My bicycle rested on my hip, one wheel spinning. The front tire had slid sideways against the lip of a driveway, and boom. My knees and hands hit, then my helmet, with a crack that left my ears ringing.
Cars passed by in a steady parade. A few eased over the center line to give me a wider berth.
A blood red maple leaf fluttered to the curb.
What the heck was I doing?
Trying to break commuting habits, that’s what, specifically my habit of driving to the gym. I could, of course, go outside and march around for awhile to get exercise, but that’s lonely. The gym, with friends, showers and clean towels is part of the reason I exercise at all.
I love cars. I love cup holders, the radio, the heater. I love how easy it is to get around, and how if I forget something, say my wallet, or underwear for changing into after exercise, it’s no big deal. You just drive home and get it. I love being protected from
the weather, and fitting in with everyone else who drives.
Car worship has got to be high on the list of reasons for my generation’s dismal response to climate change. We baby boomers started Earth Day. Protections for water, air and endangered species were all enacted during in my growing up years. Yet we ended up dumping record amounts of heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere. Epic floods, droughts and storms that signal changing climate, started on our watch.
Scientists believe the damage is reversible, and yet, we delay, clinging to our energy systems, our food habits, and to our cars.
Driving to exercise feels particularly inexcusable, especially for me. The route from our house is flat. There are bike lanes. It’s only about 2 miles. Our town, Eugene, Oregon, is the 18th most friendly bicycling city in the nation. Forty five percent of the people in Copenhagen commute by bicycle every day.
So, I resolved to commute by muscle power to the gym twice a week.
At first I rode four, five times a week. Morning breezes were invigorating. I saw herons and hawks, and once a bald eagle swooped over the river, not a hundred feet away. Other cyclists, many who appeared to be homeless, kept me company. There were families with kids wobbling along and parents shouting warnings. There were road cyclists in bright togs who blew past, “On your right!” and quite a few like me, age sixty or so; raisins, as one sports magazine called us.
Fall arrived. Temperatures dipped, the weather misted. Leaves were raked into piles in the bike lane where they waited for weeks for the city’s collection trucks. Husks from walnut trees popped under my tires, sending me into wild skids. Glass, nails and cans were obscured until too late. After one of my tires got a flat, I invested in puncture resistant tires and tubes. I bought rain pants and a stylish reflective shell to wear over my jacket, and then lowered my goal: once a week during winter.
It didn’t help. My hair, at it’s best wispy and uncooperative, emerged from under the helmet, flat and immune to all fluffing. On rainy days passing cars sprayed showers of muddy water. My hands turned white and numb, and stayed that way for a long time after I arrived home and was warm. My bike light, seemingly bright when I bought it, blinked feebly into traffic. The city paved the road by our house, but infuriatingly, halted the new asphalt at the edge of the bike lane, leaving patched concrete for bicyclists.
I gritted my teeth on bumpy pavement, piled on layers, wore thick mittens, reminded myself that no one cares about my hair.
One day, I discovered my bike light missing, snatched from its holder. Another day the grips on a friend’s handlebars disappeared. A third friend had a wheel stolen. Twice. It should be noted that our town, along with being the 18th friendliest to bicyclists, also has a reputation for theft.
I upgraded my U-lock, fortified it with a cable and secured both tires when chaining up. That meant that half the space in the pannier was taken up with theft-protection equipment.
My resolve sagged. I made excuses. Probably wasn’t good for a laptop to ride in a bike bag. I didn’t want to lug groceries on a bike. The time between rides stretched longer and longer until weeks went by with no rides at all.
Not that it made me happy. Every rider I saw sparked guilt and jealousy, especially if they zipped past while I was stuck in traffic or circling a parking lot. Still, summer’s return didn’t rekindle my enthusiasm. One ride every seven days was a good week. I’d meet friends with my hair askew, helmet and bike bag bumping into my legs, and they’d say — “You’re so good!” But I wasn’t. I was mostly driving, just like them.