My Bikescapade

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Cross posted from GCimages. Originally published on Oct. 3, 2012.

I can officially add cycling to my list of things to write about. Of course, making it an official something to blog about doesn’t mean I have the discipline to do so, considering my current track record for “daily” musings. Though, to give myself some credit, I have doubled the amount of entries this year than I did last year, and I’ve written a helluva lot more than the first year I started this blog so go me!

Since I started attending the University of Maryland, I’ve had this inkling to buy a bike to make my commute around campus (and maybe even the commute to and from campus) easier. Of course, as luck would have it at the time, that never transpired. I continued my campus life bus riding and (speed)walking. My desire to own a bike though, and the joys of cycling never abated. I wanted a bike. I NEEDED a bike, dammit. And I was determined to get one, even it meant waiting until after I graduated from UMD.

And finally, it happened.

A few months ago I bought my steel steed, a Torker Interurban. I love it. And slowly but surely I am building my packrat collection of cycling gear.

My initial intention was cycling for leisure with the added exercise benefit. Living near multiple trails, there really was no excuse not to splurge on a bike. So I did. But my initial intent has morphed more into my second intent—commuting to and from work. My bike journey so far has been awesome, and as more bike days transpire, I shall share. If I have the discipline to do so…

Getting Over the Fall

My first ride out on the Georgetown Branch Trail was a short ride. I think it was a total of about 6 miles. I hadn’t been on a bike since… since I was 12 years old or something. It’s been quite a while, and my fears of (almost) everything bike-related were compounded: going too fast, speeding, flipping over, falling, falling, hitting my head, falling, scraping my leg to an unrecognizable mess, falling.

And as some Karmatic luck would have it, I fell. My tire got caught in this mini-canyon in the post-rain sand. I tried to get out of it and kersplat. Knee and hand, meet the gravel and dirt. I can’t accurately recall how I felt but I’ll say it was exciting (adrenaline?). I had dirt and small rocks lodged in my knee and hand, blood was just trickling down my leg. I may have been in panic mode but I don’t recall freaking out in any way. I got up, made sure my bike was good. Then I checked myself. Palm of hand: Ok. Small flecks of dirt and tiny pebbles, minor scratches, burning sensation, good to go. Knee: woah… *rinse area down with water*

We weren’t too far from home so I left my knee to sting and bleed all over, jumped back on the bike and we continued on the remainder of our short bike trip.

It’s funny how psychology works because since that fall I haven’t had an intense fear of falling. At this point it’s more about not getting hit by cars, not committing bike-kill of small woodland critters, not slipping in the rain, and avoiding random 2½” nails.

The (Approximately) 15-Mile Ride

Our second bike ride was the morning after a huge thunderstorm that downed power lines, trees, fences, and left some houses with crushed rooftops.

Aside from the awkward feeling that I was enjoying myself while others were cleaning up the debris from their driveways, it was a delightful ride.

The trail was blocked in multiple spots with massive trees that were downed and hanging wires made it precarious to travel on. Instead of traveling on the trail we rode through the residential neighborhoods and caught Rock Creek Trail at another point further down from where we live, and ended up going on our longest bike ride yet. (Looking forward to more long bike rides.) To conserve battery on my phone after being without power for much of the previous day, I didn’t have the phone on so I couldn’t record the length of our bike trip but M said we probably biked roughly 15 miles that day. Glorious.

Being on a bike at 7 a.m. in the coolness of a post-storm morning is just something you can’t get from being in a car, a bus, or taking a morning walk in the park. Something about the breeze flowing past you, the small bugs that crash into your face, the moist pavement, the birds chirping and digging around for worms and whatever else they feast on. The experience was beautiful.

Georgetown Branch Trail

Of course as the sun kept rising and the humidity got worse, around 11 a.m. my thighs were on fire and I was exhausted. It was sticky, hot, and my banged-up knee was protesting with sharp pains. All I could think at this point, about two miles from home, was “What the hell was I thinking?!”

But what I was really thinking was “THIS IS GREAT!!!!”

Starting a New Habit

I’m all for alternative forms of transportation—public transit, walking, cycling, carpooling—alternatives to the personally owned vehicle (POV), because we all know there’s enough of those around affecting multiple aspects of our lives (health, environment, well-being, etc.).

Ever since we moved to the Silver Spring area, just on the D.C./Maryland border, our car use has precipitously dropped. A 5-minute walk from the Metro station, and not even a block away from a major bus route, M and I have managed to reduce our car use, and I think we’ve saved quite a bit money which gets used for other needs like groceries or Smart Trip fares.

But even riding the bus can get pretty arduous. East-West Highway from Silver Spring to Bethesda can become heavily congested, especially at the Connecticut Ave cross section (which is also where the ramp to the Beltway is). The bus ride gets slow and boring. And even though I’m not shelling out money for gas as often as I used too, $3.20 a day for the bus can add up pretty quickly.

Alas! The bike comes into the picture.

While M continues to take advantage of public transit to and from the University of Maryland for his studies, I have found a new mode of transportation to take me from Silver Spring, where we reside, to Bethesda, where I currently work.

My steel steed.

Since that 15-mile bike ride, I’ve only biked intermittently but recently I declared to myself that I will bike to and from work as much as possible.

It was a slow start at first, but what is that saying? It takes 21 days to start a new habit?

Over a 3-month time frame (I think), I have gone from biking to work once or twice a week, to biking to work four days a week (which really just happened last week). And it’s been interesting, relaxing, and turning me into more of a bike snob of sorts.

Biking to work is exhausting and relaxing, contradicting yes. Exhausting physically, relaxing mentally. And having a trail that goes from where I live to where I work makes bike commuting a fairly hazardless journey, though I’m wondering if this non-road route is giving me a false sense of security for the eventual trip where I’ll have to share the road with a car for more than a quarter of a mile.

The snobbish part comes into play in the solitude biking offers. Riding in the morning in the wet morning dew, and riding in the afternoon in the warmth is not something that can be replicated in a car or riding a bus with some 20 other strangers in traffic. One day there’s a deer grazing on the grass, another day you almost run over a cardinal that for some reason doesn’t just fly away. You end up playing chicken with squirrels more often than you’d like, and the occasional chipmunk, rabbit, or gopher just throws you off visually.

The broken tree branches, falling foliage, and rotting plum-like fruits keep you on point.

When it rains, you’re like “Fahk!” but then you realize how calming the pitter-patter of the rain is against your helmet, face, and jacket. All is good. Just don’t make sharp turns with a pannier on wet pavement, and don’t get stuck in mini-sand canyons on rainy days.

At first the hardest part of every morning was actually telling myself to get dressed for the bike commute rather than going straight to the shower (the place I work has a gym and shower room). Now, it’s a matter of whether or not I really want to ride the bus to work, which is what happened Wednesday morning.

The previous night M asked if I was biking, and I said I’ll probably take the bus to give my bike a rest—yeah, I said the bike—to which M pointedly added that I needed a rest too. Good point.

But riding the bus has gotten… boring. (My bike snobbery coming out?) And the weather being on the gloomier side, traffic was horrible. At this point I’ve even considered walking to and from work on days I don’t bike. It wouldn’t be too bad of a walk. It’s just under fives miles each way.

More bike-scapades to (eventually) come.

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