These past 2 weeks I have returned to Sydney after a year away riding across Asia, I started 2 new jobs, moved into 1 new house, made several new friends, met up with multiple old ones, and had 1 doctors appointment, a radio interview and pooped into 2 tiny cups. It’s been a busy fortnight.
I’ve never really appreciated how different it is to live a single life. Life is more streamlined as a single person, if I am too lazy, or too slow, or do something stupid I have only myself to blame…it motivates me. The other persons feelings aren’t a dictation to my day or night or weekend and is making my new life more productive. I am happy to know that my productivity and excitement for life in general has jumped, I had always suspected that I was a lazy person without someone watching me. Turns out thats not true.
There are downsides: life seems a little too untethered and less real, like there is a greater possibility that it is all just a dream. There is no one to share the in-between experiences and you only have yourself to remember how moments felt, making me more careful in my journal entries since I wont be able to reminisce about it with anybody.
Dan and I speak often, I’ve discovered that is easier to be friends after a breakup if you live in a different country, there isn’t the predictable ‘lets be friends’ and being unsure what that logistically means. Sharing city and culture and friends makes it uncomfortable and reminders are everywhere, but living in a different country means you can be supportive and interested and as good as friend 20,000 kms allows you to be and that is that. It is working well. I am not reminded of Dan at any point which helps; I live in a central area, with a different social life and a new type of courier work. I don’t see the ghost of our relationship which lives on the other side of town, in my parents old house – where we had lived, the ghost is still catching the ferry into work, it is still laying in bed over at Huntleys Point.
Sydney became familiar so quickly, people asked a lot, ‘is it weird to be back?. It is and isn‘t. It has only been a year, while it feels longer, it is still just one year. I visited London for 4 days before I flew to Sydney and THAT was weird. I was afraid that London had forgotten me. To return to a city that had no memory of me being there while I had thought of it nearly every day since I left, left me feeling shy. But it hadn’t forgotten me yet, I had old friends wanting to meet up, I had couriers to say hello to, I strode around my old warehouse studio and the maintenance man exclaimed that he hadn’t seen me for a while. When I popped into my old courier office I was worried no one would recognise me, 3 years worth of couriers walking in that same door – my face suddenly felt really plain and unmemorable, but they remembered me with a call of my name across the room. London was everything I had remembered it being which was a relief, because it had started to feel like I had imagined it all.
I had my first shift at work last Tuesday, it was the first time using a cargo bike. It is a custom built cargo that needs a lot of work but it is such a novelty. I am delivering equipment to printer technicians who are fixing broken office printers around the city, they are short and fun jobs. They call me or the office to order what they need and I grab it and bring it to them; quick, simple, easy and is so far giving me a lot of time to write, and study.
I feel overdressed when I strap my bag, hip pouch and Oakley sunnies on to go and sit in the office, open a laptop to write and wait for some jobs. I returned to Sydney without any clothing except for about 10 courier shirts because I threw all my clothing in the bin at the check-in at Cathway Airways on my return to Australia, I was 9kg over and they wanted £500… so out the clothes went. On my first day of work I had to borrow a pair of shorts from my friend Tim who is about 2 sizes smaller than I am. The streets feel the same to ride as they did a year ago, even with the new, harsh laws on cyclists that apparently have empowered the public to become vigilantes in Sydney’s war on bikes.
I haven’t noticed a dramatic difference. I have always been a vocal discriminator of Sydney and it’s behaviour to cyclists, considering it to be a rude, aggressive and patronising city which hates a person who dares to ride a bike. I am sure it isn’t the only cruel city to be like this, it’s streets and lanes are narrow, the bike paths are poorly designed, and the general attitude is mean. There is a possibility though that I have inflated its angry persona. When I ride my bike I assume everyone hates me, when I filter through traffic, and ride to the front of the line, when cars have to change lanes, when I ride through the pedestrian crossings, when I turn left after stopping, when I ride in the middle, when I ride on the side, when I ride on the footpath – I feel hate from people in cars, without looking at them, without knowing who they are I assume they dislike me. Perhaps because when someone is vocal and yells something stupid at me I imagine that that person is a voice for the many. That if he yelled, there would be many others who want to yell as well.
I have started working at BikeWise, a council run cycling education program, designed to help children and adults build confidence on a bike. I went as a spectator to a lesson and they taught the students to ride in the safest position – which is in the centre of the lane (the door zone being the biggest causes of injury for adult cyclists). One of the adult students said that you feel a lot of pressure from cars behind when riding in that middle position (where we are legally allowed to be). To which I agreed. The instructors argument was that – what if you looked behind you and saw him behind the wheel? Or if I (jorja) was behind the wheel? Or all of the people reading this, if you were behind the wheel? Would you feel pressure and hatred then? Perhaps the feeling of dislike is partly in our own heads? Then again perhaps we are a minority, because when I discussed it with my family, they as siblings and parents of an enthusiastic cyclist, verbalise their dislike of cyclists using the road.
I should like to do a poll on this subject. Roam the streets asking different kinds of people what they think of bikes on the streets. Get first hand opinions, not from a sensationalised news article or someone demonising bicycles.
I rode out to visit my parents the other day who live in very rural NSW, a 2 hour drive north west. I was riding on roads that I was familiar with but not by bicycle. Roads like Castle Hill Rd, it’s wide with many lanes and because it was about 2 o clock in the afternoon it wasn’t busy by a wide margin. Yet I had a man using his horn and a clear, strong signal that I should be on the footpath, perhaps upset that he had to change lanes. I looked at the footpath, it was overgrown and narrowed by bushes and trees, the roots pushing at the concrete and had many blind drive ways. Perhaps he thought I was under 12 years old and therefore have permission to use the footpath, otherwise he is an example of why drivers need to be educated on where people who ride bikes are allowed to be – which is, everywhere a car can be, with the same rights and space, unless otherwise stated.
Having driven these roads thousands of times but never ridden them it was strange to think about who I am now compared to who I could of been. I make my living on a bike when I had never imagined that for myself. I grew up in Dural and left when I was still at the age that I could of been anyone, about to do anything. I wondered about my full potential, whether I was someone that little girl would like. I remember there were people I admired and was intimidated by as a young girl because I wanted to be like them, I wonder if I am one of those people now, would that little girl be pleased?
On the way back into town I called into my favourite Sydney bike shop Cheeky Transport in Newtown, the very same bike shop that built my Surly Long Haul Trucker (my holy grail of bicycles). I bought and rode away on a new Bombtack 2016 Hook 1, it wasn’t an impulse buy like the story suggests -my goal for the year is to compete and expand my cycling skill set. Get back to basics and build up my confidence, thats why I am so excited by BikeWise, because it will help me have more knowledge about how I can be safe and a non-threatening cyclist but still be adventurous and hopefully inspire others to be both gracious and hard.
I have started to really settle into my new life, I should hate to say it but after so many years of dislike I realise I was wrong and I do love Sydney.