I am riding a bicycle in the dark, on a bridge in a blizzard. The wind howls through the girders of the bridge. I listen as the howl builds like an animal on the scent of its prey until it wraps around me, pushing me into traffic. I have never heard the water under the bridge before but tonight it is thrashing far below me. I twitch the handlebars to regain my balance and the front wheel slides before regaining traction in the deepening snow and ice. Piles of plowed snow line the concrete railing, pushing deeper into the roadway as I ascend toward the bridge’s apex. The wind shifts and I feel it at my back. Unlike a gentle push, helping me along my way, the wind accelerates me careening through the drifts. My tire skitters over clumps of ice causing another slide. I don’t know what will happen if I pull the brakes. Maybe the tires will hold, slowing me down. Maybe I will experience a quick and catastrophic crash. I decide not to pull the brakes, instead opting to hang on and hope for the best.
I am out in this nasty weather to participate in the inaugural “Parking Ban Ride.” At nine PM tonight I meet up with ten other cyclists (obviously suffering from some kind of arrested development) at Portland’s Monument Square. Portland, with its copious amounts of snow, issues “parking bans” to facilitate snow removal, making it illegal to park on the streets after snow storms. Our reasoning is: with parked cars banned, the streets are ours! We decide to take full advantage, setting off at a reasonable pace from Monument Square toward the beach on the Eastern Promenade in deep snow and winds up to forty miles per hour.
I first met up with this group working at my job at the bike shop. One of the other mechanics, a hard-core bike commuter like myself, suggested I attend one of his “Bikes, Beers and Burgers” rides. Though I’d spent years riding bikes, my cycling had mostly been solo. Besides wanting to get out of my anti-social shell for a while, I had another reason for wanting to tag along with this rag-tag group of cyclists who consider bikes more than mere toys: this was the perfect place to observe exactly the kind of behaviour the characters in my current novel involving bicycle messengers exhibit every day. The vibrant urban bicycle culture. That first ride became the first scene of my book (with some liberties taken.)
That was late summer. This is mid-winter, in a blinding snowstorm, and I’m far from my laptop. Listening to the whoops and laughter of the guys (and one intrepid gal who had never ridden on snow before), weaving through the snow trying to keep their balance, reminds me that this goes way beyond novel research. We rocket down a treacherous, snow-packed hill, get yelled at by a guy in a diesel pick-up and get chased by a dog released by some night-time sledders. Not once do I think about the written word. At each stop a can of beer is opened and passed around, so cold that ice forms inside the can. No one drops out. No one flees the streets for safety or warmth. And at one point or another, we each congratulate the others for coming out in such unpleasant weather. Tonight I am learning something about writing I couldn’t get from a workshop or a book. You never know where a story will take you.
At our final destination, a hole-in-the-wall pub in the West End, we wrap our frozen fingers around steaming hot drinks and toast. We toast to our superheroic efforts riding in conditions that would make most drivers hunker down in front of their fireplaces. We toast to forging friendships. We toast adventure.