Before the Sickness: Road Bikes in San Francisco

We reached downtown just as the sun began to set. San Francisco at dusk is a bustling place. Brakes squeaking, fluorescent lights flashing and illuminating windows of bars and restaurants. Rush hour traffic cramps the streets. Street lights begin to light one after the other. You can catch a host of different people walking during this time. A young twenty-something wearing a beanie and a messenger bag, coffee in hand, surely heading to a poetry reading or open mic night. The business savvy woman in heels hustling to the BART station to catch her train home for the night. And, every now and then, you catch three girls on road bikes swerving in and out of stopped traffic trying to get home.

There are obstacles on every side: cable car tracks that line each street attempt to catch your thin wheels, taxi drivers whose patience has run short, and the steep hills that define the city. As the orange light of the setting sun breaks through the crevice between the grey cement sky scrapers, I give up. I get off my bike yelling to my companions, “I don’t have health insurance!” I thought I was cutting it close when we were descending the steep hill into Sausalito past the Golden Gate bridge. The wheels were spinning so fast as we accelerated downhill, it was hard to tell if I was still riding the bike. Or was the bike riding me? One patch of sand or small rock and us beginner bike riders would have met our Maker. After riding the ferry back to the city and attempting to pedal fast to make it home to Nob Hill by dark, I had enough.

The past ten years of my life were studded with risky endeavors: white water rafting on the Nile, bungee jumping over gator infested waters, and getting caught in a rip tide that the next day killed six surfers. Surfing waves (or at least attempting to) that were too big and hiking unknown trails in flip flops and sleeping outside in hammocks and getting lost in strange countries. Anyway, a little road biking in San Francisco seemed tame enough.

But things were different now than in the past. A simple yet substantial difference: health insurance. I was twenty five years old and I needed to be responsible. If my wheel caught in the trolley tracks causing my bike to tip and my leg to scrape against the pavement, I would have to incur the outrageous expense of the emergency room visit and subsequent treatments. Money that I did not have. Needless to say, I jumped off my bike and began pushing it up the sidewalk. My friends were laughing at me as they continued on their bikes all the way home. I didn’t care. I could not risk getting injured knowing that I didn’t have the means to clean up after my mistakes.

Knowing now what I didn’t know then, I would have continued on my bike ride. Knowing that in less than a year I would no longer have the physical ability to ride a bike, I would have finished the journey. I miss the laughter of my friends as we barely escaped hitting a taxi. I miss the burn in my thighs as I pushed up California leaving the Financial District in my dust. More than anything, I miss the freedom I had, freedom from the pressure cooker of health insurance and medical bills.  Freedom from the thought that I may never be able to return to the exciting life I once had. I miss the freedom I had before the sickness.

And I miss the bike rides.

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