A Vicious Cycle

By Killian Walsh '14

 One thing I usually miss while I’m at Bennington is a good, leisurely bike ride. Yes, despite the vibrant bike share program the school makes available, I rarely find myself on two wheels buzzing from place to place, and more often than not end up trodding stop to stop on foot or hitching a ride with one of my car-owning friends. Not that I want to complain. Mobility is mobility. It’s just that the liberation which comes from gliding downhill at (literally) breakneck speeds is hard to replace with ambling along an incline or accelerating from behind a steering wheel. Not to mention the times when I do get a bike from Crossett it’s usually in bad shape from whatever free spirit manhandled it before (seriously, let’s track those bike-manglers down). So when I get home after a hectic term of discovering art and learning the ways I can advance public action, one of the first things I do is take a long and relaxing bike ride through the southwest side of Chicago. This summer has been no different.

Photo Credit: Killian Walsh

Photo Credit: Killian Walsh

It starts at the streets. The city is both Midwestern and laid out on a grid, so navigation comes fast and easy. Either streets are numbered and you can track your distance by counting blocks up or down to where you want to end up being, or they’re arranged thematically, like by American presidents or types of tree. You know that Jackson comes before Grant, and that Maple comes before Oakley. It’s obvious. You won’t get lost. When riding a bike here it’s mainly to get back into the swing of things, to ensure that you’re still fit and able to carry out a more strenuous ride, and it allows you to give the neighborhood a once over, to see what’s changed and what hasn’t. For instance, the Panda Express nearby has closed and the streets are now populated by at least twice the number of homeless as before. Keeping tabs, alright!

After the streets, take things up a notch by switching to bike trails. A few of these still use the common thoroughfares you’ve just acquainted yourself with, but usually in ways that are aerobically challenging through their variation, or in the case of the Major Taylor trail, because of the way they alternate between patches of paved path and quick stints on apocalyptic interstates. Altogether Major Taylor is over six miles long, making it one of the longer trails, and if you manage to complete a full circuit of that in the height of summer heat, without passing out, you’ll be ready for anything. Well, almost anything.

Once you’ve used up the local trails, it’s time to switch over to a challenging and rustic ride off-road in the forest preserve. No safety measures to speak of here! Entry is difficult as trees block your path at nearly every turn. The ground is uneven, roots and rocks may spring up from the forest floor to send you toppling, and if you do manage to wreck yourself, it’s almost certain that your cries for help will remain unheard or unanswered. Or worse, the help that comes will be wild and untamable. But if you’ve done a good job of preparing yourself it shouldn’t be much trouble. And it’ll likely be a bit of fun!

So that’s what I’m missing at Bennington: a bike. The obvious solution would simply be to take one out with me, or pick one up on the cheap while I’m there. But that, my friends, is too easy. Plus, if I did that, I’d miss out on the grand return I get each time I come home.