Adventures in Bike Commuting: Week 3 and beyond

Week 3 of bike commuting went well. Instead of making up details I can’t remember, I’ll just say that spring had sprung, more people were out on the greenway, and I had a few close calls. One handy piece of gear is my bike bell—I ring it well behind pedestrians, in the hopes of a) alerting them that I’m passing without scaring them, and b) not being overly obnoxious. It seems to work well.

I did have a toddler dart out right in front of me, but in screeching to a halt to miss him, and pausing for some well-timed Lamaze breathing exercises, I spotted a few bloodroot flowers in an unlikely place. I’ll chalk that up to a win–and I didn’t hit the kid, either. Now for some pictures of my commute in full spring mode, so you can see that this bike commuting thing has some great benefits.

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First, a shout-out to my vintage 1993 bike panniers that took me 1400 miles in Europe. 

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Novara by REI. LOVE using them again!

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Gear. I need a checklist because I always forget something.

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Memorial park to a WWII vet on the House Creek Greenway behind Crabtree Valley Mall.

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Still chilly back in March, but the running windbreaker with a vest and a buff worked well.

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Bloodroots (Sanguinaria canadensis) I would have missed had I not been stopping abruptly to avoid a collision with a cute toddler who ran out in front of me. Notice the single, Matisse-esque leaf. It’s the only species in its genus and only blooms for a week or so in early spring.

I made it 3 weeks before abruptly stopping my experiment after a week of rain, followed by a week of work travel, followed by the end of semester insanity, followed by more work travel.

I know. I’m disappointed too. It came down to time and I didn’t seem to have any to spare. I do at least think, constantly, about riding my bike into work every single time I drive in. Instead of zoning out on the Beltline, I look for the places where you can see the greenway to see if others were out riding. On nice days, I feel a pang of jealousy when I spot fellow bike commuters.

I work from home much of the summer, since all my students are working doing internships and taking my class remotely, but I do hope to get back in the swing now that I have less time pressure.

In the meantime, it was a good way to break back into riding bikes as I readied myself for the next challenge, the 160 mile Tour de Cure.

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Ready to head to work. This has been a sturdy bike for commuting.

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One more shot of bloodroot–it is, after all, so tiny and delicate, and long gone now. The commute by bike teaches me to see and savor these kinds of small delights, something we all need. I hope to be back at it soon.

Adventures in Bike Commuting: Week 2

Sunday night/Monday morning. This bike commuting takes a hell of a lot of planning, which admittedly is not my forte. First, I have to check the weather forecast on Sunday night and look at my weekly schedule to see which days will work best for my commute. Mondays are out, at least for now, because I teach mid-morning and don’t want to risk a flat tire making me late; I get Simon on the bus by 8:30. Looks like Wednesday and Friday are the best possibilities.

Monday I’m nearly late for work anyway because I’m getting all my stuff together. It feels like I carry less stuff on a 3 day business trip. Then, I hide it all around my office so it doesn’t look like Andrew kicked me out of the house.

Wednesday is commute day this week. Inwardly, I groan a little. My quads are sore. I had a tough 19 mile run at Umstead on Saturday, where I ran too fast (then came home and found out I should have dropped the mileage since the 50K is two weeks away, not three). Tuesday morning I did hill repeats with the Peeps and my legs were still sore, even though I took it easy.

Then, I tested out the family road bike Tuesday night after work. It rode like butter. Smooth and fast. It was awesome! Diane rode with me and gave me some great tips as we cruised around North Raleigh, and I had a chance to practice my shifting. But the soreness deepened, enough for me to put on compression tights and wear them to bed!

I was a little stressed getting everything together—I really wanted to attend the 9:00 meeting with the Dean, faculty and staff of the College to hear about the decision not to sell the Hofmann Forest. I didn’t get out the door until 7:40, forgot water, and hadn’t tested my 22 year old REI Novara panniers. My heel hit them on every upstroke. On the way home, I remembered that they are left- and right-specific, so once I put it on the right side, the cut-away portion was perfect [duh].

I knew the temps had dropped overnight, but 40s seemed cold. I wore ¾ length compression tights, a fleecy running shirt, my light windbreaker and my bright orange running vest. I wore a buff under my helmet to keep my ears warm, and my warmest running gloves. That seemed like a good combination; I arrived at campus in an hour and 7 minutes without feeling either too sweaty or chilled. I slid into the College meeting in plenty of time.

I’m starving by 10:15. Morning bike + long distance run training will do that to you. My lunch was gone by 10:30; my afternoon snack followed at 11:32.

The forestry seminar (which was excellent) finished late and didn’t hit the road until after 5:00. It was time to see what a rush hour commute was like on bicycle. The most distracted drivers are near NC State, which is scary because it also has the most pedestrians and cyclists. But, I’m not on the road for too long before I hit the greenway. It was cool to see how many people are out after work using the greenway system for exercise—Shelley Lake being the most popular, of course.

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It always makes me happy to see folks unwinding outside after work. Shelley Lake was the most popular but there were people out on every part of the greenway. #Raleighgreenwaysrock

Riding north after I passed Shelley Lake, I saw a familiar face—a fellow bike commuter! I’d seen him on my way in that morning. I grinned and waved at the older, serious-looking Asian man, who was riding purposefully. No acknowledgment. Is there a secret handshake I was missing? Maybe just a knowing nod next time? Newbie problems.

I arrived home feeling tired but mentally refreshed—I really enjoyed the commute time to think and unpack my workday.

WEEK 2: one road ride, one commute, about 46 miles.
NOTES:

  • Planning really is key if you are committing to ride in. This week, both Wednesday and Friday looked like good weather days. With an early-ish important meeting on Wednesday, I waffled, thinking I could drive in and ride in on Friday. It ended up raining both Thursday and Friday. Go when you can.
  • My old bike bags worked great! Far superior to the sling bag. I may bring both and that way not have to bother with storing clothes at work.
  • My Specialized Crossroads hybrid was just as good as riding Andrew’s mountain bike with road tires. I would not chance riding the road bike on the greenways–too rough in many places.

An experiment in bike commuting

When I was in high school, I rode my bike everywhere. I had saved for and purchased a pink-and-gray Huffy 10-speed for about eighty dollars. I loved that bike. In addition to riding it 2 miles each way to school most days, I often took weekend excursions with my friend Suzie. We had a Monmouth County map, a few favorite destinations, and a host of delis along the way for re-fueling (Snickers bars). Of course there were no cell phones, but we always carried a patch kit and a couple of dimes for pay phones in case of emergency. Those were the days!

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Hilarious #tbt, after my first and only 100 mile ride in Princeton, NJ. You can see my pink Huffy on the left. I didn’t have a water bottle cage nor cycling shorts. My cycling shoes were Keds. And yes, I’m eating Jersey tomato.

College wasn’t much different—I didn’t have or need a car there. I rode less frequently, but still didn’t think there was anything unusual about hopping on my bike for routine errands. When Andrew and I graduated from South Carolina, we’d been dating less than a year, and I’d replaced by battered and vandalized Huffy with a Specialized Crossroads Cruz. We took our bikes to Europe for four months, rode about 1400 miles from London to Genoa, and fell in love.

Life has changed. Now we live in the suburban wilds of North Raleigh. I drive my Civic nearly 20K miles a year. And I rarely think about hopping in the car—to go to the grocery store, to meet friends for a run, to go to the YMCA, to shuttle kids, to eat out—most trips less than 2 miles. Sometime after college (and after I got my first car), I fell out of the habit of riding everywhere. It seems like too much trouble, and as with most people who have complex lives (mine includes work, business, kids, activities), too much time.
All this is to say that I recently decided to sign up for the Tour de Cure. I’d been considering it for a while, actually, wanting to support my friend Diane’s Team Cheetah, but the timing had never worked out. Now Ann was signed up, and it seemed like too good of an opportunity to miss. Awesome!

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I’m joining this awesome team of real cyclists, Team Cheetah, to raise money for diabetes research. I’d love your support! Donations can be made here: http://main.diabetes.org/site/TR/TourdeCure/TourAdmin?px=4863806&pg=personal&fr_id=10172

People who know me were, to put it mildly, surprised. No one knows me as a cyclist, and I refer to spin classes derisively as the “Bike to Nowhere.” I like riding alone on a stationary bike even less than spin class. Maybe it’s because I grew up riding as my primary means of transportation that sitting on a bike going nowhere fast seems like an appalling waste of time.

Here’s another thing: I’ve become terrified of being hit by a car. Sure, Suzie and I had plenty of close calls, riding Route 537 past the horse farms in Colt’s Neck and the place where they make Laird’s Applejack when we were still too young to drink it. When Andrew and I were riding in Italy, a man once opened his car door about 2 feet in front of me and I crashed my overloaded bike into it (arm-waving and shouting—in English and Italian—ensued, ending with smiles and hugs). Still, I didn’t think much about it. The term “road rage” had not yet entered the daily lexicon.

So I despise riding nowhere, but I’m not thrilled with traffic. Still, I need to get myself used to the saddle again, so I began toying with the idea of riding my bike to work. Not every day, or most days. Once a week is the small goal I have set for myself.

I don’t know a lot of people who bike commute. I have only one friend who does it regularly around here. However, the concept isn’t new, lots of people do it, and Raleigh boasts an amazing greenway system—unparalleled, really, for a city its size. It’s been exciting to watch the planning the last few years especially, as different sections are connected. You can now ride 27 miles along the Neuse River Greenway from Wake Forest to Clayton, and soon you’ll be able to ride from Wake Forest past Crabtree Valley, through Umstead, and onto the American Tobacco Trail, which will take you all the way to Durham. I have one word for the forward-thinking leaders in the 1970s who dreamed up our greenway system long before it was in vogue: Visionary.

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My route, most of it on the fantastic Raleigh greenway system. East Mine Creek greenway goes to Shelley Lake greenway to Ironwood greenway to House Creek greenway to Reedy Creek greenway to Rocky Branch Creek greenway. And then I’m nearly at my building at NC State.

I have a number of factors in my favor for bike commuting once a week:
1. It is 13.3 miles from my house to NC State. A bit long, but a good workout—worthwhile.
2. Incredibly, less than 4 miles of the route is on roads traveled by cars.
3. I have access to a shower in my building.
4. My work schedule is flexible. I work from home a couple of days a week, which buys me more commute time on the days I go in. I can choose good weather.
5. NC State has an emergency ride service, if the need arises.

I picked this week to give it a try because it’s Spring Break and I had fewer meetings and commitments. Stay tuned…