When she roused herself and squiggled out of the bedsheets, I decided it was time for me to rise as well. I took a brief shower and put on a long-sleeved shirt, anticipating cold weather outside. Then I tooled around the house for a while, cleaning up in the kitchen, moving more stuff into jars to mouse-proof them, feeding the cat, poking at the computer. I did some firmware upgrades and moved some files around, then wandered out into the back yard and got inspired to pull weeds. I observed that the runny nose I had inside the house was dissipated after only 15 minutes outside. Yep, there's something my immune system doesn't like in there. I should try to be outdoors as much as possible.
I snarfed some dark chocolate and peanuts - a small but strangely effective breakfast for me - and tuned up my folding bike, then rode out with my backpack to run errands. First stop, the bank in Emeryville to deposit a check. I played my old biking playlist and discovered that I was having a really good time bopping along. I felt strong and healthy in a way I hadn't for months. From the bank I went across to Piedmont and bought a bike valve adapter, and had a discussion with the mechanics about my 20-inch rim that needed repair. "Bring it in. Sounds like a custom job but we can do it," they said.
From there I rode down to Lake Merritt and locked my bike up at Whole Foods, where I loaded the backpack with groceries: Oranges, bell peppers, corn chips, a tiny wedge of cheese, two nine-volt batteries, a dozen eggs, two boxes of rice milk, a huge plastic box of salad greens, a big bag of peanuts, and many packets of squishy cat food for Mira. Plus a snack to eat in the parking lot. It wouldn't all fit, so I had to carry two paper bags on my handlebars as I rode home.
Now that I had a valve adapter, I could use the plastic floor pump in the living room to re-pressurize the tires on my big upright bike, and ride that around instead of the folding one. So I stowed my groceries, installed the 9-volt batteries in the smoke detectors, and tuned up the big bike for an excursion. But then I hit a snag: My helmet was missing. Actually, I couldn't even remember if I'd worn it home from the store. Had I left it in the packing lot back there? Was there a chance it would still be resting on the ground next to the bike racks, or on the hedge near the sliding door, or wherever I'd left it? Only one way to make sure... So I rode the upright bike to Whole Foods, retracing my route.
As I did so I was surprised to observe that I was moving very fast on the bike, and without a lot of effort. My GPS doodad told me I was going 17 miles per hour along Grand Avenue, on a slight uphill grade. A few months ago I remembered working pretty hard just to reach 15mph in the same place. That's the funny thing about being in shape, I suppose. My performance was different and since it didn't feel like I was working, I was failing to notice the change. There wasn't any novel stimulus, like being short of breath, or sore, to make me think about it. How weird. But how delightful!
Hey kids, here's a great idea for getting in shape that you can do in your spare time! RIDE 1300 MILES IN ONE MONTH. (Bonus idea: Haul 50 pounds of gear along.)
There was no helmet. If I'd left it at the store, inside or out, it had obviously been stolen by someone during the last hour. It didn't feel proper to ride around without a helmet, so my next task was to pedal over to a sporting goods store and purchase a new one. That set me back 30 bucks, but it didn't dampen my mood. It just felt great to be out in the world getting stuff done.
Traffic in the east bay area is fast and streets can be messed up in unpredictable places, but on the other hand, drivers are very used to bicyclists and have a better sense of what is and isn't proper space and timing around them. After riding in urban areas of Kansas, Illinois, and Ohio, dealing with hellaciously damaged curbs and sidewalks, and drivers who treated bicyclists like criminals or space aliens, I actually found the Oakland streets easy to deal with. The more I thought about this, the more bizarre it seemed, yet the feeling persisted. Amazing what a little perspective can do.
Anyway, after the sporting goods store I tried Home Depot, looking for a large container made of metal or glass that I could use to store cat food, since the old plastic container was no longer adequate protection against mice. They had nothing suitable, so I tried Office Max, then Target next door. They had a selection of massive jars, so I bought the one that just exactly filled the entire space inside my backpack, and brought that home. Mission Accomplished.
I transferred the cat food, fed Mira, and then mucked around on the computer some more. If I concentrated I could smell the faint odor that lingered throughout the house - a menacing combination of dust, animal detritus, and mildew. Clearly, if I wanted to preserve this plateau of good health, and good feelings that rode on top if it, I needed to be outside. I knew it was going to be difficult since I still had plenty of chores to deal with. Perhaps I could find a cafe with wifi and do most of my computery crap in there. Maybe that one down by Lake Merritt...
Anyway, I was quite hungry, so I decided to treat myself to Pho downtown. This time I rode the folding bike, and stashed it just inside the restaurant doors against the wall. The managers of Kim Huong - a husband and wife team who also served the food - didn't seem to mind.
It was a pretty good meal, though a bit on the salty side, and I had plenty of leftovers. The woman asked some enthusiastic questions about my bike, then implored me to come back again, soon, any time, great to see you, any time, no really, maybe this weekend, et cetera. I rode home showered and chased the cat around the house, then settled into my bed to type, with my stomach radiating heat in a very comforting, relaxing way.
In the great scheme of things, the big massive cosmic scheme, I suppose I didn't get very much done today. I didn't follow any job leads or inspect any new living spaces. I didn't make any major life decisions. But I've grown a bit tired of major life decisions these last couple of months. After seeing so many people in so many cities, people living from beginning to end without half the experiences I've already shoveled behind me in just the last ten years alone, I feel a little stupid for obsessing about such a big picture. Many years ago I had a job in a library shelving books, and I came upon a textbook about nutrition and spent hours reading it, and then scrawled a short sentence into my journal: "Health shapes mood shapes mind." Somewhere during the last two years I abandoned that basic knowledge, and became extremely distracted trying to figure out who I actually was, and make sense of my own disturbing and desperate actions. If so many other people around me were apparently content to live exactly the life I had assembled, why didn't I feel content? With so many people beating on the doors to work where I was, live where I was, and act how I was, why wasn't it enough for me?
Well, long story short, it just wasn't.
My only condolence is that I learned - or at least I hope I've learned - a valuable lesson about driving my life forward. No one can do it but me.