Friday, October 06, 2006

The trouble with commuting

Date: Oct. 5
Total mileage: 45.3
October mileage: 111.5
Temperature upon departure: 47

I made a decision a couple of weeks ago that I was going to work toward reforming my habits to minimalize if not eliminate the use of my car. It makes sense on paper because I'm already accustomed to cold-weather cycling, I already own a nice headlight and set of bike panniers, and I live in an area where I couldn't travel more than 40 miles from my house if I wanted to. Of course, what's easy on paper is definitely not always easy in practice. Gas-guzzling habits run deep, and I'm beginning to realize just how tough continuous bike commuting would actually be.

For starters, I can't figure out how people in wet climates would get around the whole social stigma of showing up at their destination wet and covered in road grit. And I don't mean walking into a store wearing a damp waterproof shell. I mean showing up in a public place looking like a jeep that spent the past hour spinning donuts in a wet gravel pit. I stopped at a grocery store on the way home from a three-hour ride today just to buy a newspaper, and I spent five minutes outside brushing my dirt-covered clothing in a failed attempt to look"inside" presentable.

This also is a huge problem for biking to work. At three miles one way, I can coast there without breaking a sweat, but I can't stay dry. Sure, I can carry dry clothing with me to change into, but this doesn't remove the aforementioned grit-stuck-to-skin problem, not to mention the whole wet hair thing. How do bike commuters keep their hair dry? I know I can lift up my hood before putting on my helmet, but this in the past has not exactly preserved "dry" hair. My only idea was to begin storing a hair dryer at work. I'm not crazy about doing this, though, and I'd love to hear better ideas.

Being wet and/or sweaty in the fall/winter also ups the chance of mild hypothermia. What's comfortable for me to wear while pounding out 20 mph on pavement is definitely not good for stopping for any length of time in a marginally heated grocery store, bank or library. Stop for more than five minutes and my core temperature plummets to noticeably uncomfortable levels. Like today, my wet feet and hands felt fine before my newspaper run, but afterward became numb and stiff. It's fine when I can go straight home and take a warm shower. But what about all the times I can't?

Then there's groceries. Luckily, Geoff does most of the grocery shopping, because I hate it something fierce. So much so that I usually suck it up and spend an hour shopping for two weeks worth of food in one large load. A bicycle necessitates frequent small trips to stores that aren't Costco (A new favorite of mine.) And how will I haul home my 24-packs of Diet Coke? I need these.

Look at me, making pathetic excuses. I'd love to hear some suggestions, especially on the issue of staying as socially acceptably dry as possible. I really don't think those skinny little road fenders are going to do much. I already have fenders on my mountain bike, which I'll begin using exclusively as soon as it gets much colder, and I already know they're pretty close to useless in that regard. But I do have an honest desire to become a dedicated bicycle commuter. I was doing really well before I left Homer, but it was easy in Homer. I Homer, I had a.) an awesome commute route (as opposed to the current one, which in three miles covers all of the only truly awful stretch of bicycling in town.) b.) an employer that didn't mind if I showed up to work looking like a lumberjack who had been out on the job for six weeks. c.) less than a quarter of the rainfall. Bike commuting in Juneau takes true dedication. But I'm working at it. I really am.

Also, I wanted to thank Bone, The Blasphemous Bicycler, for archiving my orphaned Web site on his server. I had no idea it was so easy. I now feel embarrassed to think about all of the money I've thrown down over the past few years just to keep this thing from fading into cyberoblivion because it felt like trashing a cherished photo album. Oh well. In the same respect, I should probably feel the same way about all of the money I'm tossing to Big Oil.

But I need my car.

Well, actually, I don't.