I made a promise to myself on Wednesday, October 26, 2005.
Thus, my cycling manifesto. I will commute on my bicycle to the Ferry and to the office every work day until at least the first day of Spring 2006. (Most likely beyond, but let me get through the winter rains first. A note here: We are well past the first day of Spring and, of course, winter 2005/06 was one of the rainiest years on record.)
The first day I rode was actually a week and a half earlier. However, on the evening of Sunday the 16th I looked at my bike and said to myself that it was time to try commuting to the Larkspur Landing Ferry Terminal. A 7+-mile ride with a couple hills, I knew it wouldn't be all that big of a deal, but enough to wake me up. Counting the distance from the Ferry Terminal in San Francisco to work, my round trip each day would account for 17 to 20 miles (depending on how much I ride extra. I usually get to the Terminal a bit early and rather than wait around for the ferry, I ride some extra distance to pad my stats). That first week I rode every day. On the following Monday and Tuesday I rode as well. Then Wednesday the 26th rolled around and I drove my pickup. As soon as I got to Larkspur Landing and was walking toward the Ferry, I felt naked without the bike and had a sense that I had betrayed myself or someone or some thing.
That's when I made a pledge to myself to ride every day through the winter. Of course, it was easy to make that pledge in October weather. The question would have to be answered in the rainy days of December, January, February, and March when the coldest parts of the day is about the time I leave in the morning and when I get off the ferry at night. Would I really climb onto the bike when the temperature is in the 30s, the wind is blowing, a steady rain soaks everything, and the sun has just struggled to make the lip of the Bay... or that it's still some time before the sun even decides to make an appearance and I have to ride in the dark right after leaving my warm bed and my warmer shower?
As of July 29, 2007 - 93 weeks in a row without using the truck to commute, the answer had been yes. But now it's ESW - End of Streaks Week. See note below in Ride Notes - 7/30 - 8/5, 2007.
August 20 - 26, 2007: back at it fully. 167 miles for the week. And the start of a new streak.
Through January 2009 - still commuting. But as of February 2, I will be laid off from TPL. Then we'll see what's next.
And all of those conditions have come to pass. The exciting thing is that I have overcome my personal trepidations about riding in the elements. I had never really ridden in the rain and the dark and the cold. Now, with the right equipment, I have a new confidence that seems to be carrying on beyond the bike. (Don't worry, this is not going to turn into too much of a zen-and-the-art-of-whatever, self-help platitudinous, self-righteous discourse about finding myself through some cosmic connection to the sprocket of the universe and the great wheel of existence. Although I may resort to the fact that commuting this way is very cycle logical.)
What I've had time to consider is the litany of reasons for me to continue the pledge to myself. I know the reasons for commuting by bike have been well documented, but I'd like to indulge a bit here to enumerate the reasons that I do it.
1) Health - Physical. One of the very obvious ones. I just feel a whole lot better each morning when I get to work and each evening getting home having ridden the 8 plus miles, and sometimes a little more. Sure, I know that putting in 80 - 100 miles per week is not going to turn me into Lance Lehman, but it does make me feel like I'm keeping myself slightly ahead of the decrepit curve.
2) Health - Mental. An offshoot of item 1 is the warm glow of satisfaction in knowing that I'm doing my physical self some good and the mental comfort that I'm fulfilling a pledge to myself while doing the environment a little less harm than I have been up to now. (See item 3.) Cycling also has an aspect of intense nowness to it. Every nuance of the travel surface and the elements, as well as the imperative for safety, forces one into a kind of Ram Dassian be-here-nowity. I'll call it 'hyper-hereness'. So the bicycle is in fact a raising consciousness machine, but one based in the utilitarian world rather than the self-indulgent world of consciousness for consciousness sake - which, by its very nature then, is not consciousness raising, but as it is self indulgent, then it is self-centered and then the antithesis of consciousness.
3) Environment. If you look at the chart/table (PDF) showing the days and miles that I am not using my truck, the environmental benefits actually begin to add up rather quickly. This log will be updated weekly with the chart updated every 4 weeks. And while using the car but once or twice a week driving it makes it feel more like a luxury than an assumption. Driving a car should be a luxury. For me, one of the very prime of motivations for cycling is what I call CRMs, Car Replacement Miles.
4) Challenge. A couple of times in my life I have not followed through on significant life challenges. Perhaps this small one will alleviate some of the regret I have over those. And perhaps on another page, when I'm more willing to bare a couple of those regrets and when you might be willing to listen, I know it would be cathartic for me to name a few of them. The point for me is that I now have a new sense of the capable. Facing elements: wind, rain, cold, heat, darkness, traffic, time, and gravity. Sure, maybe it hasn't been 12 or 15 degrees and snowing, but 40 degree rain with 50mph gusts ain't too bad. And it's always about the beginning. Leaving the house in the morning when it is cold and rainy and getting off the ferry in the evening after having caught 20 minutes of snooze. Those first 5 minutes either way. Getting part way up the first hill or grade against a chill wind. And then it sets in and it feels great. I nod and smile to myself, sometimes speaking aloud a 'yeah, I'm doin' it.'
5) Exploration. One of my main motives all along in riding has been as a tool for exploring. Here in Marin I have been on more trails, back roads, and alleys than I would have ever done in the truck or by walking. There are a number of places that I've hiked that I would never try taking the bike, but for an overall ability to see and absorb the world in close-up, there is no other way than by bicycle. In the commuting realm, even though I generally take the same route daily, I make it a practice to change it as often and as much as I can and to look at the views and places with a new attitude each day. Live like a stranger. See your home as if you were a tourist. And wherever you are, be an explorer more than a traveller.
6) Money. The amount of gasoline I'm not using and the extended life of my truck, as I don't use it 70 - 80% of the days, is adding up to resources that I can spend elsewhere. Often the savings I accumulate in not using the truck are eaten up by maintenance, accessories, and weather gear for the bike. But those things feel different to buy and are more fun than spending money on gas and oil and a tune-up for the truck.
7) Weekends. Now that I ride every work day I find much less self-imposed guilt about feeling that I must be riding on the weekends. Thus I am freed up on my off days to work on other creative pursuits, work around the house, and of course, do nothing, glorious nothing.
But oh that magic feeling, nowhere to go.
8) Ego. I still want to impress family, friends and, of course, women by showing off with things that I can accomplish. I'm not sure who will be impressed and who will just think I'm a sad bike geek, but for my source of motivation, there is always that set of people who are important to me and I want to say to tell them, brag to them, about something good that I've done or am doing. Most of you who are in my constellation of approval probably know who you are. There are a couple of you who don't know and may never, but know that whatever I do, I do for not only myself, but to make you proud of me and to also maybe inspire you (KDA?) to push toward something greater. Oh-oh, I'm starting to drift toward that zone of self-help that I do so abhor. Sorry. I'll stop now.
9) Politics. Yellow-support-the-troops-ribbon-adorned S-in-your-face-U-fucking-conspicuous-consumption-V. Anything that I can do to counter the US war fueled, weapons Wal-Mart of the world, god-bellowing, sanctimonious, rapacious static-inducing noise justifying the ravaging of the cradle of civilization... Well, riding a bike is a small, not insignificant gesture against the junior-high mentality of the cynically flippant murdering machine forever now to be known as AmBush. There is an unbridled sense of entitlement in the US. When World War II rampaged across the globe, US citizens sacrificed essentials to battle a clear demon. Our response to the guerrilla attacks of September 11, 2001 was "Open for Business" - we'll show 'em - let's shop, buy, consume - now that's patriotic. We have become an SUV US. SUV-sized egos. SUVs on the road, SUV boats, SUV houses, SUV televisions, driving 400 miles in your SUV to play in the snow, commuting scores of miles in your SUV from a bleach-white -urb to the commerce center while seeing this absurd process not as a privilege and not as the perversion it is, but as an assumption, an entitlement. By giving up the power of war-backed internal combustion wherever I can, I am powered. My internal combustion becomes, then, truly internal. You know I’d give you everything I’ve got for a little peace of mind.
10) Pleasure. It is, after all, fun to ride. And just because we are somehow eternally comfortable with 10, I feel that I must add a 10 to the list. 10 commandments. Perfect 10. Top 10. 10 yards for a first down. 10 Downing Street. Neon.
10a) Self-righteous smugness. (Is that a redundancy?) Anyway, it does allow me some measure of pleasure from the inner glow of well-earned self-righteous smugness as I climb Lincoln Avenue every evening and see the snakes of headlights and tailights snail their mixed metaphor way up and down 101.
10b) Food. Riding a lot eases the guilt pangs over the periodic pint Häagen Dazs.
Setting Goals. Cycling has the built-in aspect that lends iteself to goal setting. On hard days those goals can be counted off in tenths of miles. But I use many sets of goals to keep the verve alive. Now that I've done my first 200+ mile week (See July 10 in notes on PDF chart/table), I now consider other levels of performance to come. 80-mile day. 250 mile week. 700 mile 4-week. 5200 miles by October - that is from October '05 to October '06.
Cycling Peeves. This will be my ongoing rant section about cycling, cyclists, and the rest of the world as it relates to cycling and cyclists.
Lane-swellers - Automobile version. Car drivers who don't realize that on nearly all roads, there is plenty, plenty of cross space in the lane to pass a cyclist safely without swerving into the oncoming lane. That is, of course, assuming that the cyclist is being conscious and courteous and is riding on or very close to the sideline (See next item for appropriate rant).
Lane-swellers - Cyclists version. Cycle riders who ride next to each other. The arrogance of cyclists who make the assumption that car drivers are not only completely aware that the riders are there, but that the car divers would be willing to endanger themselves and others to swerve around them or to slow patiently until an opening happens.
Ride from where you are. Strap your ultra-light racer onto your Landrover, lock in your hyper-suspension mountain ripper onto the back of your Escalade and drive to ride. The Lancey-boys and weekend warrior-be's need to think about a critical mass of distance when deciding to go out for their ride. Why not ride from where you are to where you're going to ride? People load their bikes and haul them 25 miles so they can ride 50. Cycling is not only about excercise and conquering ego mountains. And I say that, believe me, knowing full-well that that is a good 60, 70% of what drives me. But there is the altruistic, making-the-world-a-better-place drive that my prime motivator in starting was as a way to allow for car-rplacement miles. As I continue to ride and mile weekly averages climb well above 100 miles per week, the basis of that mileage is the 75 - 100 miles per week that the bicycle is replacing in car miles.