In the jungle, the mighty jungle, the lion sleeps toooonight…croon The Tokens, onstage live with KISS bobble heads rocking out on someone’s back rack. Kyle and I are taking part in Buffalo’s Slow Roll, an all-ages and all skill levels group bicycle ride originally founded in Detroit. Now the movement is global, with large community bicycle rides taking place every Monday night, rain or shine. In Detroit, there have been as many as 3000 cyclists riding; tonight in Buffalo, the number is closer to 150 cyclists willing to brave the sporadic rain showers that had been occurring throughout the day and into the evening. The mission tonight? To explore the city en route to Buffalo Central Terminal and examine how State Route 33 (Kensington Expressway) is splitting up neighborhoods (not unlike the Inner Loop in Rochester).
This is my first group ride and sure not to be my last! Organizers in orange shirts prepare us for the evening’s ride, going over a few rules for the road and sketching out our route in advance for us. I quickly shove my camera and phone into Kyle’s waterproof pannier (the skies promise a wet ride), and pushed off the pavement. Before long, a long line of cyclists had formed and we were touring Buffalo en mass. Every age group was clearly represented, from a little girl in a child carrier seat, sheltering herself from the rain under her Hello Kitty umbrella, to the white- and silver-streaked cycling die hards. Sure enough, the rain begins to pelt our group, but that doesn’t phase this crowd and not too long afterwards, the rain tapers off and the sun begins to shine again.
As we cycle through the neighborhoods, we attract quite a few spectators. Whether out walking or chilling out on front porches, residents were happy to see us, waving enthusiastically from their perches, cheering and calling out words of encouragement. We were more than happy to accommodate their interest, sounding off bicycle bells and horns while pumping our fists into the air. As we come to a stopping point to let some of the stragglers catch up, four kids on bicycles approach us with wonder. “Wow! Look at all the bikes!” exclaims one girl with braided black hair, “Is this a race or something? Can we ride?” Laughing we tell them, “Of course you can ride! Bring your parents with you and you can ride next week.”
The Slow Roll is meant to be social, so not much time passed before Kyle and I made a friend interested in our trip, having also been on a few tours including the Erie Canalway Trail. This was not his first time out with the group; he had gone on the first excursion back in August (the Buffalo group is less than a year old). As we rode on a brick street, our companion took several action shots behind him using his phone, including the one shown of us, forever capturing the memory of this epic ride.
I don’t know how to describe how it felt to be riding with 150 fellow cyclists through the city. Graduate school can at times be an all-consuming endeavor that must be done alone and in enclosed spaces. The last two and a half years have been mind-opening and certainly fulfilling (heck, I met the love of my life there!), but always a little stifling. As my body moved to the music, my mouth unable to do anything but smile, feeling the wind gently rustling my hair, my love beside me, a community of people all around me and the thrill and excitement of adventure coursing through me – I felt ALIVE.