too many words by laura lemay

Tiny little steps toward the past

I’m working a temp gig right now at a large Silicon Valley tech company whose name you know well, and that you will probably be able to guess easily from this post.

The company campus in Mountain View where I work is very large and sprawling, and it can take a good amount of time to walk between buildings for meetings, or to get to or from the stops for the company shuttle I take to work every day instead of driving. It’s good to get some exercise at work, of course, but sometimes it can be a LONG walk.

The preferred way to get around the campus without a car is to take one these bicycles:

The bicycles are scattered all around campus. Anyone can pick up a bike where it is available, and leave it at their destination for someone else to use later. The bikes are heavy and clunky and cheap, and painted in garish colors, so presumably that discourages theft. It’s a system that seems to work fairly well. So really, I should be breezily tooling all over the place on these bikes all the time like everyone else does.


I used to ride a bike a lot. I had a shiny red Italian road bike that I rode around on the weekends, on and off the street, all around the quieter parts of the Valley. I was on that bike nearly every weekend. I did Bike to Work Day one year — 30 miles worth! I did (metric) centuries. I got involved in bicycle advocacy. I lost 15 pounds.

And then one day ten years ago I crashed that bike, on a wet road, in the middle of San Jose. I turned my head to check for traffic as I was making a left turn, and the next thing I knew I was being picked up off the pavement by a family who happened to be driving by. I still don’t know why I crashed. My shoulder hurt for years and still occasionally complains. I have an ugly scar on my left thumb. I stopped riding soon after that crash, and I haven’t been on a bicycle since.

Last week I got on one of the campus bicycles at work, and I’d like to be able to say that I ended up breezily tooling all over campus. That riding a bike was was just like it used to be.

But actually I got on that bike and completely lost my shit. I wobbled slowly once around the parking lot and then put the bike back. My heart was pounding in my ears, my whole body was shaking, and I wanted to lie down on the ground and cry for a while. Apparently I have ten-year-old unresolved bike crash PTSD. Awesome.

But the next day I got on the bike and I rode twice around the parking lot. The day after that I got on the bike and went out onto the street into traffic and rode down to the lunch cafe I like — and I put my lunch in the basket and I rode back again. The day after that I got on the bike and went all the way down to the end of the street, and I put my arm out to signal for a left turn, and I turned to look for traffic to make sure it was safe, and I made that left turn. And yesterday I got on the bike with my big heavy backpack, and I rode around the parking lot a few times that way. My plan for next week is to work on riding through the busy intersection, and then I’ll work on the tight turns and the hill up to the shuttle.

It sounds idiotic, I know, all these tiny, tiny, incremental steps of effort I’m making to do something so basic, so simple, that so many people can do with their eyes closed. Something that I could do myself easily, before I crashed.

But I am OK with being that idiot, with taking those tiny, tiny steps. I am a little better and a little less anxious every time. I am getting back on the bike. I am literally getting back on the bike.