COURTESY OF NEHA SANGANA
Sangana reflects on learning to enjoy time with herself and to explore Baltimore on her own.
I think it’s fair to say that everyone lost their minds during quarantine in different ways and dealt with it in different ways. Me? You guessed it — I developed an addiction to lazy bike rides in the Texas sun through my suburban neighborhood.
I’m from Austin, Texas. It’s a nice city. People are currently moving there in hordes because of how nice it is. Predictably, it’s a nice city to bike through, and it was nice enough that I spent all my junior year there.
Fast forward to August 2021: my senior year at Hopkins. My final year in Baltimore. I bought a bike at Walmart for $100. My father expressed many concerns about safety as he helped me transfer it from his rented SUV to my apartment’s bike room. After he left that day, I worked up the courage to painstakingly wheel it out of my apartment building. Listening to Lorde’s new album, I rode north toward Guilford and just kept going, turning when I felt like it.
I got lost, and then I opened Apple Maps and found my way home. It was not like biking through Austin, which felt like rereading Harry Potter curled up in bed.
Nothing was familiar anywhere I went, but every bike ride felt like a treasure hunt. On every ride, I found somewhere new where I could love being alone: dandelion patches, gardens, sketchy storm drains and Taco Bell. Over the year, I began to recognize faces on my routes. They would smile at me, and I would smile at them, through September, January and April. We wouldn’t know each other’s names, but we would know each other. One time, I recognized a lady who tried to scam me for $50 three months prior. We caught up. She’s doing well.
Now, Baltimore feels like mine in a way that Austin never did. I learned to exist here and learned to love existing without needing anyone else. On these bike rides, which took me outside the nefarious “Hopkins Bubble,” my senior year was not just my last year at Hopkins but also a chance to understand happiness outside of the context of family, academics and friends.
Biking was freedom. Not just in the obvious, physical aspect, but also a little bit mentally. I’m a shy person. Like most people, I care too much about what other people think. But after the embarrassing struggle of dragging my bike out of the bike room every afternoon and putting on my large helmet that I was convinced looked stupid all so that I could go loiter somewhere or do something that would make my day better, I started to care a little less. On my bike I rode down to Fells Point to get ice cream, went to The Charles to watch indie films alone, and even traveled all the way to D.C. (after transporting my bike on the MARC).
Obviously, my Walmart bike was not a solution to all my problems. However, it was a reminder that ultimately, I have control over my own life and that a bigger, more beautiful world exists outside of the deadlines and taxes and emails that stress us out.
From my bicycle, I fell in love with this city, and it is going to be the hardest thing to leave behind at Hopkins. If you’d told me this at Orientation Week, after our miserable “Baltimore Day” where we walked around in 90-degree Fahrenheit weather, dehydrated for four hours, I wouldn’t have believed you.
I rode my bike every day that I could this year, and I took a picture each time. Here are some of my favorite routes. I’m not saying you should buy a cheap bike and try to recreate these rides to find your own happiness or whatever, but I’m also not not saying that.
To all my fellow graduates: Have a magnificent life. Bad days come and go. But bikes? Bikes are forever (not really, but kind of if you buy a nice adjustable crescent wrench, invest in a solid tire pump and regularly oil the gear train).
Lake Montebello, 15-minute bike ride
Mount Vernon, 20-minute bike ride
South on North Charles Street, as long as you want
National Mall, D.C., one-hour travel time
Guilford Manor Park, 15-minute ride there
Sherwood Gardens (morning), 10-minute bike ride
Sherwood Gardens (April – tulip season), 10-minute bike ride
Station North, 13-minute bike ride
Subway on East 25th Street, eight-minute bike ride