25 August 2010

Rainy Days, Cyclists and Cats

The sky is darkening; the fine light rain seems to be suspended between streets slickened with streetlight reflections of drizzle.  Earlier today, harder rain plunked against the awning by my window and seemed to drive all reflections in streams down pavement that’s even darker than the sky is becoming now.

For three days, we’ve had weather that’s been one variation or another of the two kinds I’ve just described.  But that’s not the reason I haven’t ridden.  

The other day, I still felt I had the mild case of the flu, or whatever it was, that found me over the weekend.  I felt congested and lethargic:  not the conditions under which most people choose to ride.  Yesterday, I still wasn’t feeling so well, but I had an appointment and only the vaguest notion of where it was, much less of how to get there.  So I took mass transit.  The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) here in New York has Trip Planner, a variation of the Google map on its website.  You can type in the addresses of your starting point and destination—or the names of landmarks—and Trip Planner will show you which buses and/or trains to take and estimate your travel time.  Cyclists need some version of that:  When you use Google or similar systems, they usually show only the routes over main highways.  I once tried to use the bike map feature, but it was worse than useless:  It gives directions like “Proceed down Maple Street.  Turn left.” 

Anyway…Today I was preparing myself, logistically and mentally, for tomorrow, which is the first day of the new semester.  Charlie and Max were content to spend time in my lap or simply curled up next to me.  And I was content, too. 

Is it my imagination, or is there some affinity between cyclists and cats?  It seems that most of the cyclists I’ve known have had cats, or wanted to have them.  On one hand, it doesn’t make sense:  After all, it’s pretty difficult to take your favorite feline with you when you’re riding.  I know that a kitten or a small cat can curl up inside a basket on the front of the bike, and that, with a bit of ingenuity, a kitty carrier can be attached to a bike rack.  But cats don’t seem to take very well to such arrangements. 

Sometimes in parks or other places where there’s little or no traffic, I see cyclists “walking” their dogs.  Those dogs are on leashes and trot a few paces behind the bikes. Of course, the cyclists are ride slowly; sometimes they pedal just enough to keep themselves balanced and moving forward.  Even so, I don’t think it’s possible to take a cat out for a “walk” while riding.  At least, I’ve never seen it.

So why do so many cyclists like cats?  OK, I guess this is where I get to promulgate with another of my crackpot theories.  (Actually, most theories are pretty crackpot.  That’s one thing I’ve learned from being around people who’ve gotten tenure, or made careers in other ways, from them.)  My guess, I mean theory, is that even as cycling has become more popular, it still takes a certain amount of independence to be a cyclist, especially a committed one. 

Even though cycling has become a more socially acceptable activity in the US—at least in certain segments of the community—it’s still not something one does to gain approval from the society at large.  Some people don’t even get approval from those who are closest to them when they start riding, first for recreation, then for transportation, let alone when they decide to take off for weeks, months or even years on a bike trip. 

Also, when we want—or need, for that is what it is for some of us—to ride, friends, lovers, spouses and other family members may feel as if they’re being ignored or snubbed.  Likewise, some people see cats as aloof or simply unaffectionate because they don’t snap to, the way dogs will, when humans summon them.  When a cat slinks off into a corner or sashays to the windowsill rather than to the lap of the person with whom she or he lives, said cat is not shunning or ignoring said human.  Rather, the cat is fulfilling a need, whether or not people can understand it.

Plus, I think that cats simply enjoy their own company.  It’s almost trite to say that you have to enjoy your own company before you can enjoy anyone else’s company because, well, it’s true yet people try to live as if it weren’t.  If you’re going to spend lots of time on the road by yourself, you’d better enjoy your own company.  But even if you ride with others, you need to be able to be Thoreau’s “majority of one” because, even when done in large groups, cycling is still an individual activity in ways that other sports and activities aren’t.

Finally, of course, there is a good logistical reason for cyclists’ affinity with felines:  They can be left alone when we spend all day on our bikes, and if we go on multi-day rides, all they need is for someone to give them food and water—and, if we’re gone more than a couple of days, clean or change their litter boxes.  Dogs and other pets—not to mention some humans—need more.

At least cats understand that we’re coming back.   And the funny thing about independent people is that they usually come back.

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