bears bicycles daunted fear Marilyn Manson Terry Gross

Jocelyn Buttstrong


By mistake, I went on a 14-mile bike ride the other day.

It’s not like I was transferring the sheets from washer to dryer, only to suddenly look down and note with a surprised “How the hell did this happen?” that I’d been spinning along on a bike for more than an hour.

That’s improbable on several fronts, the least of which is that I suddenly found myself aboard a two-wheeler. In truth, the greater improbability is that I’d actually be washing sheets. That would imply I’d stripped a bed. And if it ain’t March, and the buds aren’t burgeoning on the trees, and the children haven’t just been cut out of the long underwear I sewed them into last November, then the beds ain’t been stripped.

However, I did, knowingly and willingly, lead my unsuspecting bicycle out of the garage last week, set it on an uphill course, and throw my leg over the seat. Yes, I was in complete possession of my faculties.

Or so it seemed for the first 45 minutes. My route took me along the outer edge of town, up a road named Unrelentingly Upwards Avenue. As I churned along, I played around with the gears, cursed my jumping derailleur every now and then, coughed loudly and frequently to let the black bears know I was around (the next day was garbage pick-up day in the ruralish neighborhood, which meant it was Bear Buffet Night at the trash cans), made up NPR stories that I might have heard, had I worn my headphones (for awhile, I pretended Terry Gross was interviewing Marilyn Manson, but then he shifted from seeming surprisingly informed and intelligent and just got creepy and annoying when he started to make the case for his 38-year-old married self having an affair with a 19-year-old). As the wheels spun ’round and ’round, I was definitely getting a healthy dose of Fresh Air.

But then darkness fell with a heavy thud. Out there, feeling quite alone–except for the ginormous 4 x 4 trucks that would speed by every few minutes, blasting me to the shoulder–I started to feel a little quivery. In addition to pedaling and coughing, I burst out occasionally with quick, audible pep talks: “Just 4 million more cranks of the legs, girl, and you’ll be at the stop sign, turn left, pedal another mile, hit the next stop sign, turn downhill, and head towards the park. You can do it! And then you’ll be home for eggs and bread and chocolate and a lovely White Russian.”

It was really dark, though. All efforts at pep talks fell flat. I almost stopped caring about Russians of any color. Except the Red ones. Them, I still felt for.

Then not only my hands fell asleep, as is their wont when I bike, but my vajayjay got that bad tingle. And yes, there are bad vajajay tingles. The journey to crotch numbness begins with a single spoke, turning endlessly in the night.

Now I know people who are real bike riders find 14 miles to be nothing. Doing a hundred miles in a day is realistically very doable for even a slightly-above average Joe.

However, I’m not gifted, physically, and I grew up in a family where we didn’t leave the house much. Sure, there was the mail checking and all, but because retrieving OPERA MONTHLY from the mailbox is the closest I ever got to summer camp, I still have a pretty steep learning curve with this outdoorsy physical stuff.

Let’s put it this way: I went kayaking this summer (for the 5th time in my life), and I had to cry a little bit. The paddle just didn’t do what it was supposed to. And the kayak didn’t move right. So I got frustrated and boo-hooey.

The good news about me and out-of-doors tears is that I pretty much just need to let them blow through, and after the catharsis, I can gird my loins, or spray skirt, and get back down to business. Then, when it’s all over, I want to go again. And, yea, when I go again, I’ll most likely cry some more. It’s what I do. It’s who I am.

So there I was, in the pitch black, pedaling and pedaling, getting really tired and realizing I still had a long ways to go. Or at least I thought I did; I hadn’t ever actually biked this route before and was working from some half-digested directions given to me by my Groomeo back at the house as I snapped on my helmet and double-knotted my shoes. A little uncertain of where I was, and craving a large order of French fries, I started to feel like it might be time for a few tears, simply as a kind of on-the-road therapy. Interestingly, though, I couldn’t tap into any tears. How strange. It was almost as if nothing felt quite right, and I really wanted it to be over, but, hell, what could I do about all that? Just keep pedaling, really.

Even when I came to a junction and, in the inky blackness, felt my way off the paved road, onto the gravel road that was supposed to signify the downhill turn towards home…and I realized I couldn’t see the trees around me on the even-more-remote unpaved road and that I was constantly weebling into the ditch without knowing it until I would experience a thump and the ground falling away, again and again…and that I would have to turn around and retrace my route, back on the paved roads, thus lengthening my “fun exercise time” by an extra 40 minutes–even after all that, I still didn’t cry.

It was starting to look like I might just knuckle down and do this thing, sans the requisite two-minutes of weeping. How odd, indeed. As a gal who’s generally well in touch with her own drama, I’m not at all accustomed to pragmatic matter-of-factness.

So there were no tears, even though I was a reewy, reewy wong way fwom home, aww awone, twying not to hit the hungry bearsies.

Instead, I sang. Much like Avril Lavigne, though lacking a pair of Converse high-tops and heavy eye liner, I used singing to vent my angst. As long as I was belting out the tunes, I didn’t have to wipe my eyes with my sleeve.

So I sang. What surprised me was my source material. Certainly, I didn’t sing any Avril Lavigne. In case you didn’t know, she’s a talentless idiot who sucks. Nor was it the work of Beverly Sills that gave me heart that night, despite my upbringing; rather, it was the work of Alison Moyet during her Yaz (Yazoo to you in the UK) years.

Indeed, ’80s pop saved the night. As an ode to the darkness, I sang “Midnight.” As a tribute to my beloved Groom, whom I might never, ever see again–what with it being 8 p.m. on a Sunday and me 4 miles from home on a fully-functioning bicycle–I sang “Only You.” Goodness, but I wasn’t out in the country, all alone, cold, tired, bonky and a little sore. Nae! I was transported back to my dorm room in college, watching the old LP spin around the turntable, having just cooked up 9 cents’ worth of Ramen noodles in the illegal hot pot on my desk. It was just me, my back-combed bangs, my shoulder pads, and my Yaz.

Sadly, due to all the diet pop I drink, my brain is riddled with Nutrasweet holes, so pretty quickly I ran out of lyrics.

Thus, by the time I reached the homestretch back in town–the last two miles home–I was a little hoarse, repeating the same eight lines over and over, alternating huffed croaking with wild hand shaking, as I tried to restore blood flow to my paws. Over the sound of my stomach growling and my crotch protesting (she’s a screamer, that one!), I realized that my attempts at fitness had rendered me just the teensiest bit pathetic.

Not even Marilyn Manson would have dated me at that moment.

But I like to think Terry Gross, admiring my fortitude, empathizing with my crotchiness, might have.

If you care to share, click a square: