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.