Monday, October 14, 2013

Commuting a Little Closer to the Earth

I've been thinking about self-experimentation lately, and trying to figure out what to give up first.  My first thought was to start with coffee, as that is one of my few self-described addictions (meaning, I drink coffee every day, and if I don't drink coffee I get decidedly grumpy).  I even started cutting down on coffee by limiting myself to drinking it black (I'm normally a cream-and-sugar kind of gal), and that brought me down to a cup or so a day on workdays.  Easy enough, but I'm not interested in moving forward on that one yet.... especially since I don't feel any less tired overall since cutting down.

Well, it didn't take long before the choice of what to give up next became a little bit easier.

That's my car.  I've had it for about four years, which is pretty good as far as my car-owning history is concerned.  It was a good car, needing only occasional maintenance and the regular repairs to be expected from a used car. Until two months ago, when it suddenly became dysfunctional.  The diagnosis: it needed a new engine (I'm no mechanic, but I'm pretty sure that's the part that makes the car GO). We're talking a couple thousand dollars in repairs.

So, I decided to ditch the car.  It helped that I don't have a couple thousand dollars lying around, and that I don't want to use my credit card for purchases anymore.  It also helped that I'd been thinking about giving up my car anyway, and that it is currently Summer in Minnesota (the one time of year when people from other states are actually jealous of our weather).  I also own a bike, and my daughter is finally too old to be pulled in a bike trailer (my hamstrings still remember those days), and old enough to actually be able to bike longish distances with me (at a pace faster than I can walk).  It was time to become a bike commuter!

My commute from home to work is about 4.2 miles.  I've tried a couple of routes, and have found one that is relatively flat.  It takes me about 20 to 23 minutes to get to and from work, which, gratifyingly, is about how long it takes via car during rush hour.  Yes, I arrive to work pretty sweaty, but I work in a small office, and once I cool off I'm not any worse for the wear (plus, if I really felt I needed it, there is a shower at work I can use).  

The first couple of weeks, while fun for the novelty of it, were physically hard.  I was just exhausted by the time I arrived to work or home.  My legs felt like steel, and never seemed to relax.  They were just sore, all the time.  I wondered if it was ever going to get easier, and I wondered if it was really worth the tiredness and the soreness. 

I also wondered if my bike was part of the problem.  It's a hybrid (a cross between a road and mountain bike), and I got it almost a decade ago for free.  I took it into my local bike shop, and got some new tires (mine were very worn, and had more tread than I needed).  I also got it lubed up and inspected (this I have NEVER done).  It did indeed seem to ride a little more smoothly afterward.

Now I'm two months into my bike commuting life, and I have to admit it is getting easier.  I've shaved a couple minutes off my transit time, and I'm actually finding myself enjoying the ride most of the time.  Instead of feeling hard and laborious, it mostly feels energizing and strengthening. Mostly. Sometimes, when I'm riding up a hill against the wind with a full backpack, I'm really wishing I had a car. As the wind turns colder, I can smell winter coming. My plan is to keep biking through the winter, but we'll see. I'm up to the challenge!