Monday, April 28, 2008

Rocky start

Date: April 27
Mileage: 31.5
April mileage: 717.9
Temperature: 45

The rain was coming in sideways when I felt my rear rim dragging on pavement. I pulled over to the side of the road to assess where I was; I had been squinting into the dim yellow circle cast by my headlight for so long that I wasn’t even sure. I shifted my trunk bag to reach my repair gear when it dawned on me that the headlight was in fact my only source of light. There was no way to illuminate the wheel so I could change the flat. I clip clopped in my cleats down the road, grumbling about how I really should have switched out my pedals when I had the chance. I walked nearly a half mile before I reached the nearest street light. Slimy brake dust goo and grit dripped down my fingers as I removed the rim. The rest of the flat change went quickly, but as I stood up to leave, I realized that the jeans I was wearing, covered by my very best pair of rain pants, had already soaked through. The denim chafed and scraped my thighs as I started pedaling. Stupidly, I had left them on because I thought they would keep me warmer than my wet tights. I stopped to adjust my pants. It was 11:15 p.m. My socks were soaked. My gloves were soaked. The headwind was so strong I had barely cracked 10 mph since I left work. "Could this commute be going much worse?" I thought. That's when I noticed my red blinkie was missing from my trunk bag.

Today was day five of my summer as an everyday bicycle commuter. Today was also day five of my summer as a single person. I can’t say either is going very well, but at least I can still attribute the glitches to growing pains. Packing for the commute has been an experiment in disarray. I've been using a rear pannier, a trunk bag and a Camelbak just to carry all the crap I have with me, and still every day I forget something crucial ... my bike lock, a salad I had planned to eat for dinner, dry socks, the key card I need to get into the building. When the weather is similar to what it has been these past two days - steady rain with sustained 20-25 mph winds - I've learned I need two pairs of gloves, two pairs of underwear, two pairs of socks, rain coat and pants, my regular bike clothes, and my work clothes. If I don't carry two pairs of regular bike clothes, I either have to put wet clothes on when I leave, or wear my work clothes home, as I did yesterday. My office is set up "newsroom" style (i.e. a cubicle without the cubicle) Company decorum dictates that I can't hang up wet clothes everywhere, so everything but my coat and pants gets stuffed in a drawer, where it stays wet.

As I suspected, the wetness has been tough. I still get out in the morning for workouts. Today I did a quick-but-strenuous block of intervals over 19 miles, came home soaked, took a shower, and then had to head back out in the weather to go to work.

And I have to admit that I leave work thinking, "Hmm. I could be in a warm car right now. I could be home in 10 minutes." I leave work at 11 and all I'm interested in is being at home. I do not want to be riding my bike in the rain.

I also miss my dinner breaks. I used to take an hour every day to go home and eat dinner with Geoff. Now that he's gone, there's no reason for me to go home for dinner. So instead I take about 20 minutes and eat a salad in the company break room. Spending my entire shift at the office sure makes the workday seem longer. But I'm not about to go back out in the weather.

That said, I'm going to stick with the bike commuting. I'm hoping routine kicks in to make it less stressful, and experience kicks in to make it more enjoyable. I figure bike commuting is like endurance racing ... suffering is what makes the experience worthwhile.


  1. Go Xed! (Last comment Living Simply post). HAHA everybody has their individual massively bloated impression of how crappy the weather can be in their local area. Some have a broader/less narrow minded/less localised impression than others ;). The more wretched and shitty the weather gets; the more it seems intent on knocking you down or soaking you to the skin, the more grit and fun that goes with it (if you are still warm inside)..unless you're tired (11pm) and are at your wits end already - with a puncture (under these circumstances the weather could just be mildly crappy and you'd be considering it all just a big pain in the arse mission)...I hear ya Jill. You have to admit that you saw a little light in the tunnel knowing that you didn't have to walk home thanks to remembering to pack the essential repair kit this day! It can always be worse. Juneau is giving you a toughening up test. Will be easy as now...

  2. Keep plugging away Jill, Routine will eventually kick in and it's just another commute. I find taking a weeks worth of clothes & food in on a Monday helps, as you have less or nothing to take in a morning and only a few bits to bring home each day. (less weight really makes a difference to my rides) Keep going. Springs here soon!

  3. It can only get better, right? You'll get the packing down soon and that will no longer be a factor. As for the rain, you've toughed out worse, so I know you'll figure out the best way to deal with it going forward. Your dedication is going to see you through!

  4. Jill,
    I'm a year round commuter who's had to figure out how to deal with my biking clothes too.
    At my work we have a cleaning supply room. I strung a couple strings across some shelving and hang my clothes in there to dry. If I happen to get caught in the rain on my way I will use a small (10"?) fan to blow air on them, that usually dries them out over an 8 hour work day.
    Also I will sometimes dry out my gloves by propping them up or setting them near my computer fan exhaust.
    I used to be able to dry things on my monitor but that was back in my cubicle days, now my monitor is a little to visible for that.
    Hope that helps you find a decent solution to your problem. I know I wouldn't want to put cold damp clothes on for my commute home.

  5. I like the idea of bringing in a week's worth of clothes on Monday, as long as you have the storage space. You could make Monday your car day when you bring in the clothes, and ride the other days. Also, have you thought about a small trailer for the bike? That would allow clothes to be neatly folded for the trip.

  6. Having a locker at work is a luxury for bike commuting, but there is no other luxury greater than nice weather. I opted out of my monday commute today because of 50 degrees and rain. Nothing worse than having to dress back up in went clothes on a wet bike. Have a extra dry set of clothes at work.

  7. Seen today's Yehuda?

    I keep a spare set of close or two at work--that helps.

    The bike commute is great for books on ipod and news podcasts as well as feeling somehow slightly subversive..

    Good luck getting the groove, and hopefully the "normal" weather of the past week or so will return, eh? :)

  8. close or clothes.. the coffee hasn't kicked in yet

  9. It gets better. Keep your chin up!

  10. this is in reply to an earlier post, but still somewhat related.

    try using a spray for goretex that will make it bead again. also u might want to try sealskinz gloves and socks, though they're on the expensive side and don't seem to be so effective after many uses.

  11. In my comute datyas I woudl pick a 'car'day. onthat day I'd haul what I thought might be needed at work (cltihes chages cuppa soup lunch etc) and do town errends. I know that is not 'car free' but I figured it was an pimprovm,ent over 100% car dependent. "All things in moderation, incuding all excesses!"

    I'm sure when you get home you don't feel like gettng ready for the next days commute, but I find that is the best time to make ready. the new batteries for the headlamp, the new tube in the repair kit, the squeaky pedal, all these things are pretty fresh in your mind. Tending to them immediatley means you can get dirty doing so before you take your post ride shower.

    Yr Pal Dr Codfish

  12. Yeah, weather is weather. Of course it's not that bad, but it does up the grump factor at the end of the day, doesn't it?

    I currently own three pairs of rain pants. Two were pretty expensive, and highly recommended. They started out providing a pretty good barrier, but now they seem to soak in a lot of water. The bead factor is gone. I've become convinced that the phrase "waterproof breathable" is an oxymoron, and I'm not really willing to drop any more money and such gear. I'll look into that spray stuff, though.

    Over my short commute (20-30 minutes), I have a PVC jacket that does great. My whole torso area stays dry, enough so that I can wear cotton shirts (I have limited laundry opportunities, so I save my bike clothing for workouts and longer rides.) That jacket only lets water in over long hauls, when it begins to seep in through the neck/waist/arms. I'd like to find a PVC pair of pants ... like the poncho pants you can get at Wal-mart, but less flimsy and baggy.

  13. I would drive and pick up people needing rides so I could be comfortable and still get that warm fuzzy feeling of helping the planet.

    what's that? Why yes, my hands are smooth and soft thank you.

  14. when you wash your goretex (or similar) make sure you dry it in the dryer, with heat. it won't make it brand new again, but it reenergizes the waterproof finish so it should bead again for a while. i've done it tons; but after a few years nothing will help....

  15. In addition to Dani's suggestion to dry your DWR fabrics in heat, Nikwax has a few products that are used to renew the waterproof qualities.

    *ahem* 70° F and sunny here in California.

  16. Have you tried looking at fishing clothing? The Grundens line has a lot of great stuff...not sure if it might kill you on a bike ride, though. Probably the most waterproof stuff we tried while living in Juneau. Take a look. Not sure how it allows you to respire.....

  17. Ironing the jacket is also a good way to apply heat after using an inwash wax. When the grump king springs forth think "happy" thoughts...La la la, happy happy, buttercup flowers in radiant sunlit meadows with fairys and Muddle pugsleys bouncing gleefully among the rays! :) imagination can lift the spirits

  18. The words of your recent posts resonate...

    Your thoughts and words on Geoff and goals..... I feel lucky to have this kind of insight into another human that you so freely offer to your readers.

    I am a long-time fan of bike commuting. But, I have had very easy and logistically feasible commuting routes and locker room facilities. As I learned when I'd try to convince friends to commute to their jobs, bike commuting doesn't work for every person. Sometimes, the distance can be too short and the hassle factor too high. Sometimes it can make a person feel negative toward the bike, and make them not want to go for a fun ride or a training ride.

    I love your goal of living simply.

    Will your commutes help you get beyond McGrath?

  19. I had a thought the other day after having read your blog for the past few months. You like to put yourself in situations that require you to deal with adversity, then you enjoy sharing with others how much trouble you had to go through, and how you "survived" your ordeals. Living in Alaska, riding your bike in horrendous conditions, Geoff moving out, etc.

    Is this a form of an attention seeking personality, or a subconcious masochistic streak ?. All of your blog posts have a common thread of trying to survive against outward stresses and physical/mental difficulties. The situations that you put yourself into (and even post titles) conjure up outside negative forces you're trying to overcome.

    Are you deliberately putting yourself in these tough situations in order to feel that you've "survived" something and for the attention it brings you to share these stories of your sufferings ?. Does being a "journalist" have an affect on seeking out situations in your life that may lead to high drama, and therefore give you writing material subjects ?. Or are you putting yourself in these situations to try to escape a boring, mundane, or monotonous life ?. Would "Jill" be "Jill" if she lived in one of the Lower 48 states where the weather was nice, the roads were good, there wasn't as much isolation around, and day-to-day life wasn't as much of a daily struggle ?.

    Not trying to being a smartass or insulting or anything. I just want you to reflect on why you seem to seek out adversity, drama, or self-flaggelation in some fashion. Maybe you could think about it, and write a post on your blog about it.

  20. Jill we love your blog for what it is and just for who you are. I've read the WHOLE thing and I'm betting you are just simply who you are. Not trying to 'seek out' situations to have a struggle.

    Alaska just gets in you and becomes part of you, just like the bike. You either get it or you don't.

    Come to think of it, commuting is like that too! It's a simple choice, it becomes part of you, and most people won't "get it".

    I've got a new job starting up, I'm excited because it's 6 miles each way, I'll be able to ride my bike the whole way. My friends think I'm crazy and told me I've lost my mind to think I can bike 12 miles EVERY day!! They have no idea.........

  21. I love reading your blog too. I can see why this 'wet clothes thing' is something that needs a solution. Hope you get it all worked out. :)

  22. I also love your blog Jill. You keep at it. I am struggling with commuting by bike to work here in California. Yes, the weather is great, and we have a shower at work. But, it is 20 miles each way, and I hate it when people yell and honk at me, as they do almost every time I ride through Redwood City on my way to work.

  23. If you have one of those 3-drawer vertical hanging folder pieces of furniture, you have what every commuter needs: concealed drying space.

    Step 1: Remove all hanging files from the bottom drawer (you probably don't need most of them anyway)

    Step 2: Use the support rods for the files to create "hangers" to drape wet clothes over.

    Step 3: After hanging wet clothes in the drawer, close it up and no one will be the wiser.

  24. Great questions anonymous [directed at the long weird anonymous comment variety]...of similar quality to if a banana wasn't a banana, would it still be a banana? I think Jill falls into a quality of person that will actively seek an experience that challenges her and pushes her. If there is no challenge in achieving it, then it loses its appeal. I know I never feel more alive than after these type of experiences. Maybe you just don't get it anonymous because you don't have this quality in your own personality. And no one choses to have their best friend/boyfriend move away, it is just something that happens. Jill writes a personal blog about personal experiences which entitles her to write about anything that affects her life in any way, bad or good.

    Keep rocking your blog Jill, as always.

  25. Jill,

    I've been reading your blog for quite some time- and I think the way you've embraced Alaska is awesome cause it can be a crazy place. I spent last summer in the Alaska range on an extended wilderness expedition (no bicycles involved unfortunately). I bike commute, as well as take care of all my city errands on my xtracycle (it still needs a name). You can check out, it's basically an attachment that makes your bike a little longer, and you can haul lots of stuff.
    Having experienced some Alaska weather, I can say that it's a little more tolerable here in Portland, OR, but I applaud you for sticking it out in the utterly crappy conditions. My workday starts at 7am, which about my least favorite time to ride a bike in 35 degree blowing rain. Somehow we do it, because it makes life simple and strangely satisfying.

    I also disagree with the prior comment about looking for trouble- I don't think you are looking for any kind of experiences, and I thoroughly enjoy reading about the genuine experiences you find yourself having. Thanks for sharing so much, it brightens my day.

  26. Hey Anon,

    Nice armchair pshycoanalyis. Really. Not bad. It's interesting to me that my choices come across as self-flaggelation. I don't view them that way at all, nor do I view my lifestyle as adverse or as a manifestation of some kind of survivor complex. I view my life as interesting and exciting. I have my good days and bad; everyone does. I would act the same no matter where I resided. I lived most of my life in the a warm and populated part of the Lower 48 (Salt Lake City), and followed a similar pattern ... every weekend I was off on some adventure, hiking, boating and camping throughout Utah, Idaho and Wyoming. I'd argue my life is more tame now than it was in the Lower 48, because I'm by and large locked into the same small area that I know very well here, whereas I used to travel deep into remote deserts and mountain ranges with much less experience and knowledge than I have now.

    As to whether I'm pathetically desperate for attention, I'm not going to be able to change your mind in that regard. Many people hold that view about bloggers and that's fine. I know my motivations and I'm satisfied with them. I've been a "journalist" since I was 8 years old. I have volumes and volumes stocked away at my parents' house. The fact that I now keep my journal online started as convenience and turned to habit, networking and training records.

    Either way, I'll probably keep doing it as long as I don't accidentally hit the "delete this blog" button, and I'll probably keep enjoying my life, too, even if it's not the kind of life everyone would enjoy living.

  27. Actually, if I had read your post entitled "Why I Like Endurance" I wouldn't have needed to bring up the subject above about why you seek out these experiences:

    "So a very good question that I'm often asked is - "Why?" Why put myself through it?

    I think it goes back to high school, when I was looking for a place in the world. I was an odd duck like everyone else. I was introspective but not intellectual, smart but not studious, active but not athletic. I never played competitive sports and wasn't about to join the Mathletes, but I used to wonder - why can't there be a sport for the nonathletic? An intellectual challenge for the nonacademic? I never knew I could have it all in a single event - endurance cycling."

    You've "found your place in the world" by being "Jill the Alaskan biker". Not only do you get the thrill and adventure from the experiences, but you've also found your own personal niche in life that lets you stand out from the crowd and brings you attention.


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