Wednesday, June 20, 2007

I am not my bike commute

Date: June 20
Mileage: 36.3
June mileage: 441.1
Temperature upon departure: 53

It’s time for me to admit my secret shame.

I don’t bike commute to work.

I bike commute to a lot of other things. Barbecues. Errands. To get my sushi fix. Shopping (and I’m still trying to figure out a good way to haul a 36-pack of Diet Pepsi the five miles from Costco.)

But not to work. It’s three miles from my home. I ride right by the building every time I head to the Mendenhall Valley (which is often.) Still, I haven’t been able to cowboy up and straddle all of the obstacles that make riding to work and back on daily basis a mounting inconvenience.

I am so ashamed.

When I started riding again last month, I decided I was going to start working on the logistics that would allow me to phase out my car. Today I made a dry run to see what a typical bike commuting day would be like.

First of all, I planned to do a bit of extra riding beforehand and then meet a friend in the valley. Because I wasn’t going to make it home between these plans, I packed up my camelbak with everything I’d need for the ride and work - water, bike lock, mittens and a coat because it looked like it was going to rain. After that, I was barely able to wedge in my work shoes. So all of my work clothes - business casual, no less - had to be bunched into a plastic grocery sack and stuffed in a messenger bag, which I then tied to the Camelbak. (I can not wear messenger bags the way they’re intended. They always swing in front. I don’t know how commuters do it.)

So with that awkward setup, I set out for a fairly easy spin north, riding with the wind and amping up my usual average mph. It did rain a little but not hard. I had mostly dried out by noon. But in the time crunch, I didn’t have a chance to eat and soon it was time to sprint to work. Had to crank it up a notch to make it by 1 p.m., no time to stop, locked up my bike and skated into the office in my bike shoes. I took a quick paper towel bath in the restroom and loaded up with the deodorant I was carrying, but after 33 miles I really should take a shower. Unfortunately, the closest available one is at my gym, which is two miles from my office and less than a mile from my house anyway. If I was going to go to all that trouble, I’d just go home. And then I’d be back where I started.

So maybe I smell. My coworkers wouldn’t tell me ... I know they’d just lie if I did stink. I did ask. But I also had that no lunch problem. I bought a soda from the vending machine and ate the ancient Clif Bar in my camelbak, along with a baggie of fruit snacks and a granola bar that I had in my desk. Lunch of champions. Now I have to wedge out a long enough break to bike home for dinner. If I can’t, it’ll be a vending machine dinner.

I do have a few kinks to work out in this whole bicycle commuter thing.

But I guess it’s not that bad, in the end. At least, it won’t be bad until the rainy season really kicks road grit into full gear. Those will be some epic paper towel baths.

Addendum: So I did find the time to bike home for dinner. I pedaled up to the first intersection and passed a woman who was sitting on the curb next to an overturned bike, looking dejected. I asked her what was wrong, and she told me that her chain had fallen off and she was trying to get ahold of her boyfriend. "Oh I can fix that for you," I said, and did, getting only the smallest amount of grease on my index fingers in the process. I crossed the street feeling like a hero, but when I came to the bike path I mindlessly tried to make the impossible 25-degree-angle turn required to jump on it without stopping. Realizing my misjudgement only when I had essentially stopped moving, I toppled over before I could click out of my pedals. I took an Ergon Grip right to the stomach, instantly making me feel nauseated and out of breath. Those things may be comfy for hands, but they pack a mean punch. Also, I bashed a fist-sized goose egg into my left (good) knee. Now it's all stiff. My good knee. Just in time for a 24-hour bike race this weekend. Misadventures in commuting continue ...