An Eye Opening Bike Ride: Changing Perspectives on the Trail

A bike, like a boat or a horse allows one to see the world through a different lens and to reach places that people might not otherwise venture. A bike ride can offer an escape hatch from any daily crisis (or opportunity to get out of Dodge), and it can also offer an eye-opening change in scenery and perspectives.

My latest contribution to evolution are adaptations in my style of riding, along with a new change in perspective. I recently adjusted my seat to function more as a perch than a bench and I have added a device that extends the handlebars upward. This has allowed me to see further and adopt a variety of riding postures (along with a huge relief from an aching neck after a few miles on the road).

This upgrade has caused me to rethink the whole concept of maintaining a curled position on a bike ride. Am I going out to race or ride? The sight of spandex slickened bodies whooshing past me as I stretch my back and take in the sights does not trigger the competing urge like it used to. Following my ancestors, I have sacrificed speed for comfort and an improved view.

When friends asked recently to join them for a ride on Portland’s much touted Springwater Corridor Trail I said sure, in the spirit of adventure, I will give it a go. We met at Oaks Park and started a lovely ride through the city of Sellwood, a burg of Portland, between spring downpours. As we headed east toward Boring, we entered the Johnson Creek floodplain, and it was clear from the rolling mass of water how this area got its name.

I was riding high on my bike enjoying the sights when the view along the trail began to change dramatically. The greenspace was interrupted by a few scattered tents. I thought: maybe these are remnants of Portland’s hippie communities…so this is where they hang.

As we rode on into an industrial area a few tents became tent city. Packed in “no mans land” in the corridors between busy thoroughfares and between businesses was a sprawling nylon and plastic community which had all the need for the surrounding city’s infrastructure, but had none. Well, not exactly none—someone provides a port-a-potty every mile or so.

And this went on for miles. Moldy structures of every kind, pushed up against chain link fences, each with piles of soaked debris outside the “doors” and stacked overflowing in commandeered shopping carts. I moved from surprise, wonder, shock, fascination and finally a grim realization that I was seeing the answer to a nagging question I have harbored for some time: Where are all the hoards of homeless we hear have been chased from this or that city park or public area? They were here.

I was riding high in the saddle seeing things I didn’t want to see. Though I get out bike riding in the city often,  I had never seen this before. I thought: are these the mentally ill, the addicted, the sick, the migrants, the troublemakers, the dropouts? Donald Trump’s “losers?” All this in a country that really should know how to take care of its people. After eight years of political deadlock and economic crisis leaving a few in our country very wealthy, these folks living here are the extreme opposite – These are the Forgotten.

I am on my way to visit Africa soon, to experience other perspectives along with a different combination of wealth and poverty.  Some places I expect to visit may not look all that different than the Springwater Corridor Trail, but my mission is to witness (not to judge) and in my heart I hope to find and fulfill a need. I will be very interested in what is over the hill, and maybe also get out on a bike with a saddle tall enough to see as far as possible.

This essay is modified with permission from Russell Ford’s blog: Why I Like to Ride But Don’t Always Like What I See. Check out more about his story here, and follow his blog.
bike ride

Russell Ford

Author: Russell Ford

Russell Ford recently retired from teaching art in a public school in Washington, and is planning a trip to Zambia, Africa where he will teach for a month at the WayiWayi Studio and Gallery artist-in-residence program. WayiWayi is a visionary art school and gallery that is run by Lawrence and Agnes Yombwe.

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