Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Biking is life

I’ve been thinking about a number of things this week. One of the advantages that attend biking is its capacity to slow your world down. In my opinion, this slower pace puts you in a positive place more conducive to thought and rumination.

About 15 years ago, I would bike to work in Brunswick. My commute was about 15 miles from home. Two days per week, I’d make the trek on my bike. It involved some effort, mainly making sure my backpack had my work clothes, a towel to shower, deodorant, and other supplies necessary to prepare for my work day. My employer had a locker room with a shower, so that was a plus. One time I forgot clean underwear, so I spent the day free and easy inside my work jeans. Other than that, I enjoyed this interlude in my life, one that was too brief.

Rather than zipping to Brunswick by car in 20 minutes, the ride took about an hour on my bike. Slowing down from 50 miles per hour to 15 helped me to notice trees, markers along the road—a stone wall erected many years ago, a small family cemetery—things that are just a blur whizzing by in your car. Instead of rock music blaring from my speakers, I was alone with the sounds of the morning—birds chirping—and my thoughts.

Over the past 15 weeks, I’ve reconnected with my physical self. I’ve come to notice how my previous neglect put me on a path that might have resulted in negative health consequences. Granted, flying over my handlebars two weeks ago left me scraped, bruised, and scabbed over in a few places, but I survived, possibly because I had been training for three months. I weathered the incident with a few Band-Aids®, and being sore for a few days. I started a soul patch on my chin that I think I’ll keep. It covers up some of the new pink skin that forms after an abrasion. When I shave in the spring, I’ll be none the worse for my chin plant.

I’ve been wondering what would happen if Americans adopted a lifestyle like the Danes, and other countries that choose alternatives to the automobile. What if we embraced a way of living that was actually sustainable? It’s possible if we recognize that having fewer things is preferable to having stuff, but being increasingly unhappy.

My friend Anne moved to Portland, Oregon a few months ago. She just wrote to tell me that she is heading up a cool organization called the Community Cycling Center, where they dedicated to bikes as tools of empowerment. She’s in a great city that has worked diligently to make the bicycle an important part of their overall transportation policy.

In Maine, despite efforts by groups like the Bicycle Coalition of Maine, resistance to bikes is widespread, with many drivers viewing us bicyclists as adversaries, standing in their way. Rather than slowing down, and waiting, or deferring to bicyclists, these idiots swerve into the path of oncoming cars, drive too close to cyclists (Maine law requires three feet clearance between cars and a cyclist at the edge of the roadway, btw), and generally exhibit the mindset of a 10-year-old, while yielding an instrument of death that is in excess of 3,000 pounds, and an SUV might exceed 4,000. My bike and I weight about 250, so there’s not much competition should the driver clip me—I’m dead, or seriously injured.

Still, every night, at least one driver insists on boorish behavior, all because they’re too selfish to tack on a potential 15 seconds to their commute by courteously sharing the road with me. I’m sure it’s even worse in Maine’s larger communities, like Portland.

All in all, it’s been a great 15 weeks, and as the days grow shorter and darkness descends earlier and earlier on the roads I’ve grown fond of during summer’s longer days, I know this portends that my biking season is coming to a close sooner than I would like.

It looks like a membership at a local gym is in order for me to maintain my progress. My hours on the Lifecycle® and Stairmaster® all winter will be tolerated, only because I know I’ll be hopping back on my Diamondback as soon as the roads are cleared come springtime.


Delfina said...

I'm not athletic, and I'm always tired because of my chronic fatigue, so I don't bike long distances, but for the last several months I've been riding a bike to do all my errands around the neighborhood, and I love it. I don't have a car, so a bike is actually a way of speeding up for me, as opposed to walking. :) I know what you mean about rude drivers. Whenever I can I just ride on the sidewalk...

Jim said...


I'd love to see a biking revolution, where all of us embraced the bike and we could voluntarily slow things down a bit, and not rely almost exclusively on the car to get around.

The reality of my life is that I bike for recreation, but require a car to perform my day job, so that's whacked really, but life for most in America.

It's cool that you're tooling around via your bicycle; I can only imagine the challenges of biking in an urban environment.