For me, the hardest part of bicycle commuting was beginning that first morning trip. It took hours of map study, driving possible routes in my car, rehearsing potential what-ifs, and getting generally psyched for the experience. I wasn’t that new to bicycling or more uncomfortable than I ought to be about riding in traffic. But I was new to using a bicycle to arrive at a certain place by a more or less certain time. What’s more, the need to be reasonably dry and clean at the end of a ride was an absolutely foreign concept. And it didn’t help any that half of my round-trip to work happens in the morning—the early morning. I have to be on the bike and pedaling at a time I otherwise would be barely out of bed. I am not a morning person. Getting up before daylight is, for me, an unnatural act.
But for years (yes, years!) I have been taken with the romance of a life semi-independent of a personal automobile. When I lived in Chicago and San Francisco, I willingly, easily, and happily went carless (mass transit has been more or less perfected in those cities). When I started bicycling, I read all the bicycle travel books and articles I could find. I read the ads in the then-Bikecentennial magazines for tour companions, all the while thinking “Someday,” as visions of bicycling the Great Wall of China and the Australian Outback danced through my head. I acquired panniers to be prepared for that some day when I’d have reason to use them.
But it wasn’t until this year that I realized the truth of the matter: All that is required in order to travel by bicycle is to get on the bicycle and travel! I finally understood that I didn’t have to start out to circle the globe to get beyond my weekend loops. A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single revolution (so to speak). And so it was that the first week of Daylight Savings Time I started riding my bike to work.
In the mornings, for the most part, I ride in near silence, tranquilized into submission to the optimism of a new day. This half of my commute is a time for reflection, for thinking about nothing and everything. It is a world in slow motion where middle ring moderation prevails. Greetings are voiceless, or nearly so. Then, I am gradually brought out of my reverie as the last couple of miles become more industrial, goal-oriented, driven. Emerging from the ether of the neighborhoods, my senses go on adrenaline alert as I negotiate the business end of my ride, changing gears for the demands of the day.
In the afternoon, I ride the same streets, but the trips are worlds apart. The softness of morning is gone, and I’m ready to ride off the hard edges of a desk-bound day. More often than not, I’ll time-trial my way back home, flying (relatively) along the slightly downhill route, enjoying the rhythm of bike/car synchronization at 4-way stops, taking my lane at traffic lights, hammering up the couple of short hills, scattering the tensions of the day as I go, like a dog shaking off water. I arrive home relaxed and smiling.
There’s something satisfying in purposeful cycling. Actually, there’s something satisfying in any cycling, but more so when it is woven into the fabric of life—when it is not an extra to be accommodated in an already over-full schedule. My bicycling and commuting are beginning to resemble a Mobius strip, as the means (bicycling) and the end (getting to work)—or is it the other way around?—justify each other and become indistinguishable. I like it that way.
©1994 Nancy Grona Meredith