Recently I found myself calling my commute a chore. But commitment really is a much more positive label. It connotes a hint of that chore-aspect but a commitment construes dedication where everything about a chore is something you’d rather not do. I suppose I could change the name of this blog to triplecommitment but there will inevitably be more things to which I will add similar focus in the future.
When I was starting out on my ride home the other day I rolled up to a red light, unclipped my right cleat, put it on the ground; and started to think about everything that makes up my daily trek, the rituals that have developed since I started, and how adamant I have become in the seemingly-small-but-so-very-important details in each direction.
At this time of year it’s a ride in the dark all the way in. Our little house sits off the street with a thirty-foot blip of a driveway that’s probably a 16% incline and takes a quick clip in my cleats to get up. There’s a 3% grade until the fifth house down but the rest of the mile to the bus transit center is downhill.
Etiquette stipulates first come first served for bike racks on the bus, and knock on wood but there was only a short time a few years ago that there was a thread of possibility that all six spaces would be taken. It wasn’t a daily occurrence and was during fair summer weather when gas prices were high, days were long, and mornings had sunshine; not the chilly, dark thirty-seven degrees of late.
When the bus pulls up, the line queues and I stand just ahead of it as it comes to a stop. Resa always puts his bike on first because I’m always the first one off. When I move to the bus queue, the guys who are regulars take a step back for me with a smile and nod, their signal that ladies go first. It’s such a dear gesture. It’s part of the ritual.
I use a $15 bus pass that subtracts the cost of my ride so I don’t have to carry cash. I put it in a slot, it gets swallowed up, Driver Eric hits a few numbers on the thing and when it reappears I snatch it up and return it to the back of my wallet as I move down the aisle to the second row on the left. Each morning I sit next to Richard and as I walk up he moves his helmet and trunk case to his lap and I plop down, unsnap my helmet, take off my gloves and riding glasses and drop them in, adjust the stuff in my rear pockets so I can lean back comfortably, and we greet each other’s morning. I thoroughly enjoy our chats. Richard’s head is filed with detail and we share the same profession. If we are not talking about data, he’s giving me pointers about blueberries or growing citrus where it freezes.
When we get to our destination, Richard and I jump off with a couple of other riders, lift our bikes off the rack and move to the sidewalk to turn on head and tail lights, and secure our gear before heading off to work. But until about a year ago you wouldn’t have seen me on the sidewalk. That outer-most spot on the bike rack put me in perfect take-off position to thank Driver Eric, wish him a good day, hop off, grab my bike, and roll before the other guys could get their bikes on the ground and lift the empty rack back into place. In fact, I would have had my Garmin with me on the bus so that I could turn it on as the bus was getting off the freeway.”Motion detected,” it would say and I’d smile at the thought of how I could fudge my average miles per hour by starting it on the bus before we reached the exit. Now it stays on the bike.
The important thing to recognize here is that once I knew there was little chance of my not getting a spot no matter what time I showed up at the bus stop, the impetus of this early bird status had become a self-imposed need to rush for no reason other than some old familiar feeling that being first gained some sort of importance or attention. And that played right into a lack of safety that took me months to recognize. Any spot on the rack is a good spot for a bike. It just took awhile to realize I’d rather have granola than a worm for breakfast. It was one of our own getting hit a half-block down from where we get off the bus that plastered, “WHOA, NELLY” on top of my saddle horn.
What I heard described about the accident from an eyewitness was that our friend had ridden the half-block down to the signal on the sidewalk (FYI: it’s illegal in our city). He then rolled off the corner handicap ramp into the street while a delivery van was making an oncoming left hand turn in front of him. Now I wasn’t there, I didn’t see it, and I surely don’t know any circumstances in detail but what always goes through my head when I think about the incident is why, when seeing that a vehicle was going to be making an oncoming left turn into his line of fire, didn’t he just put his foot down? The result? He was hit, we heard for the fifth time, which pulled him off his bike for good. His injuries weren’t life threatening, but he re-injured previous ones from prior accidents. Riding for him now, we’ve heard, is too painful. At 69 and still on a bike, it was an unfortunate way to end his long career, and if I may be so bold, could have been avoided.
Now? I have slowed way down. No more do I hop on my bike, turn on my lights as I roll down the street to that same signal before the bus heads down to that same intersection to make a right turn towards the local university, while I continue straight ahead. No more do I quickly scoot through red lights all the way down the quiet, almost-empty morning streets when headlights are approaching from right or left more than a block away, even when I know I have enough time to whip through. Now, until the light turns green I unclip and put my foot down. My hope is that by doing this I’m telling vehicles and pedestrians alike to take an extra look at bikes on the road the next time their paths cross.
Even when my light is green, I take nothing for granted. At that time of the morning I figure all the cars think they are the only ones on the road and can easily roll through lights themselves. I make eye contact. I wave, I mouth, “Thank you.” I smile, I use big, flamboyant hand signals. And I slow when cars are coming from right or left to make sure we see each other no matter whose way is right.
In the afternoon I do the same. Once, many months ago I was at a four-way stop and pedestrians crossing gave me a moment to roll through the intersection while a white jeep with it’s driver’s window cracked open, waited for them to cross. But I misjudged and the Jeep started out while I was still in his path. I will not forget the look of disdain on his face when I apologized over and over as I weaved out of his right-of-way. Though I beat myself up for a few blocks, I also knew I needed to keep my head present with the ride. The bottom line is I was rushing for no reason. This time I was feeling like a kid blasting down our old neighborhood block without any cares…or cars in our world.
But my ride home starts while I’m still at work with a ritual I take very seriously. I keep my bike in my office, which is on the second floor of our building. A few minutes before I leave I change into my riding kit, load my pockets with phone and a couple of Medjool dates or a gel, and push my bike slowly past each of my colleagues saying, “See you tomorrow, Ken; see you tomorrow Jon…see you tomorrow Carrie, see you tomorrow, Amber…,” and with each I look them in the eye. All return the gesture and all have their way of telling me to have a safe ride. For each I listen, take it in, and say thanks; not the kind of thanks as when one says, “Hey, how’s it going,” and is five feet past you before they’ve finished their question. I say thank you while facing them directly.
This is my way of letting each of them know that their words are important and make a difference in my well being. It’s my way of slowing down before I start, and of acknowledging to myself my serious commitment. It’s my way of setting my own stage for a safe ride with my head in the game. And it’s my way to let them know that I plan on seeing them again tomorrow.
The ride home is very different than the way in. The day is in full swing and traffic can be intense. It’s 3:00. Kids are walking and getting picked up when I turn left at the high school. Through town I look for blinkers but I don’t depend on them. I watch for heads in the driver’s seat of parked cars and anticipate their exit. I pause for cars coming out of driveways, making sure our eyes connect. I give a thumbs-up to cars behind me when they slow for me to pull in front of them to get clear of their right-hand turn lane, and I use a loud, “Whoa-whoa-whoa!” when I have the sense that a driver hasn’t seen me. I’m on high-alert until I get on the highway.
Once there only three things can make that stretch stressful and two of them are rare. Occasionally debris in the lane can make maneuvering difficult, but generally the state highway department really does do an excellent job. I have been known to contact them to request a sweep and they respond immediately. The second thing that makes me squirm is when cars are stopped on the shoulder. A vehicle has blocked the lane maybe nine times since I started this and only once has a car completely taken up the lane. Every other time drivers have pulled their car way over to the right giving me plenty of room to get by. And last, but in no way least, is the concrete bridge on the back side of my climb up that grade. For some reason the reverberating noise combined with the concrete surface and camber of that turn gets me each time I cross. This is a good thing. It keeps me focused rather than flying downhill full of endorphins.
It is this section of the ride and that of the remaining ten miles home on a small country road for which I had labeled my commitment a chore. Traffic can be loud on the highway and I hope that the fumes dissipate enough before entering my lungs that I’m not doing myself more harm than good. There are days that the climb up the grade is great fodder for a good grumble. It’s this section that I have no desire to put my foot down. And though the rest of those ten miles are mostly flat, they just take time and by that time I often want to just be done.
But upon arrival home I roll down our steep short driveway shifting my bike into an easier gear to be ready for heading out the next day, unclip my right foot, turn off my lights, then unclip and put my other foot down. My WBF most always meets me at the door and asks me how I’m doing. “Better now,” I always say. He takes my bike, clears my Garmin, and rolls it into the bike room. After the evening chores of making lunches and coffee that must get done as prep for the following day, we eat a good dinner and chat.
Then we turn on our current episode of whatever series we’re currently marathoning and we put our feet up together.