Monday, October 06, 2008

Commuter struggles

Date: Oct. 4 and 5
Mileage: 38.2 and 43.4
October mileage: 134.1

I’ve jumped back into full-time bike commuting this week after a bit of a hiatus. I bike commuted nearly every day and everywhere for two months this summer. Then Geoff came back to town in July and tempted me with home-cooked meals during my short dinner breaks. I did half-and-half for a while, riding my bike to work and then home on my break, then driving the second leg. Eventually, I fell completely off the wagon, and didn’t get back on when Geoff left again. I felt so guilty about it, but being a car commuter is just so ... easy.

Well, this week, I’m back on the full-time bike commute by necessity. Here’s the part where I have to admit to an embarrassing personality flaw to explain my situation: I am, for whatever deep-set psychological reason, nearly incapable of dealing with bureaucracy. This means that any time I have to deal with anything that involves letters or forms - registering to vote, filing my taxes, paying my insurance, renewing my car registration - I put it off until the very last possible second, and sometimes beyond that. This often results in completely avoidable fees and consequences. I call these consequences “Jill Tax.” My latest mistake was waiting until Sept. 24 to send in my car registration renewal check. Then, on Oct. 1, my tags expired, so I’m banned from driving my car until the new ones come in the mail.

Predictably, the reintroduction to bike commuting has been a little bumpy. I’ve had to rush around. I’ve been late to work. I’ve forgotten crucial things like my headlamp and a clean set of socks. I’ve been completely stymied by the whole grocery shopping thing. I broke the rear rack on my road bike last month, so right now I can only carry what I can fit in a backpack. Since I haven't yet made a trip specifically for grocery shopping only, I can only carry what I can stuff in my Camelback beside all of my work clothing, lights and lock. I find myself buying small amounts of the same lightweight stuff I eat while riding. Today for dinner I ate almonds, yogurt, an apple and a Hershey Bar.

For me, there’s a lot about bike commuting not to like. I don’t like the extra planning involved in packing up an second set of clothing and a brown-bag dinner. I don’t like returning early from my more fun bike rides to make time for the commute. I don’t like taking sponge baths and blow-drying my rain-soaked hair in the office bathroom. I don’t like spending my dinner break at the office. I don’t like leaving work at 11 p.m. knowing I still have a six-mile ride home in the cold rain. I don’t like being wet three times a day. In fact, the only part about my bike commute that I do like is when I'm out there, riding my bike.

That should be enough, but it wasn’t to help me push through my first hiatus, despite the fact I had established a comfortable habit during my first go-around as a bike commuter. It may not be enough to push me past the temptation when my car registration stickers finally do come in the mail. I have to say, I am really craving a gallon of milk and a 24-pack of Diet Pepsi.

A cyclist who doesn’t like bike commuting is like a vegetarian who doesn’t like vegetables. They believe it’s the good and right thing to do. They recognize that they may not always be able to afford to eat meat. But deep down, when no one is watching, they still fantasize about devouring an entire bucket of chicken. Or, in my case, driving my car.

If I cave in before my tags come and get a ticket, I will completely deserve it. But I have to admit, the thought of driving is so tempting. Someday, and probably someday soon, my 1996 Geo Prism with 155,000 miles on the engine is going to die. When it does, I’m not planning to replace it. So I better start liking vegetables, and fast.