Tough & Tender 9

There’s a frog sitting on the toilet seat next to me. In the unoccupied stall, I think, this is my life. This is my bathroom which I share with frogs, and unusual bugs. This space is really all theirs. I am the tourist, the sweaty, smelly cyclist, gone after the next day’s sunrise. To have the privacy of a bathroom is a joy I am surrendering. So when I am offered this luxury, I sit, and enjoy the company of my slimy friends. I charge my phone; I write emails to be sent the day I have internet service; I listen to music.

I am at the very beginning of an open ended tour of the world. 1000 miles in, I feel like a child in the midst of the great blogs of experienced world tourists, like a little girl on the road who sometimes doesn’t eat enough, and sometimes pedals too far till she cries. And in these moments I feel that my stout legs can’t take me across these great plains, let alone across the varied landscapes of China.

I sleep every night in a two person tent with a man I love, with a man who taught me to build the wheels that have carried me this far. But everyday we pedal further away from my home, further away from the women I have found myself among, from the community that formed me into the woman that would pedal herself across the country and beyond. And it is in the silent pedal strokes of each morning and in the challenging breaths of the hot afternoons that I begin to root myself in this leather seat that slowly, too, shapes itself to me.

I met a solo female cyclist on the road today, and she had a sticker saying, “My bike takes me places that school never could.”  This bike should make me experience the  histories that I’ve only read about; however, by the time we have rolled our wheels into camp, all I want is sleep. I don’t want to sit with the frog in the lonely camp restroom and write about my day’s mileage or events: I  want my mini-pillow.

This “bumper” sticker reminded me that to make this trip powerful I have to let my bike take me where school never could. I have to learn to pedal thoughtfully. I have to earn my new education by taking my eyes off the day’s mileage goal, and tune in to the passing landscape. This heavy bike is slow enough to let me see and fast enough to take me somewhere. It marries me to my immediate landscape. It makes me sometimes hide in the shelter of cornfields, make friends with neighboring frogs, and inquire gas station ladies where to camp for the night. The value is in the slowness of my journey; and this is why I am teaching myself to sit in froggy bathrooms and write.

–by, Lauren Cook, age 26, Residence: My bicycle (leaving St. Louis, Missouri at the moment).

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Swift Industries’ Tough & Tender Project is an annual LITERARY AND PHOTOGRAPHIC PROJECT TO CELEBRATE WOMEN’S EXPERIENCE OF THE BICYCLE because Women’s experience of cycling is not celebrated enough in bicycle communities. Cycling is a male dominated activity and industry, and it’s our experience as women and female-bodied individuals that cycling empowers and inspires us in ways which are not portrayed by mainstream bicycle culture. It’s time for something different!

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