Heightened Senses

Bicycling in the city engages my senses. When not behind the insulating, isolating glass and steel of a car or bus, I’m already more alert to the obstacles of urban riding. Body, vision, and hearing are heightened to everything that’s going on around me.

It’s the delicately salty taste of a thick, wet morning fog that settles on my face and the way perspiration built up from a tough hill climb leaves goose bumps in the breeze as I fly like a devil down the other side. It’s the sound of a ridiculous pop song from my teenage years pumping out of a passing car or the chaotic laughter of wild parrots that lifts my gaze in time to catch the flock swooping overhead. It’s the just-about-to-burn smell of coffee beans roasting in a warehouse in my old neighborhood and the poisonous bus exhaust that burns my nostrils while stopped at a red light.

And sometimes, something so entirely unexpected strikes and turns on every sense at once.

Recently I was talking with a friend about those special moments that happen when you’re running or riding, and the conversation triggered a memory of an early morning ride to work in downtown Seattle.

It was pouring down rain, probably springtime, and the roads were empty due to the hour. Before sunrise, the streets were gray and only faintly lit by streetlights. My headlight blinked, reflecting off the raindrops. As I made my last turn near the office, a steady waterfall of rain cascading off of a building overhang caught my eye. Behind the drippy curtain a handful of Muslim men knelt silently, face down on unrolled mats, deep in morning prayer in the dry shelter of the atrium. Lined up along the curb were a row of yellow cabs waiting for both driver and passenger.

The city was completely still yet utterly alive. No camera, video, or drawing could have captured that moment, but it will live in my mind as vivid as the morning it occurred.

Photo credit: Gouble Dus

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