Strangers Become Friends When Bicycling

We are living through a lonely time. In this post, a Cascade staff member reflects on the power of bicycles to unite--and the rewards of pausing to say hello to a stranger. 

By Christopher Hemminger

Winter, spring, summer and fall, rain or shine or even snow, between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. on weekdays, I can usually be found on the Burke-Gilman Trail, pedaling 10 miles each way between my home in Ballard and the Cascade office in Magnuson Park. 

When I first accepted the job with Cascade three-and-a-half years ago, the idea of a 20-mile round-trip bike commute sounded daunting. Now it is one of my favorite parts of the day. 

Over the years, I have come to recognize some of the people who share the trail with me. I don’t know their names or where they are going, only that we are riding somewhere at the same time. Literally, I know them only in passing. Yet, we share a bond. We choose to commute by bicycle rather than by car.

There is a man I pass frequently about halfway through my commute. For the past year or more we have acknowledged each other with a head nod or a wave. I wanted to say hello many times, but our morning waves had gone on for so long that it felt awkward to stop and ask his name. 

The other day as we approached each other, he stopped and waved me over.

“What’s your name?” he asked.

His name is Rob.

We chatted, sharing a few details of our work and lives. Rob runs a mountaineering program for high school students. Like me, he was pedaling to his lonely office, emptied of co-workers due to COVID-19. As the staff accountant, I am the sole Cascade staffer in our airy Magnuson Park office, as my job cannot be done from home. 

People commuting by car do not share these moments of human connection. If Rob and I had been driving cars, separated from one another by metal and glass and the noise of the road, we never would have met. Research confirms what we already know: people who bike to their destinations are happier.

We are living through a lonely time, a time of forced isolation, our faces obscured by masks, separated by six feet or more. Cars only reinforce that isolation. Bikes unite us.

My interaction with Rob made me wonder: Who are all those other people I pass every day on my bike? Where are they going? What are their names and stories? If we paused to say hello, might we be friends? 

There is only one way to find out.

Paul Tolmé's picture
Paul Tolmé