Yes, I am making a big deal of this feat! I resisted the temptation to enter into this small cult at work for at least a year. From parenting issues, yard and home maintenance, dog maintenance, health, work; I’m faced with new things all the time. I had this sense I wanted to join in on the logic of riding a bike to work, yet my heart held up its hands in a cross as if to say, “No… not another new thing!” I didn’t think I had space for it. There are days when I question what mystifying component is part of the equation that allows me to juggle multiple things with such vigor, and then there are days when the “the straw that broke the camel’s back” is someone asking if they can ask me a question. No! I want to shout, but usually I find composure.
I’m compelled to do a lot of things. Some of what I do is my personality, and some is the nature of life, the day to day demands we all face. The combination can at times be lethal or invigorating. As I get older I hope I’m wiser. I try to stay focused. My kids have heard me say over the years, “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.” Even when something looks worthwhile.
But bike riding for example made sense. At our school there are several staff who ride their bikes to work. Over hill, over dell from SE, NE, SW, and Milwaukie staff not only ride their bikes to work (hopping on Max for a portion of their trip) to SW Beaverton, but one has brought his beautiful young son in tow for at least the last year.
I know many women who feel a real sense of satisfaction in doing something themselves, or overcoming a fear. That’s not me. In fact, learning to install a dimmer switch which I attempted last December was not remotely interesting to me. I made a sincere effort, but after hours of YouTube and other input, my friend’s husband accomplished it in about 30 minutes, and while I hated inconveniencing him, I had no problem having not been successful. My front porch fountain that was built for me last year by my son and dear friend got torn apart with the house project. Even after a good effort by Bradley and myself, there it sits. I feel no sense of failure. I just wanted a dimmer switch and I want a fountain.
However, I knew that riding a bike was within reach, if only I wanted to do it, and I didn’t. But I kind of did. Being a person who loves to be productive, I recognized the multiple benefits. I would be exercising and contribute to the good of the environment, not to mention save on my Prius’ small amount of gas consumption and the wear and tear of that lengthy 8 mile round trip commute. I wasn’t interested in taking on a new challenge, yet every single day when one of those studly staff members walked in with their bike I thought, “That could be me.” And then, “Nah. I don’t want it to be me.” I don’t want to get up earlier, I don’t want to be sweaty at work, I don’t want to buy a new helmet, or put air in my tires, I don’t want to leave Winky any longer than I already do, and I also don’t want to get hit by a car.
May was apparently National Bike Month. I say apparently because I’m not exactly sure what it was, but there was some excitement over riding a bike to work and one of our eager staff members solicited everyone to take this bike awareness opportunity to get in on the action. I found myself signing up one night on a site called Love to Ride/Bike More Challenge.
There I was, committed. My first ride to work (after a couple practice rides from home) was on May 17th (you can see by the date I was dragging my feet). But after that very first ride when I entered my school, I knew I was hooked. At least, until I’m not. I’m sure a fair weather and light outside rider I will be. All the things I anticipated it to be, it was, except I am not sweaty at work, and that’s a good thing, because that could have been the deal breaker; that, and getting hit by a dump truck.
There are so many things I’ve learned in the 5 rides. One, it is scary to be in a bike lane and have a dump truck wiz by you and then exit right, just ahead of where you’re cycling. A big obstacle for me was the whole grooming piece. There are a couple of darling cyclist women at work who probably look the same when they go to bed as when they wake up. That’s not me. But I’ve figured that out, and doing a sponge bath with the washcloth and towel I carry in my backpack is working out well, although donning my sports bra after work last Friday was a little sobering; it was still damp from my morning ride. I squeezed my eyes shut and got over it.
The first morning’s ride was fraught with anxiety. I honestly didn’t know which was the front of my helmet, it had been that long. After serious consideration (I might have sent a photo text to my daughter), I wobbly was on my way. I took a different route home that night that would give me a little extra distance. The route to school was just under 4 miles, and this different route would be just over 4. I wanted to enter a roundtrip 8 miles into my Bike More Challenge. But the route home is more challenging both in elevation and traffic patterns. Stopping at a red light atop a hill caused me to catch my breath, and then look to see who was laughing. I staggered in an effort not to fall on my face as I pedaled to get my wheels moving, maneuvering re-entry into traffic.
The next bike ride I felt the cliche, “like riding a bike.” I felt as if I’d been doing it for at least a couple days. Not only was I less intimidated by the experience (by now I had the front and back of the helmet figured out), but I was able to be more aware of my surroundings, and I found myself strategizing, like how to pace myself between lights, how to navigate double turn lanes, and managing the light that stops at the top of the hill on my route back that day.
On the way home impatient drivers annoyed me, but I wasn’t intimidated. More progress! I guess it’s hard for a driver to sit still when they want to turn right into a parking lot. One driver attempted to inch her way into the parking lot, until I made eye contact with her. One of those co-workers who come in beautiful without makeup was hit by a driver who was impatient making a right turn into a parking lot. I get it! With each new experience I had new questions for my cyclist experts at work, like:
Do you use a horn? Answer: no
Do you use mirrors? Answer: no
Do you carry a lock? Answer: yes, and an extra tire tube (still not sure the extent of that)
Do you stop for school busses like a car? Answer: yes
Do you move ahead on the right in the bike lane if traffic is stopped? Answer: yes
Do you pull to the right for sirens and lights? Answer: yes
By day 3 I was feeling veteranish, like “Oh my goodness, how is this possible?” On this day I took the same route to work that I’d been taking to get home. I felt competent as I moved from the outside right into the left to make the left turn. It does help that it’s 6ish am. A man on a bike in a flannel was ahead of me in the bike lane going slower than I was, which surprised me. He jumped up onto the sidewalk, and I thought, “Oh, not a real cyclist, like me.” Then I saw another cyclist with all the gear on that all my co-workers wear, and I thought, “He’s a real cyclist, not like me.” There’s lots of time to think (and pray).
My day 3 was a Friday and I’d worked a very long day. My mind and body were ready for a change of scenery and relief from the demands of work. Yet I fretted a bit that I wasn’t doing anything relationally on a Friday night. Friday night is my favorite night to socialize because it’s a release from the work week and because I’m out already. I enjoy staying out, and then on Saturday, I like staying in. But I had a lot going on over the weekend so I’d intentionally not planned anything, feeling a bit of regret. But it soon left me as I felt satisfaction for staying late to get things accomplished, relief of leaving work, and the wind in my face as I pedaled down the rode, happy to be with myself and my bike. I surprised myself as I thought, ” This is a better remedy for exhaustion than getting into my car.”
It has its limitations for sure. I can’t run into Costco for a $4.99 roasted chicken (unless I buy a trailer and all that jazz). It limits my after work commitments and extends my commute time. Last week I was so distraught when I realized that a second bike ride to work wasn’t going to happen because of some logistics of taking things into work. There was this and there was that, getting in the way of bike commuting. But somehow on Friday morning I overcame some obstacles and got my shower in and myself on the bike by 6:15. I didn’t have a two year old in tow, but I did have to put on my make up.
This new discovery complements my life. What an inspiration my co-workers have been, faithfully showing their prowess and nurturing my curiosity to a point of action. I don’t think I’ll be a cyclist like you, but where I am feels just right. Thanks, guys (and gals)… and my good friend, Jen too.
Tomorrow’s a bike riding day!