The Tale of the Prodigal Cyclist

Not long ago, in the Land of the Bike, there was a woman who for many months had not ridden. She had stopped riding in autumn, which came with extra road debris and two flat tires, in one day! All through the sleepy months of winter, the woman's tire lay with its wilted tube like the sad and colorless remains of summer bloom. Rain fell, even snow. Winds blew. Gray overtook the Land of the Bike, and the woman did not ride. Long bus commutes and other travel ate at the woman’s time. She did not buy the new puncture-resistant tires she needed. She did not repair her flat. She did not invest in fenders. Her complexion faded.

But when she sensed the stirring of spring over the Handlebar Hills, the woman bought tires and fenders. By herself, she fixed the flat. And then the woman brought her bicycle outside. She put foot on pedal. Once again, she began to ride.

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That woman was me: the Cascade Bicycle Club employee who didn’t bike between November and the end of March. When I started up again the other week, I was welcomed back to the Land of the Bike with a sort of fanfare and excitement, with challenge and a whirr of freedom that has me spinning like a wheel.

I offer my story as encouragement for all of the enthusiastic souls gearing up for the springtime celebration of bicycle commuting that we call Bike Month. Biking to work isn’t always easy, as my story will demonstrate, but it brings with it many, many rewards. Give it a go! Get a team going for the Group Health Commute Challenge. In time, you’ll have your own story to tell. Maybe you'll share it with us.

For me, it started this way, with a stint as…

The Bicycle Sherpa of Tropical Fruit

The day I had chosen to start biking again, Wednesday, was also the day on which a friend’s birthday dinner had been rescheduled. It was a potluck. I had purchased tropical fruit to commemorate a recent trip to Kauai: one mango, one pineapple and a papaya. An almost-five-pound papaya.

Note to self: Until you get a rack and panniers, leave the five-pound papayas at home.

Or maybe the pineapple, which didn’t fit into my backpack and which I tossed in a shoulder bag that persisted during the ride in slipping forward in direct range of my pedaling knee, such that I had to continually readjust my load toward the posterior.

Thankfully it didn’t rain. Thankfully I didn’t get run over when I stalled under my load, crossing an intersection from a full stop on a slight incline. It meant that I’d have a chance to continue my adventures the next day, and…

Bike with the Mayor!

Mike McGinn, Mayor of Seattle, had agreed to let me interview him for the Cyclist of the Month column that appears each month in the Cascade Courier. His assistant had arranged for this interview to take place during the Mayor’s regular morning bicycle commute. This would be a first for me—conducting an interview on two wheels. I’d have to pay attention to traffic, listen carefully and do my best to remember what I heard. I’ll let you read all about it in the Courier (the Courier goes to Cascade members, btw; join here). Let me just say this: The Mayor—who claimed in the interview to getting passed routinely by other cyclists on Dexter Ave—kicked my butt! On the finishing stretch to City Hall, I struggled to keep apace, wishing we could stop for just one moment and breathe.

I need to get back into biking shape. Because you never know when you may unexpectedly need to…

Ride furiously to the train station in the cold and the wind and rain

The plan for day three of cycling was lovely. Leisurely bike ride to work, then load the bike onto the #75 and #522 buses to get downtown and catch the train to Portland. It would be my bike’s first time on the train. I was excited.

Mad, cycling hamster

Shortly before the #75 was to have arrived, I checked the bus tracker. The bus was 12 minutes late. Then 13. I had a 10 minute window between buses. My plan was failing. I exploded into a frenzy of preparation—tearing open my tightly packed bag (which I am happy to say did not include a five-pound papaya) and excavating to the bottom for my bike shoes, then clumsily lacing them while coworker Erica re-stuffed the bag and endured my constant stream of nervous commentary and cursing. I stumbled out the door, hopped on my bike and pedaled into a curtain of rain and hearty bursts of wind. I pedaled and pedaled and pedaled like a mad and wet little hamster (on a bike?) until I got to the U-District, at which point my ice-cold hands, racing heart and scattered thoughts told me it would be prudent to STOP and catch the bus downtown. So I did. And though the bus was late and packed with passengers and slow, I made it to the train station and successfully loaded my bike. The bike and I rested in Hood River for the weekend so that we could be ready the next week to…

Tour Portland’s awesome bicycle infrastructure

Neighborhood Greenway in Portland

Cascade staff had the opportunity recently to travel to Portland, meet with our good colleagues at the Bicycle Transportation Alliance and take a 24-mile bicycle tour of Portland’s bike lanes, cycle tracks, bridges, neighborhood greenways and other convenient and delightful bicycle facilities. Some salient points regarding my happiness on this tour:

  • It didn’t rain. Well, maybe for five minutes in the afternoon, but really, no. No rain.
  • Portland is flat(ter).
  • There are fewer cars—even parked cars—in the places we visited.
  • We rode on neighborhood greenways, often called bicycle boulevards. Neighborhood greenways are residential streets lying parallel to arterials and set up to be safe for cyclists, pedestrians, kids and other people not powering some sort of combustion engine. They have speed bumps to slow motorized traffic. Stop signs halt cars on most intersecting streets. A cyclist may glide along these greenways, relaxed and confident and happy, unlike when she returns home to Seattle and…

Rides Fourth Avenue downtown from the train station

I want to be a buff and burly cyclist, willing to tackle most traffic scenarios. But often I am sensitive and fearful, and though I may be willing, I am far from comfortable. That’s how I was on Fourth Avenue in downtown in Seattle. It was downright unpleasant biking on that thoroughfare, even in the bike lane. Mostly it was from the speed of passing cars. I kept muttering under my breath: “I don’t like this.” I mourned the bygone day of the Portland neighborhood greenways. Don’t get me wrong—it’s awesome that Seattle has bike lanes on Fourth Avenue. But it strikes me that we still have challenges if we’re going to get folks—I was thinking of women in particular, but really, anyone—to commute downtown under those conditions. The trip to Portland showed me that advances are possible. And I work with an energetic group of people here at Cascade who are doing their darnedest to make those advances a reality. There is hope.

And there’s this: the more people who choose bicycling, the safer the roads get for ALL cyclists. So, how about it? Anyone want to join me and thousands of other new and returning and regular cyclists this Bike Month in an embrace of bike commuting?

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Thus concludes the Tale of the Prodigal Cyclist. In recounting her tale of return and redemption, the Prodigal Cyclist has perhaps been remiss in not describing the joy and freedom she felt amongst the challenges. In those first tender days back upon the bike, there were cherry blossoms at which to marvel. There was the smell of green things pushing their way through soil into springtime. There was the strong way the woman’s legs felt the third morning; the energy she brought to work after a bicycle commute. Let’s not forget the $2.50 saved, each commute leg, in bus fare. So while there are sometimes rain and rush in cycling, there are also sun and leisure. While there are loads to carry, there are burdens to shrug off. There are busy downtown streets and idyllic neighborhood greenways. And there will be more neighborhood greenways, here and there, by and by. And the prodigal cyclist will return to them.