The Bicycle Diaries
Well, I’ve arrived in Amsterdam. Finally. I’ve had June 29th written on my calendar for so many months, it seemed like a mirage, getting further away every time I tried to move closer.
But no. I’m really here. I’m staying in IJburg, which is a new suburb just outside the city center. It consists of seven, man-made islands. To say the least, it is not the historical district of downtown, but it is still beautiful. There are canals everywhere–just outside my room for instance. And it’s only about a 30 minute bike ride from the center. Rumor has it, more experienced bikers can make the commute in 20 minutes, but I prefer to take my time, appreciating nature and breathing heavily on the uphill sections.
I bought my own bicycle today. I wish everyone who mocked me in high school for being the only kid to ride my bike to school could see me now, swooping around the streets of Amsterdam like a total badass. I also wish I looked like more of a bad ass, and less of a sweaty tourist.
Getting lost on a bicycle is not that different from getting lost walking. Except, you’re going faster, so you’re going farther. And when you’re walking, you can stop at any moment and turn around bewilderedly. In Amsterdam, you cannot just stop biking at any moment. There are twenty more bikers behind you and they will not stop to ask you if you need directions. They will continue biking, through you, if necessary. In the immortal words of Charlotte, our EF Tour Director from 2009: If you hear the bell, run like hell.
That is a particularly apt expression if you are hearing the high-pitched, rusted tinkling sound of the bell on my bike. If I’m ringing the bell, it’s because I’ve already lost control and you are going to get hit. Luckily, I haven’t really made contact with any pedestrians yet. And Amsterdam natives, while serious about cycling, aren’t exactly Hell’s Angels. I have yet to be cursed at or threatened. I was the victim of one particularly withering stare, but if that’s the worst thing that happens to me on this trip, I’ll consider myself fortunate.
When I bought my bike lock today, my landlady suggested I keep it as a souvenir. In the States, I really have no need for a bike lock, because 1.) I have no bike, and 2.) There are no convenient bike paths to get anywhere, because no one else has a bike either. I can’t quite tell why the US hasn’t hopped on biking the way we hop on every other trend that comes out of Europe. Probably because biking is more than a trend. It’s a sustainable, economical fitness regime. It’s a time saver! Thousands of sorority girls bike millions of miles on the stationary bikes at the gym–imagine if they could use that energy to actually go somewhere. If Americans agreed to make the switch to taking biking more seriously as a form of transportation, we could simultaneously help our environment, our economy, and our waist-size.
I know I can’t take my bike home with me (my suitcase is cumbersome enough as it is), but I will definitely be bringing home my bike lock. I’m sure I can find a dirt cheap bike someplace in Pittsburgh, since no one in American realizes what a potential gold mine biking could become. Even though relentless teasing left me scarred from biking to school as a child, I will once again arrive to class flushed with the glow of perspiration and productivity. Theoretically, by the time the American Bike Revolution comes, I might even be a better biker.