“Riding bicycles will not only benefit the individual doing it, but the world at large.” -Udo E. Simonis
Cycling to work everyday is the best part of my day. It’s thirty minutes where I can’t be doing anything else; where I’m in my own head with the wind in my hair. It’s more than just a cheap way to get to work, it’s a way of life which connects you with amazing people who are interested in the outdoors, responsible living, and an active lifestyle. I commute by bike because I enjoy it. It’s refreshing to begin and end your day on the bicycle, alone on a river path, or zig-zagging through stopped cars. I commute by bike because it does not pollute the air. Because it does not clog up the streets. Because it does not harm our planet. I commute by bike because those thirty minutes twice a day act as an antidepressant. Or cheap therapy. Or just simply time to reflect on your day, year, or whole life. I bike to work everyday because it’s an inexpensive and effective form of transportation and because it encourages a healthier lifestyle. I cycle to work every single day because no matter what the weather looks like, there is no other way I would rather arrive.
I stand out in Astoria, OR where we are currently living as very few people cycle to work, even though the majority live close enough to comfortably do so. Many people hold back a chuckle or offer some carpooling option when they see me arrive because they see cycling as a poor-person’s desperate way to get to work, instead of as a deliberately chosen lifestyle. It’s been frustrating to see how far from the norm it is here, and disheartening for where I had hoped the direction of our country would slowly be heading. All of which is why my trip to Portland earlier this week was a much needed positive eye opener.
In Portland, commuting by bike is truly the norm. I was astounded by the cycling infrastructure – thousands of kilometers of bike lanes, bike stop lights, and full on bike paths – but more importantly, I was impressed with the number of people actually using all of these resources as they cycled around the city. I passed, or more accurately was passed by, thousands upon thousands of commuting cyclists, racing along with a pannier or two carrying whatever they needed for the day. It was faster for me to cycle the ten kilometers across town to my friends house than it would have been to drive, and more than just being faster, cheaper, and less harmful to the environment, it was actually incredibly enjoyable. (And this is coming from a gal who typically only enjoys quiet backcountry roads without a car for hours.) Lance Armstrong once said; “Portland, Oregon won’t build a mile of road without a mile of bike path. You can commute there, even with that weather, all the time.” And boy have they ever done a wonderful job turning an otherwise normal city into a two-wheeled commuters paradise.
Logistically cycling to work or even to the store doesn’t have to be all that difficult, even in a rainy city like Astoria. I always have one of my touring Ortlieb panniers on the bike – which holds my lunch and my purse – that comes in with me when I get to work, while my homemade bucket pannier – which holds my rain gear when I’m not wearing it – always stays on the bike no matter where I am so that a) I always have my rain gear handy, and b) I always have a place to store groceries for unplanned shopping trips. I’ve found that between the half empty Ortlieb and the five gallon bucket pannier, I can easily carry home groceries for multiple days.
I recently bought a twenty dollar set (coat and jacket) of rain gear that is completely waterproof and also breathable. Though the rain gear looks almost disposable – it’s composed of a material comparable to a reusable shopping bag – and doesn’t have pockets or anything fancy to tighten the the hood, it really does keep me 100% dry which is something I’ve never been able to say about my much more expensive rain gear of the past. I’m able to arrive totally dry to work after I strip off my wet outer layers, and put on the small slip on shoes I keep in my panniers to wear at work instead of my clunky twenty dollar rain boots.
I began cycling to school when I was in sixth grade and though I never could have imagined it at the time, I think this important dose of independence early on has shaped my life in many ways. Though I was never crazy about the actual cycling part of commuting, I so enjoyed the freedom and independence it allowed. I loved showing up where I wanted, when I wanted, because I wasn’t waiting for someone else to drive me around as was the case with all of my friends. And then, when all of my friends started getting their driving licenses, I saved my money (which allowed me to travel) and just kept cycling along. Though my mom could have driven me (she drove my brother every day) I, even at that age, decided that I would rather bike instead and I am now proud of my younger self for consciously making that decision and then adamantly sticking to it. Though I had never heard of cycle touring at the time, and never would have believed that I would someday spend years doing it, I think the bicycle lifestyle was already gently taking hold.
Nowadays, I cycle everyday because we only have one car; a car which is twenty years old with over 230,000 miles but still needs to last us for a while longer since we don’t want to waste our money on a newer one (since we do enjoy having a running vehicle for ski/kayak/camping trips). I cycle everyday because, if I’m really going to be honest with you, the car we have is a stick and I’ve never learned how to drive a stick (I’ve hardly even learned how to even drive an automatic) so driving isn’t even an option at this point. But if I’m going to be really really honest with you, I’m glad I don’t have a car at my dispose to tempt me on those wet windy days, because then I’m forced to hop on my bike instead. And every time I do, every single day when I pedal away from our apartment, I remember just how much I love riding that bicycle, even if it’s just to work.
*Check back in again next week for the continuation in our “Favorite Routes” series!*