Welcome back to The Bicycle Diaries! This time we’re headed across the Atlantic Ocean, over the trenches and basins beneath that salty surface, to find ourselves smack bang in the heart of American bike culture in Portland, Oregon. Our dear readers, allow us to introduce Kylie.
Fighting the good fight for all the oppressed, vulnerable or ecologically-minded riders out there, Kylie’s story made us all stop and ponder the important questions in life, mainly: to what degree of nudity would we be prepared to go to with a bunch of strangers for a good cause? And the answer? Well, it wasn’t unanimous, let’s leave it at that…Anyway, enough hoo-ha, let’s take a wander down memory lane (and real-life lanes and alleys) in Portland with Kylie.
By and far my most memorable bike experience took place during the summer of 2011 when I was but a wee lass of 20. It was the capriciously early days of June, when Portland teases its rain-soaked and vitamin D deficient denizens with tendrils of sunlight to remind skeptics that summer may eventually arrive. I had been invited to an event which had gained notoriety as a staple in the arsenal of weirdness that keeps Portland on the national (perhaps, global) radar. As the date approached I made plans to borrow a bike from a friend and have my first cycling experience in Portland as a participant in the 2011 Portland chapter of the World Naked Bike Ride. (Writer’s note: If you’re keen for a quick video intro to this, click this link www.vimeo.com/65591403 )
If I expected this event to be a cacophony of shyness, as disrobed riders avoided eye contact with one another and shifted awkwardly on their seats, pleasantly surprised was I! Indeed, I felt outrageously out of place in my sun dress as I arrived to the rendezvous location, an inconspicuous vacant lot tucked away in the SE Industrial District. Spilling out of the lot was every variation of birthday suit imaginable. The night belonged to all ages, as representatives of all generations congregated, unclad and unapologetic. The atmosphere was one of revelry and bombastic anticipation despite the night’s chill and promise of rain.
Thousands of people make up one goose-bumped mob. Together we gallantly mounted our metal steeds and kicked off into the chilly evening to reclaim the streets of Portland for the sake of fun, a fossil free future and for the empowerment of cyclists everywhere. We rode for everyone who had ever felt vulnerable as they competed with cars and chose to bike rather than drive. In fact, we wore that vulnerability like an armour (metaphorical of course) as we pedaled to make our claim on the city.
Weaving through downtown, hoards of bystanders flooded out of bars and restaurants to offer their high fives as we streaked by. Night fell upon us as we crossed the Burnside bridge en masse and au naturel. Although we were many, we cheered each other on as one. When one of our ranks had an unfortunate encounter with the pavement, there was no shortage of supportive hands outreached to bring them back to their bike and rejoin the ranks of the unclothed.
By the rides end many a cheek was rosy from exertion and exuberance in equal measure. Long after clothes were donned and bikes put safely back to rest, I felt the spirit of our expedition whispering through the streets of Portland and giving confidence to the cyclists of tomorrow as they braved the roads in whatever stage of undress they so chose.
So there we have it. Once again we’re reminded of just how many lives the humble bicycle can live, whether it’s a symbol of freedom and independence, a mode of transport or an object with which to test one’s own personal boundaries. This two-wheeled contraption is often the unifying component amongst an otherwise random and varied cohort, arguably giving the long-favoured dog a run for its money as (wo)man’s best friend. Just jokes, dogs are the bomb diggity and don’t let anyone tell ya otherwise! But now on a serious note… would YOU ditch your britches for a good cause with a bunch of randoms?
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