It had been a rough stretch. It was Thanksgiving and I was over 2,000 miles away from home with a freshly broken heart and a heap of city stress. But it was a sunny day and I was determined to seize it. I pulled on my black tights, hot pink workout shorts, a layering of synthetic exercise tops, and finished it all off with a bicycle helmet.
With a smile on my face, looking forward to breathing in the crisp autumn air during my ride, I walked out to the garage to grab my bike. I opened the door and looked toward the corner where I always propped it up against the wall. Then I looked to the other side of the garage. Then I walked out of the garage and looked in the backyard. And then back into the garage. And then out of the garage again and turned in a circle. Then I just stood there for a while. Gary Fisher was gone.
Gary Fisher and I met in California in 2006 when I was off for my freshman year of college in Oregon. He was the mountain bike model on sale at the local bike shop, so the clear choice for my lofty plans of biking all over my new campus and around town. Flash forward to my graduation, after having moved off campus and up a hill, and although Gary and I had had a few good rides together throughout the years, the total number of miles on that bike was pretty abysmal. However, when an opportunity on the other side of the country presented itself, I couldn’t imagine going without Gary. With my Chevy all loaded up for the drive east, I strapped Gary Fisher onto the back of the trunk for the journey out to Washington, D.C.
When I moved into the actual city, I occasionally rode my bike close to home to run errands, but unfortunately, Gary primarily went back to sitting in the garage with flat tires. That is, until this past June.
Much of what had held me back from biking over the years was an amalgamation of unexplained fears all related to getting out there into the world on a bike. I thought it would be too hard physically. I thought I’d make a fool out of myself trying to bike through city streets. I thought I’d get completely lost on the trails. And, largely, I thought people would be able to smell that I was an impostor, not a “real” biker. But in June, after one big ride with a partner through some of the metro region’s bike trails and down to the Georgetown waterfront, I threw all of that fear out of the door and was officially hooked in a way I never saw coming.
The months that followed were bliss. I spent several days of my summer knocking back big rides to Mount Vernon in Virginia or beautiful lakes in Maryland or out into the heart of the city to meet friends for brunch. I started biking to work, soaking up how it made going into the office feel more like a wild adventure than a mundane routine. I relished in the empowerment I felt knowing that it was my own body creating the momentum of the wheels. I loved feeling the strength growing in my leg muscles. I smiled at the freeing moments of wind in my hair and the excitement of occasionally getting lost, but finding new places through doing so. A whole new city opened up to me when I got on my bike and truly started to ride. I was in charge of the direction of my life.
But then Gary was gone. Just like that. The end of an era.
The next day, I walked over to a bike store to scope out any good Black Friday deals. The bikes were shiny and new and the staff was friendly and helpful. There were plenty of great bikes that would work perfectly well for what I needed, but as I stood and looked at the selection, something just didn’t feel right. I wasn’t as excited as I thought I should be. I decided to sleep on it and look around at a few more shops before deciding on one.
I had heard about a shop in Arlington that sold refurbished used bikes, so the next day I took the metro out there. I was dragging my feet as I walked to the store, not expecting to find anything, but wasted time. However, the moment I approached the store and looked at the selection of bikes, I felt something flutter inside my heart again. I was in the right place. There was something about these bikes that felt familiar, like an old friend. It was as if they knew how I was feeling because they had some backstory on their gears too.
Although I test rode several bikes, I knew from the beginning which one was for me. She was a previously owned, black Trek hybrid, and we fit well together. Not having expected to leave with a bike, I had to put it on hold until I could come back the next day prepared to take it home.
That next morning felt like a fresh start. I took the metro back down to Arlington, this time ready to ride back plus one. The moment I began pedaling, I felt that feeling again that I was free, driving my own life. I had the biggest smile across my face. The sun was shining. The city looked beautiful. The air was cool and sweet. I crossed the Key Bridge into Georgetown and then walked my new bike down the stairs to the waterfront to connect to the Rock Creek Trail that would take me home.
All of the weight of the past few weeks was lifting. I was beginning again. As I biked around a curve in the trail, I looked toward my left at the trickling creek. At this moment, a Great Blue Heron resting on the shore outstretched its wings and flew gracefully by our side as an omen.
“Heron,” I whispered. My new bike’s name would be Heron—a name of ancient grace and gliding freedom.
When I parked Heron in my apartment, I stood in front of her, glowing in the excitement of the chance to start fresh. However, what deepened this experience was knowing that it wasn’t just some shiny, new fresh start that tried to deny the existence of history. For us to look the other way and pretend we were both that clean, just-out-of-the-box kind of new would be artificial. Both Heron and I had a past. We’d had other loves and losses, adventures and homes. We were a true fresh start, wrapped in a beautifully rich backstory, not trying to change or deny who we were, but rather, starting right where we were. We understood that there was no shame in fully feeling the emotions that had shaped us. By not denying who we’d become through our own stories and experiences, we had an opportunity to blend together each of our unique pasts into a gorgeous future.
On New Year’s Eve, I thought again about the symbol of Heron as the clock ticked to midnight. It had been a year of highs and lows. Parts of it had left me with joy, but other parts felt murky and I wanted to wash myself clean of them, to start again with the promise of the New Year. For a moment, I got caught in the high expectations of believing you can just delete the dark parts. When the calendar turned to 2015, however, I understood that it was a fresh start—just like it had been with Heron. I was taking a unique breath that was only available in that moment. I could only be present here, not in the past. And yet my ability to go forth with renewed perspective and hope was available thanks to the backstory, to the opportunity to start where I am.
And so in 2015, I toast to Gary Fisher who, it would turn out, traveled with me all the way from Oregon just to set me free in Washington, D.C. I toast to a great respect for where we all come from and to the beauty of true fresh starts.