Flow Like Water

The fleeting pink and white blossoms cover the city. Sun shines and spring breezes blow. Families and field trips congregate on our sidewalks. And hey, how about those tour buses! Yes, it’s cherry blossompalooza in Washington, D.C.

Hains Point, cherry blossoms, and the Surly LHT

In previous years I dreaded this scenario. But thanks to my regular midday runs that have exposed me to this sudden, yet annual, increase in activity I figured out a system to keep me moving (mostly) calmly.

As a self-confessed rule follower and righteous city dweller, I have held tightly to the believe that we all should follow certain rules. Walk on the right side of the sidewalk. Don’t run or walk in the bike lanes. Walk two abreast at most and single file in crowded zones.

Personally, I think these are really good rules. However, while I have not done any studies of the issue, few others seem to agree with me. Groups crowd the entire sidewalk, moving like schools of fish from point A to point B. Small children, and even grown ups, love walking at odd angles. They’re like human lightning bolts.

Photographers at the Tidal Basin

One day I was out on a run, weaving through the midday chaos, when I realized the rules I thought everyone should follow were maybe nice ideas, but mostly unrealistic.

I let go of my rigid views about space. I sidled in and out and around. I paused. I flowed like water.

Learning to move like this slowed my frustrations at those around me not adhering to what I perceived as the rules of the road and sidewalk.

Now I try to flow like water every time I step outside, be it on my bike or on my two feet. It’s totally changed how I look at my environment.

While more people than not make a half-hearted effort to operate in a predictable manner based on the rules of the road and sidewalk, it cannot be expected to occur all the time.

People may drift inadvertently into your path. Somebody might shoal you at a light. A tour bus may stop to unload all of its passengers at the exact moment that you are trying to pass it.

Cherry Blossoms, Surly, on the Potomac

Flow like water.

Touch the brakes, dodge where need be, and if someone gets in your space, slow down or change course. Try not to sweat it. As Felkerino likes to say, it’s all just pavement.

Sounds obvious, no? Not for me. It’s taken 10 years of commuting and more than a year of weekday runs on the National Mall to finally begin to relax my stance on the rules I was sure we all should follow. Finally, I’m unlocking the mysteries of how to flow like water.



  1. “As a self-confessed rule follower and righteous city dweller …”

    Yep, that’s me.

    But you mentioned this mantra to me not too long ago. And I found myself trying to use it while running. And mentioning it to other people. And then applying it to other situations to minimize frustration and even out expectations.

    It’s a fantastic way to look at things. Thank you!


  2. Bicycle physics is unique. Sometimes we are best like water, and others best like agile and quick bunny rabbits dodging threats. Over time, as you may have noticed in your visits to the rocks around Sedona, water always wins, in its own way. Your observations are spot on.


  3. I’m late to the party, MG, but I want to thank you for this timely, helpful post. Although I love my commute, I spend too much of it seething about the bad behavior of others. Your approach is far more productive, not to mention sanity-saving! And applicable to life’s challenges in general, as others have observed.


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