I finally got myself a bike. The wrong one for the hills of Los Angeles’ streets, but at least it’s pretty… Anyway I got it a week before the Luna Ride, and I knew I should have tried it out before and ride around the streets a little more before going out on a long ride but to be honest I’ve been scared. Scared of cars and streets and I don’t know how people do it on a daily basis! I have a cousin who lives in Mexico City, one of the world’s craziest urban jungles and he braves the streets on a bike. I can’t even think about going down the street by myself in this more subdued urban jungle of East Los Angeles or even the suburban jungle of Ontario. So I went looking for some bravery on the Luna Ride, or as the Ovarian Psycos Cycle Brigade would say, some ovarian power. There’s a reason their slogan is “Ovaries so big we don’t need no balls.” It is an all female, and female-identified bike crew, who also finish their rides with community meetings about social issues. This time the ride would end at East Side Café with a talk about the Zapatista movement.
I honestly thought that if I was just too tired I would tell them I was going to stop somewhere and call my husband to pick me up. But the Ovas weren’t having it. When they say they leave no one behind, they mean it!
The ride started out in Pershing Square, and though I was trembling and I felt so scared I also felt excited and just wrapped in this safety blanket of sisterhood bonding and all those warm fuzzy words I read about but never truly experienced until now.
About 25 women headed out from the Square onto Sixth Street, as one of them blasts music from their ipod snuggled inside a ukulele and street lights flash all around us. It’s all a blur of lights and night, people standing, looking at us ride out, a male voice yells “Boooooo!,” taunting us, some ladies yell back “Whose streets? Our Streets!”
“Why are they booing us? Because we’re all women?” asks the young lady riding next to me, who is also riding with the Ovas for the first time.
I am close to the first riders, but soon I start lagging behind, by the time the first hill rolls by I’m done, or at least my defeating mind thinks I am. I hear encouraging yells, “Come on girl, you can do it!,” “Keep going!”
We’re somewhere in L.A. I can’t see the names of streets, I can only focus on pedaling forward, trying to breathe, trying not to die. I’m not athletic, I don’t like running, I don’t like going to the gym, but this is as fun as it is exhausting. I feel the cold air rushing to my face, taunting me as it is encouraging all at the same time. It’s good weather for a run like this, a little chilly but not unbearably so, and the rain that forecasters warned about has decided not to make a cameo for the time being.
Another young woman stays behind with me. It’s Irma’s first ride with the Ovas too, but she’s been riding for 11 years, she suggests I put my seat up, because she notices my knees are bending too much. I bought a kid’s bike because I’m so short and with my last bike I basically had to jump out of every time I had to stop. It might have been a big mistake, but once they help me with the seat, riding is a little easier.
I keep going, still the last one. Maryann, on of the official members of the Ovarian Psycos and in charge of outreach, tells me I should yell “Wait!” or something but I feel too embarrassed. I know most are experienced riders, even if they haven’t been on the Luna rides, they know their bikes, they know the streets and they know what they’re doing. I don’t know if they want speed, but I know it’s getting late and I don’t want to slow them down. But still, they stop, and they wait. “Is everyone here?” “Not yet!” “Ok! Let’s roll!” and off we go, into nearly empty streets and hills.
We stand on a red light on the right side lane, then a car behind us screeches its breaks and makes us move closer to the curve. “Is everyone ok? That was scary!” asks someone. My guess is the driver got scared. I know what it’s like to see bike riders from the driver’s side and honestly not know what to do. Cars and bikes are starting to share the road, but it’s going to take a while before they start to understand where their limits are. It might take some laws and more bike lanes to shake L.A. out of it’s car culture.
I remember once getting out of the parking lot at work downtown, and heading towards the left lane, almost hitting a bike rider. He turned to me and looked as if I had willingly cut him off. I honestly didn’t see him. He wasn’t wearing anything bright enough for me to distinguish him from the urban landscape, he had blended into the street so seamlessly I wasn’t aware. Ever since then, I have become more aware of bike riders. I think that’s another part of the puzzle. Cars and bikes struggle to communicate, sometimes in a fight for street control, sometimes to look out for each other.
“Get a gear bike, if you’re serious about riding, it’s the easiest in the hills of L.A.,” suggests Josie, a mother of two who’s been riding for 11 years. It’s her first Luna ride, but she got rid of her car 4 years ago. “Honestly, it’s f—– hard! I mean it’s been glorified, but in reality riding everywhere is hard. If it rains, I have to think about how I to take my son to school,” she says. I honestly wouldn’t get that far. My new year’s resolution is to use my car less, but I don’t think I would get to the point of not using a car. I do definitely admire those who have taken the leap, or those who have never even bothered to ever buy a car. My friend Adam and my cousin Carlos are two of those kinds of freaks. Just kidding, I say that lovingly, they know that.
When I told people I was selling my car, some would instantly ask “But how will get around?” their confused and perplexed faces seemed to be asking, “But how will you breathe?” Yes, this is L.A. and cars still rule the streets, but there’s a new generation of bike riders that are challenging that. I did get another car, but I also got a bike, of course I didn’t get the right one, but it’s a process.
There’s another pit stop in front of a Zapata statue, or at least that’s what the other womyn say it is, I can’t find a plaque that states it but it’s a Charro riding a horse. I have no idea what street it was, I was trying to find my water and not faint. (Womyn is how many new feminists write women, because it removes the “men” part and it still reads as the dictionary-accepted spelling. I have also read wombyn, making reference to our wombs.)
We start rolling again. I don’t know how I’m still going, but I am. Then another hill comes. That’s it. I get off. I know I won’t make it otherwise. Albert, who I’m assuming is womyn-identified since it’s supposed to be a womyn and womyn-identified only ride, stays with me this time. “Use your heels, that’s where your strength is, use your thighs” he says. Or is it she? I don’t know… I don’t ask. I can’t even breathe. Whatever comes up… must gloriously come down. Finally the down side of the hill, but wait, now it’s too fast. I’m not used to the back pedal, my old bike had hand breaks. Slowly breaking. I’m so glad I didn’t fall.
We hit a gas station, some go in for snacks. That’s when Irma, Josie and her other two friends say goodbye, they’re hungry and there’s no food where our final stop will be. I consider staying at the gas station and calling the hubs. I check the map, we’re only supposed to be a mile away. Just one mile. I call him anyway but tell him to meet me there. I can make it. Somehow just one more mile seems possible, and I really want to get to the finish line. So I keep going. We keep going. It’s nothing really, except it’s still hill. This is why I’ve never loved L.A. I like L.A., but unlike most of Mexico City, where I grew up, it’s all hills. I don’t even like driving in hills, it’s this fear I have. San Francisco is out for me. We get to East Side Café, where womyn from the collective group ARMA will talk about the Zapatista uprising. I can’t even believe we got there. I can’t believe I did it!
Before the talks starts, Maryann thanks all of us for staying and being there. She thanks me, even though I feel self-conscious and embarrassed that I couldn’t keep up. “Sorry I kept slowing down.” “No, this is why we do this,” she and Gloria say, another official member of the Ovas.
Without Irma’s, Josie’s, Albert’s and Maryann’s help, company, conversation, and encouragement, and without all the companionship of all the womyn on the Luna Ride, I wouldn’t have been able to do it. Still, once we sit down to hear the womyn speak, I feel like weak sauce. I’m almost falling. Then Gloria, sitting next to me, starts passing some hot cheetos, trail mix, peanuts, gummy bears. Whatever, I’ll eat it. I start being able to breathe again. Suddenly, sitting down listening to the ARMA womyn I feel it. This indescribable sense of magic and peace, something that could only happen under the full moon and I feel my strength coming back. Or is it mine? It’s all of ours’.