump because the bike seats were hard slabs of leather and the bikes had nothing resembling shocks.

And when the three of us reached Boston Harbor 10 miles later, the result was more satisfying than any car trip. We sat on a beautiful beach, watching people play volleyball in the unseasonably warm October air. It was a lovely scene, made all the more lovely by the knowledge we made it there under our own power.

The return trip wasn’t nearly as painful — physically or emotionally — as expected, although the trip crossing a one-lane bridge over the harbor was pretty nerve-wracking. It was the 20 miles the next morning that sent me hobbling around the next several days.

So my advice to any stalwart tourists planing to bike around a new city — take a reliable GPS, stop often to indulge your curiosity about all the interesting sights you’ll encounter and bring an overstuffed pillow to sit on.

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