Commuting By Bicycle

My friend Derek Hoshiko invited me to join his bike commute to Seattle today. Neither of us have done the 30 mile trip in quite awhile, and we’ve both been thinking its time to get our butts back in gear. Besides, we have a new reason to do so. We’ve recently founded Occupy Your Bike - South Whidbey, and this is a chance to put our money where our mouths have been. It’s hard to maintain this commitment to live constantly against the flow of our car culture. That’s especially true when you live in a rural area, as Derek and I do, where the distances between home, work and recreation are always a challenge without a car. With more of my work these days happening in the city, and with lousy public transportation connections and a long commute, I’ve gotten lax in my commitment, and am driving more of the time. Sometimes I have no choice, short of moving to the city myself. So I’m finding myself behind the wheel of my car more often. Yeah, I drive a Prius, and eases my mind some. But that also makes me susceptible to the “Prius fallacy”, which interprets a modest technological improvement as an excuse to defer the much larger changes that are necessary if we have any hope of avoiding climate meltdown. Judging from the recent waves of climate catastrophes, nature does not seem to be all that impressed by modest steps. As the climate activist Adam Sacks has written,

“The most expert scientific investigators have been blindsided by the velocity and extent of recent [climate] developments, and the climate models have likewise proved far more conservative than nature itself."

So Derek and I are reminding each other that the buck stops with us, and that in matters of such consequence, (to invoke the Buddha here) “our actions are our only possessions.” It’s more fun, and a lot less lonely, when we can share the adventure of making real changes in our lives. And the adventure has to be ongoing. Yeah, my Prius gets 50 miles per gallon, and I have a new electric vehicle on order. But I need to remind myself that my bike gets the equivalent of nearly 1000 mpg. This is one of the best ways I have to lower my carbon footprint, while at the same time raising my spirits, which riding my bike always seems to do.

Another plus with sharing the burden of difficult changes is the added incentive it gives us to stick to our guns. Derek and I had every reason to put our ride to the city on hold when we got up this morning. An inch of snow had fallen overnight, and the roads were icy. Neither of us is in the best of shape coming out of winter. It was cold and dark when we set out, and that long hill up Campbell Road to begin our ride to the ferry is a killer. But by the time we got to the ferry we were both feeling that old endorphin high. I’m continually amazed by how uplifting simple physical exertion can be in the midst of a sedentary lifestyle.

We stopped at a coffee shop in Mukilteo to work on some joint projects, and give the roads a chance to shed their ice with the morning’s moderating temperatures. The capacity for telecommuting is a real gift at times like this. We had some productive work time, then off we went, picking our way down into the city along the Inter-Urban Bike Trail. I’ve never attempted that route before, because the trail appears and disappears inexplicably on its wanderings through mixed neighborhoods and light industrial sprawl. But Derek knew the way, and it gave a new vantage on the trip into the city. I felt great the whole way. Our working lunch when we arrived in the city, at Beth’s Café by Green Lake, was lively and fruitful.

Here is some of my “take away”, a reminder of what I learned during my Circumference of Home year, and a re-dedication of my commitment to keep riding:

  • The biggest impediments to positive changes like this are mental, not physical. The hardest part is just getting going. It’s almost never as hard as I expect, and I’m almost never sorry I chose to bike once I’m up and running. Even on a cold and wintry morning, it felt great.
  • Traveling is “lived time” rather than “lost time” when I’m under my own power. The sense of connection to nature raises dramatically. I experience a sense of continuity between the places I live and work, a sense of greater belonging, and a more positive complexion to my whole day.
  • I feel energized rather than frazzled when I arrive where I’m going, and that translates into more pleasurable interactions and more productive, creative work.
  • It feels good to be doing something tangible, however small, to stitch my values back into my actions. It is best medicine I’ve found for my tendencies toward negativity and overwhelm.
  • The energy is cumulative. The more I ride, the more I want to ride, and the better I feel generally. It creates an undercurrent of confidence and emotional resilience that is palpable across the range of my activities during the day.
  • And if that’s not reason enough, I remember the stakes of not doing this, and that is usually enough to get me back on my bike, and remembering all the other reasons I wanted to be doing this anyway.

So thanks to Derek for upping the ante, and getting me poised for some longer rides and more frequent bicycle commutes. OCCUPY YOUR BIKE!