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I rode my bike today.

The autumn sky is turquoise, the leaves newly yellow, the air unseasonably warm. I quit work early, too nice to stay indoors; these days are fleeting in Oregon.

IT begins as I exit my neighborhood and ride past the construction site. Their cause is noble, returning a duck pond to a salmon run, but the mirrored stares of the workers follow me the length of the chain link fence. I enter a quiet side road, ride in the center of the street, eye each parked van for predators. An ajar driver’s side door sends me reeling into the oncoming lane; a factoid remembered from some cautionary tale.

The houses look empty mid day. I see the occasional grandparent walking a small child on the sidewalk, but the streets are teeming with white pickup trucks: heating/cooling, plumbing, and lawn care. They cruise the avenues, trail and startle like sharks. I am saddened by the number of times I plan my escape, reroute my direction, duck and pause to avoid the men inside. I am sickened to realize how often I envision my own rape.

An elderly man in a convertible stops to let me proceed at the intersection, then follows, races ahead and pulls over. He smiles and waves as he exits the car. I fly by without gesture, unable to trust or take chances.

The address I seek is across a small highway and I find the bike bridge that will take me over it. Gliding over the span, above the cars and semis and people caught in the grind, for a moment, I feel free.

I land on a bike path that leads east toward Mt. Hood, a dormant, snowcapped volcano. The path is lined with blood red maples and golden oaks; high clouds feather the open sky. I cannot slow to take it in. I am the only woman on the trail. I pass professional men in Lycra suits, their bikes worth more than my car. I pass men on benches with all of their belongings. A man ahead stands on a bridge overlooking the railroad tracks, mesmerized by the moving cars, until I pass. All of them stop to take me in, survey me like scenery, run their eyes over the landscape.

I just turned 46. I am wearing a helmet, sunglasses, and a windbreaker zipped up to my neck. Will it ever stop? I ride until I can no longer ignore the voice, the one that whispers always, and sometimes screams. You are not safe here. This is not safe.

I turn around. I pick up speed, downshift to maximize the power of my legs and lungs. I broaden my shoulders and put on my warrior mask. I blow past the men. Don’t even think about it.

Comments

Kara-Amena's picture

Harrowing

Oh Leigh Anne! I am breathless and sick to my stomach after taking this bike ride with you. I'm so sorry and feel so ignorant. This is how the peace and comfort of living in rural Vermont isolates me from the world. The scenery is beautiful here without the treacherous parts of the landscape where you ride your bike - the population is sparse, the streets are not teeming with anything. Everyone knows each other - so there is a deeper level of accountability for our actions. My life amidst these green mountains is a different reality than yours.

My self-perpetuating fears create demons from men who are too kind to children, too attentive, suspiciously friendly - the uncle, the neighbor, the coach. It's fears like mine that make my oldest son feel like he can't look or smile at a child in a public place at the risk of being labeled a predator. He also does not feel safe in public - feels he must avert his eyes, suppress a smile, resist the temptation to wave or say a simple "hello" to an innocent child passing his way. But his fear is born from the hyper-vigilant eyes of parents and a society that is more aware of child sexual abuse than the one that I was raised in. We must find the middle ground. Find a way to be cautious without being captive. I appreciate joining you for this ride - as unpleasant as it was. Thank you for sharing. Thank you for helping me to see the view beneath your bicycle helmet.

Fondly,
Kara

Leigh Anne Kranz's picture

Demons

Dear Kara,

Your words about creating demons ring true. I realize that at least some of the men I encountered on my bike ride were not a threat to me. However, I felt threatened, at every turn. The statistics are overwhelming. They have clearly taken a toll on me. Through my experiences via World Pulse and KBOO--hearing the stories of other women throughout the world--I sometimes feel that my worries pale in comparison. And yet, I live under the full weight of oppression. It smothers me, even as I operate as a free, autonomous, "fearless" woman of the 21st Century.

This is why I seek the help of men. Men must speak to men. Men must interrupt conversations and actions that veer into this territory. They must teach and be models for young boys. We must free men, too. We all suffer under these conditions.

Thank you for taking the time to read my piece.
LA

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