Three weeks ago now, I got my life back: I woke up, showered and styled my hair, put on waterproof Sorel boots, and commuted to work… on my bicycle.
Strayed from My Bicycle Roots
Rewind 2 years: It was mid-November 2015, and I was getting ready for a trek to India with my MBA class while still taking classes and working full time. By this time, my job was back to almost exclusively telecommute; my actual bicycle commute to the office was down to a weekly basis. Likewise, class was twice per week and only a 5 minute ride from my apartment. Other than that, I had little time to do anything else, including joyrides.
Like that, riding every day fell out of my life. In the days before leaving for Singapore (my pre-stop before India), Rainbow Brite was locked up and I was going on long errand-related walks without even giving cycling any consideration.
Commute to the Ends of the Earth (AKA the Suburbs)
After returning from India and Singapore, and learning a lot about the universality of joy there is in cycling world-wide, I landed a new job… With a commute to Suburbia.
First of all, you might ask why a hot company in a growing field would want to be in the suburbs. The short answer is, Suburbia is cheaper and there is more land available. Suburbs have a reputation as being where affluent people go to escape the city, but in actuality suburbs now have the fastest growing poverty levels.
Some things to note: It’s not because poor people are moving to the suburbs that they are getting poorer. During the Recession, suburban property values took a hard hit, making them very attractive to buyers with cash, including corporate investors. Suburbia also lacks infrastructure, safety nets, social services and community that urban areas provide. The suburb I worked in was no exception to any of this; although there certainly are very wealthy areas, it also has ‘hidden’ areas of poverty.
The point of this is just to note how everything stacked against bicycles in the suburbs and even public transportation. At first, I rode the bus to work, as there was not a safe option to bicycle, and any remaining options required remarkable athleticism and at least 75 minutes or more (likely a LOT more) each way. But even walking around the area during breaks, I noted lack of continuous sidewalks, busy streets with no shoulders, scant bike lanes that ended randomly without direction. Empty parking lots the size of multiple city blocks separated the sidewalk from a store front.
This is my general experience of suburbs as a whole. City life isn’t for everyone and I don’t mean to say it is. That said, suburbs should keep up with the modernities of 21st-century life. It doesn’t mean that suburbs are inherently bad, it just means they were designed for an antiquated way of living that is no longer serving residents.
An Object at Rest
Within 3 months, I was commuting daily via car. As I’d expected, it was an agitating and frustrating experience. But in order to get around during the day for the most part, I had to use the car. Naturally, my life was becoming a sedentary one: Half block walk to the car at most, sedentary car ride, 8 hours desk job with car rides or sometimes walks during the day. Rather than going straight home and parking the car to ride my bicycle to the store, I drove to the store on my way home. At the insistence of my then-partner (a devotee of the car), I started going to bigger, cheaper stores less often and getting groceries for one, two, three or more weeks at a time. I went from cycling daily and eating fresh with little waste to buying food in bulk that was more processed and salty, and throwing food away more often.
I actually lost a few pounds, but I started to feel soft and flabby. So I joined a gym, which was accessible only by car; by bus it would have added over 45 minutes to my commute time. At first I wanted to come straight home, then ride my bicycle to the local branch. Quickly enough, it became apparent that if I set foot in my apartment, fatigue would set in and I would want to “relax” aka do more sitting, after a day of sitting and a commute of sitting. The inevitable consequence was paying more to go directly to the branch of the gym near my work only accessible by car.
The spiral into inactivity
Going to the gym took up 2-3 hours after work, so of course I couldn’t go every day. Groceries would be after that, or takeout when I lacked time or motivation. Sitting and sitting made me tired. Motivation was scarce.
After 6 months of this, I had to re-prioritize. I would only go to the gym a few times per month. When I arrived at home, even after the gym, it would be after a highway commute and I’d still be agitated and exhausted. I never wanted to even walk around after I got home, much less get on a bicycle. To compensate for the lack of vitamin D, I actually turned to tanning in a tanning booth.
The transformation to an object at rest was complete.
What It Means to Ride Again
The car-centric life is an easy one, but not one of joy in many ways. Getting my bicycle fixed after falling and hurting my knee (and getting my brace off), I knew I had to seize the opportunity.
Working in town, just 3 miles from my apartment, it suddenly feels like I have my life back. I don’t have to wake up early and get dressed to workout before work: Cycling to work is my exercise! I can ride my bicycle anywhere around the cool neighborhood surrounding my office, and I like to. Riding home is a joy I look forward to after work rather than a boring “drudgery” to be endured.
And of course, I like to count the money saved; on gas, on gyms, on tanning, on my health and on my sanity. I don’t hate cars, and I don’t hate suburbs. But I’ll take my fabulous urban cycling every time!