Thought I would post a "summary" of my experiment of taking on the task of biking to work... I am a bit of a blogger/wordsmith and it got a little lengthy (sorry)...
I wasn't sure if I had the gumption to go through with the experiment, I had talked about it for a couple of years but never went any further than that. Deep down I wonder if I didn't really think it was possible, that I was in a way limiting myself in an effort to "stay comfortable & familiar". For one reason or another (mainly some inspiration from a couple of friends of mine), a few weeks ago I dug out the bike and gave it a whirl. That first ride was rough, literally, as I had gone 3.5mi on semi-flat tires (unbeknownst to me at the time). My discouragement on that ride was palpable, I could feel it seething inside me. Realizing the error when I got back home, the next day's ride was much smoother with proper tire inflation. I was actually excited to ride.
Trying different routes, stretching myself, I was dumbfounded one Saturday to find that I had ridden almost 6mi and felt no real exhaustion. The dream of biking to work became much more real that day. Pushing myself further, I set a goal of riding to work by the end of May - with a practice run or two on a couple of weekends to test the terrain & time myself. The excitement mounted further.
And then it happened. I took myself further than I had ever gone one morning on my bike. The wind was fierce & howling, the temperature super-cold, but I continued despite thoughts of turning around. Fighting against the wind, each foot struggling to make its revolution, I slowly made progress. Making it home in one exhausted piece, I checked my route and there it was. The magic number. 7.25mi. And the timing was reasonable (reasonable for me, anyway) at around 45min. Thus I made my preparations.
I had seen the route I was to take many times from the road, but I had never noticed any problems or concerns. Giving myself a solid hour, I figure that was enough time for any unforeseen trouble or traffic. Letting my boss know what I was undertaking and giving him a copy of the route and my expected time of arrival, I set about getting my gear together.
Since I had a black backpack, I covered it in a white, sleeveless t-shirt for better visibility by motorists I might encounter. The helmet was fitted (just a hair too tight), shoelaces & pantlegs were checked for possible snagging problems. Loading up my pack, it felt rather heavy and I had not thought about it when I originally made plans. I forgot to include 10-15lbs of extra weight from my pack (my gallon of tea, water bottle of ice, lunch, & other necessities for work). I hemmed & hawed, almost giving up. But I pressed on.
Taking residential streets to the route I needed to get on to travel to work was fairly uneventful. That was, until I encountered the hill. Keeping my hands on the brakes, I coasted down the hill faster & faster, all the while hoping & praying that the light would change in my favor when I reached the bottom. It did. I noticed quite a bit as I traveled on that route. The piles of debris on the route, the dead animals (including a deer), the "puckers" in the asphalt - spherical bubbles that created somewhat of a hazard for bikers & rollerbladers.
The intersections were my main concern but turned out fine (on the way to work), the pack on my back began to twinge a little half way through the ride. I tried to readjust the pack using my shoulders which helped a little. Before I knew it, I had made it to the bridge. Only one more mile to go & well within my ETA. I parked the bike, took off my helm, and plopped down at my desk. Taking deep breaths & trying to slow my heart rate, I basked in the glow of accomplishment. I had done it. Half of the experiment was complete. The other half was yet to come and feelings of self-doubt began to creep into my conscious - "You made it to work, but do you really think after sitting at a desk all day you have the energy to ride the 7+ miles home?" Those thoughts persisted, even after taking a nice bike ride at lunch to visit all the old places I used to bike as a kid.
The ride home began simple enough, the lights were with me & I found myself getting a little more comfortable and actually really enjoying the ride. Allowances for more coasting became prevalent since I did have to get home, it wasn't an emergency. But then the near-misses started. I learned quickly that people in cars are in more of a hurry to get home from work than they are going to work. And it wasn't at the intersections, it was in the driveways & entrances to businesses. People wanting to turn right were looking left, paying no attention to anything happening on their right. Quick flicks of the handbrakes kept me from becoming a hood ornament a few times, with sheepish grins, shrugged shoulders, and mouthed "Sorry" coming from the drivers.
Then the hill. It was fun (and a bit hairy) going down it on the way to work, but looked almost like a mountain to me on my way back. The hill is "stepped", meaning that it's not a smooth hill but rather a series of smaller hills as they wind up to the top. Think of photos of the Loch Ness monster with her humps coming out of the water, and that's kind of what it felt like. You don't notice it when riding in a car, nor did I notice it riding down the hill. I pedaled & pedaled, my thighs burning, sweat accumulating in my eyes. I got almost 3/4 of the way up the hill and had to stop. The hill had beaten me. But I survived and will come back to battle again.
Making my way through the familar neighborhoods, I saw it in the distance. My home! Pulling into my driveway, I gave thanks for the protection and for the strength that got me safely through. Almost 20 miles (to/from work plus my lunchtime ride) on that bike and it felt great. Looking forward to doing it at least once a week.
I had cramps galore in my right thigh last night, it's still pretty sore today. I have pant-rash on my stomach from the sweat & constant rubbing while pedaling. A little ache in the back, nothing major. Will this deter me from doing it again? Well, I could have biked today but thought better of it. Let the muscles rest & "knit" themselves back together, they've had quite a workout and were stretched to their limits.
I look forward to biking again tomorrow, although not to work but around the neighborhood...