Four years ago, my dad and I loaded a tiny trailer and drove to my new home: Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I’d lived in Ohio my entire life, so moving to another state was huge, even if it was still in the Midwest. I didn’t know a soul in this city, but I was excited to start my first big-kid, post-college job here, and I took it as a good sign that my first day of work was Halloween—AKA my favorite holiday.
That crisp Sunday morning when my dad headed home, I was truly on my own—well, with a Craigslist roommate—for the first time. I went for a run and discovered a bike trail just a mile away that stretched along Lake Michigan’s shoreline. As I listened to the rhythm of my breath over the lulling lake tide, I felt like anything was possible. Like I had a clean slate. Like every rejuvenating cliché there is. I didn’t know then that there would be nights that coming winter when I felt so lonely that all I could do was cry and drink wine and force my roommate’s cat to love me. That making friends after college is harder than it should be, especially for an introvert like me. But eventually things got better, and Milwaukee became home.
Even though I grew up near Cleveland, Milwaukee’s the only city I know from the inside out. I can tell you where the best tacos are (Cafe Corazon), what bars to avoid (anything on Water Street) and which frozen custard joints are worth visiting (Kopp’s, always). And I can give you directions almost anywhere. Maybe this is because it’s the first place I’ve explored as a real, mostly functional adult, but probably because it’s the first place I’ve explored by bike.
I’ve always had a bike for recreation, but I never used one as a true mode of transportation before living here. Shortly after moving, I started dating someone who didn’t own a car and traveled everywhere on two wheels—even in Wisconsin snowstorms. He helped me build Green Machine, a single-speed bike with a sturdy Motobecane frame and a distinct Ninja Turtle sheen. I learned how to ride fearlessly on city roads, dodge potholes and turn left in heavy traffic. Parking at summer festivals became free and easier than ever. Best of all, I got to know the city at street level. Not in a car, boxed off from my surroundings, but with the wind slapping my cheeks pink, taking in the yeasty smell of breweries and appreciating abandoned warehouse buildings of Cream City brick.
Last year I retired Green Machine for the Silver Steed, a snazzy Fyxation with gears that’s perfect for commuting. My new ride inspired me to bike to work more often, and I saved a ton of gas money—seriously, you should try it.
To bike a city is to know a city. And as I’ve gotten to know Milwaukee, I’ve found a lot to love. Cheese curds, obviously. Plus bike-in movie nights, kite festivals and plenty of outdoor biergartens. Sure, there are days where I grow restless and dream of uprooting to New York City or perhaps Portland—Maine or Oregon, either’s all right with me—but most of the time, I’m content to discover the undiscovered around me before I clear my slate again.