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A harrowing commute

October 9, 2010

This is a story about one of those harrowing experience that you voluntarily signed up for. And you think, “How the heck did I get myself into this?” But I did.

I recently moved from a quiet family neighborhood near my work (read: lots of strollers, runners, yogurt eaters) to the hip gentrified neighborhood much further away (read: cop cars, vegan bakeries, free broken furniture on the sidewalks). I had biked to work daily from my former residence. Total commute time: 5 minutes.  I had gotten to know the capitol police officers at the bike garage and after moving, I missed chatting with them everyday. I missed the wind in my hair, the exercise, and the sustainability of my commute. Or so I thought.

Tuesday morning I got up bright and early, ate breakfast with one of the five roommates in my grouphouse, and was going to take the metro to work, as usual. However, I had time to spare and was feeling inspired by the crisp fall air. On an impulse, I grabbed my bike, threw on my helmet and took off for work. I quickly check my cellphone as I left the driveway to time the trip.

Start time: 8:43 AM.

The primary reason I hadn’t biked before from my new digs is that I live at the crest of a steep hill. Although the morning journey would be alright, I didn’t think I could muster the return trip up the hill at the end of the day.  Little did I know that going down the steep hill would  have its downside as well. The handle bars were shaking, my arms were jiggling, and if I had dared open my mouth, I would have erupted with a yodeler vibrato from the bumpy terrain. I tapped on the brakes gingerly and attempted to avoid as many pebbles as possible, lest I go flying – orange floral tote bag, eggplant parmesan, and all.  But by the bottom of the hill I had found my groove. I was in a bike lane and joined a flock of bicyclists with their saddle bags. We would land at the stoplights, edge out in the crosswalk together, and then take off as soon as the other direction turned red. I felt safe and hip – like part of a visible pack of trendy environmentalists.

It was lively too. In one intersection, a daring biker didn’t heed the stoplight and jetted between cars to continue down the road. As he did soon, a booming voice erupted in the air from an invisible loudspeaker “Hey, that red light means you too, buddy!”  I looked around quickly, eyes wide. One of my new biking amigos turned to me and pointed out the undercover cop car parked at the corner. Boy – was I in business. I was making friends, getting my eyes full, enjoying the fresh air and getting some much needed exercise. I had the wind was in my hair and was looking forward to seeing my capitol police buddies. My Tuesday morning was off to a good start.

Then, things started to change. My new bicyclist comrades began to part ways. They peeled off at P St M St, and K St to go to their nonprofits, law firms, and other places where young professionals spend their 9-5s. And soon, I was all alone. The bike lane disappeared. It was me and honking taxis, tractors doing construction, and car commuters swerving. There was no bike herd and there was little heed to bike protocol. I suddenly felt sweaty and stressed. I was only halfway there. “How long have I been biking?” I wondered, but didn’t dare fish around for my phone. Eyes on the road and hands on the handlebars. Long story short, my positive morning ended in a grumpy sweaty arrival to the bike garage. I was too out of breath to make small talk with my friends when I arrived, and too disheveled to feel good about myself.  I had done it, but wasn’t likely to do it anytime soon.

Arrival time: 9:06AM.

Total trip time: 23 minutes.

But that said – I love my bike. I enjoy riding to the park on the weekends, the grocery store in the evenings, and to a houseparty on a Friday night. I just may stick with my trendy metro riding friends and my free metro newspaper in the mornings for the next few weeks. And wait to find another harrowing experience to voluntarily jump into.

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