July 2008

One of the side benefits (or if my perspective was different, a main benefit) of biking to work is getting more fit. Healthier. And one of the side effects of more exercise for me has always been that I crave “real” food. Fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains. Nuts and seeds. As a former sugaholic, I find this good-food craving to be pretty cool. My body seems to know what is the best fuel, and makes sure that I’m craving the good stuff instead of the crash-and-burn stuff.


I was also craving cookies today. Craving them something fierce.

I had picked up a couple of Liz Lovelies at the store yesterday – partially, I admit, because Liz Lovelies were in the store! I’ve never seen that before, wasn’t even aware that stores (other than a couple online retailers) would be carrying them, so I wanted to support this phenomenon. (It makes a fantastic excuse, anyway.) Regardless of the reason, I now had two lovely cookies…at home. And so I thought about those cookies all day, and had to wait until I finished my 2nd ride of the day to have them. And then I waited until after dinner, and I had them with a small bowl of coconut nice cream

I have a feeling that supplementing my healthy diet with a bunch of cookies negates the health benefits of riding to work!

The good news is that cookies make me happy, and so does riding my bike to work. A match made in heaven.

My ride home was both good and bad in several respects. I got honked at a few times, but I also negotiated with a driver on a busy street and was able to get into the left turn and then the middle turn lane in time to actually make the left turn I needed. The traffic was fast and heavy, and a few cars chose to not let me into the left lane, so it was a pleasant relief when an SUV did let me in. It was also nice that I was making such good and immediate use of skills I’d learned last night in the bike safety class.

It was good in so many other ways as well. There was the fact that my legs were super tired when I first started out, but that they eventually lost most of the tiredness and moved me along at a pretty nice pace. There was the fact that even though I wasn’t sure I’d be able to face the biggest hills, I was able to get them done. There was the fact that I, again, rode in 1 hr and 20 minutes, despite legs that were already exhausted when I got on the bike!

It felt good. The honking, the ignorance of the people I’m sharing the road with…that was bugging me, yet not enough to diminish my grin as I arrived home. (And it wasn’t because I was in proximity of the cookies either!) The best I can explain it is that at the end of these 14 mile rides, I feel like I’ve been playing. It is a good way to start and end the day. Yesterday I had to drive to the bike safety class, and the traffic was horrible, and I have not been that cranky in a while. Yet I’m always on the verge of it, when I’m driving!

I was tempted to write a post about the rude, impatient, ignorant honking, but one of my new favorite blogs to read posted about the very same thing, and in a way that was way funnier than I could have ever managed, and he made all the points better than I could have while being entertaining enough that I was laughing out loud. So, read up about NYCBikeSnob’s commute this morning!


Last night I picked up a few essentials (rear blinkie, frame pump, handlebar bag), and attached it all to the bike.  I set the alarm for 4:30am.  4:30! Crazy, isn’t it? But I wanted to get to work around my normal time, and since I’m slow I knew I had to budget an hour and a half for the ride.  I wanted to be out of the house at 5am.  It also means less traffic to worry about.

I left 10 minutes later than I wanted, and I enjoyed every second of the ride. It took me an hour and 20 minutes (slower than I want, but faster than expected) and it was great. It was easy, despite the hills.  There was a certain amount of that special discomfort….I do need a different saddle.

I’ve been haunting the bike forums the past month or so, and one of the things the commuters often say is that work is the forced rest time between the morning and evening ride. 

I understand now, I do. 

I’ve never enjoyed the trip to work before. Today was fun. I arrived at work with a big grin. I’m looking forward to my trip home, to the ride itself. Tired legs and all.

I told a friend that I feel like Superman without the blue lycra. I went into the bathroom stall a hero (okay, a bike commuter, but with all these endorphins I feel like a hero) and came out a software engineer.

I’m in the middle of reading “Radical Acceptance“, which was recommended to me by my therapist. It is a good book, practical in its way, and focused on (as you might expect) helping us think about ourselves differently. Accepting ourselves.

This world seems focused on perfection, performance, production. I fall in the same trap. How can we not?

Accepting ourselves in this society, in this world, in this place and time… it is not an automatic thing. It is not an easy thing either. That doesn’t mean it is not important, however.

So, anyway, I’m reading this book, and I can absolutely understand why my therapist invited me to read it. I’m quoted in it, over and over, you see. I bet you are too. I think we all are.

And one of the quotes that was not from me, but from Carl Rogers, has been swirling in my head for a while.

The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.


I have found a way around the big hill. It is a bit longer, but it is bikable, and it likely takes less time than it does to walk the bike up the hill. It is certainly both more enjoyable and less painful.

I was writing an entirely different post tonight, full of angst and emotion about my day at work today. And it strikes me that maybe it is just a different kind of big hill, and I need to find a way around it as well.

Nope, I don’t know what that means, not yet. I have a feeling it is related to something Utah Phillips said.

“Toil is what you do for somebody else; work is what you do for yourself,” he explained. “One of the struggles of life is finding your own work, and you’ve got to do a lot of different kinds of toil to do that. But sooner or later, once you’ve understood and found what your work is, you pick up the phone and call in well.”

I have been spending all my time, it seems, reading on bike forums and researching saddles and various other things that are essential as I wait for my bike to be built. I also read about 15 bike blogs a day, I’ve signed up for a “cycling with confidence” class, and I’ll likely take the 2nd set of classes as well, after this set is done.

It wouldn’t have occurred to me to do this, but when I took a bike safety class last month, the guy mentioned it. “You’d learn all this on your own, just from getting out there and biking, but you’ll shorten the learning curve considerably by taking the classes.”

That sounds good to me. I think it will be helpful to have a sort of mentor or tutor to mimic, as well as riding in a bit of a herd, to get extra comfortable with all that it means to ride on the road in traffic. More experienced cyclists are in less danger of accidents, or so the statistics say.

A week ago Monday a young woman was killed riding her bike in DC. She was in a bike lane, and a garbage truck turned right, completely running her over. This is what is known as a “right hook”. It points out two things – that bike lanes still require vigilance on the part of the cyclist (even bike lanes that don’t put you in danger of being doored by parked cars) and that drivers of cars don’t often understand how to make a right hand turn when there is a bike lane.

To be honest, I didn’t know for certain myself, but someone from the Washington Area Bike Association explained it really well – the bike lane is the right-hand most lane, and while cars are not permitted to drive in the bike lane, they are actually required to merge into the bike lane in order to make a right hand turn.

So when the garbage truck turned from the right-most car lane across the bike lane, it was essentially the same as anyone making a right hand turn from the left lane of a street that has 2 lanes going in the same direction.

This “right hook” is one of the biggest dangers for cyclists.

Getting doored is an even bigger danger, and is perhaps the biggest argument for “taking the lane” when riding your bike. Acting predictably, being visible, and not putting yourself at risk of parked cars, these are ways to stay safe, and riding a little bit to the right of the middle of the lane is the best way to keep yourself safe. Even though, when you first get out there on your bike, it seems a bit scary. Still, no matter what rude and ignorant people might yell at you out the window, bikes are 100% legal on the road. Not smooshed up in the right gutter of the road, but on the road. Bikes are vehicles, by law.

Anyway, though there aren’t actually many cyclist deaths, too many of those that happen are from cyclists getting doored and thrown into traffic, or from the infamous “right hook”, such as what killed Alice Swanson in DC a week ago Monday.

She’d been riding to work only 2 weeks. Unfortunately, I do think that if she was a more experienced cyclist she would have been more aware of the potential danger of the garbage truck, and maybe it could have been avoided.

Though I’d already planned on taking these road riding classes, it really does highlight for me how important it is.

I’ve read other places that mentoring new riders is a great way to increase their safety as well as make it more likely that they’ll keep riding.

So, yes, I’m obsessed with all things bikes of late. It will be so much better once I am able to actually start my bike commuting rather than just reading obsessively about it. Soon!

In the meantime, I believe I have found a way up that gigantahill that isn’t quite so direct and steep. I have to test it out. Tomorrow, I believe.

And thus this entire hot and sticky weekend, I’ll pretty much end up outside. Great planning on my part!



It is so difficult to show things like Big Hills in pictures and have it accurately portray their Biggness. But I have tried my best.

the long view

the long view

You can sort of see the way the world looks like it is dropping off on the other side of the cross street. The rest of the pictures were taken from about that point, so I could try to get a view of the slope of the hill…

a small ways down the hill

a small ways down the hill

Take note of the red car you see, because when I zoom in later, I zoom right up to that car, so it is all that distance that will be cut off, essentially.

looking back up the hill, for perspective

looking back up the hill, for perspective

zoomed in a little

zoomed in a little

It is still hard to see, but you can see a small silver car just about to start up the hill coming towards us. Most of that car will disappear as it goes up the hill, just as those itty bitty people have mostly disappeared. I know, the picture really is too small to see all that. That’s a really steep portion of the hill, and then it continues for quite a while, still fairly steep, to the top. Where there is only a short reprieve, after which a bit more of a hill, and then comes real relief.

I’m not kidding though when I say I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to ride up it. It was seriously that difficult to get even one tenth of the way up it, and even taking into account my relative lack of biking strength at the moment, it is just that big of a hill.

But that’s okay, it will be on my way home.

When I got back from my picture taking excursion to The Big Hill, I realized it was too late to actually hop on the bike, as I originally planned, and go for a bike ride. I’d walked for 90 minutes, between going to the library and going to take the pictures! This is the crazy cool thing about doing things on a bike or on foot. Especially on bike, I think. Hell yeah things usually take longer, but they just don’t feel like they take longer. 20 minutes in my car feels much longer than that. Every moment is either stressful or boring, the only part I really enjoy is my music. I don’t hate driving, but it just isn’t that fun either.

On the bike, though, it is fun. Yeah, it will take me 3 times as long to get to work, but it isn’t going to feel like it. It is going to be fun time, not stress time. I can’t wait.

I got back from my walk and looked at my phone. No phone call. Normally this would be, well, normal. I don’t get calls often, ‘cept from the parents, and that just once a week on a normal week. But I was expecting, or at least hoping, for a call from my Bike Shop Boy. We’re still in the process of specing out the components on this bike I’m ordering for my commuting. It will be able to haul me and Stuff. Or rather I will be able to haul Stuff on it. Front racks, rear racks, fenders…if I can handle it, it can handle it. It is a beast, really. It is beautiful. Or it will be, when I finally get it.

I’d gotten an idea in my head early last week. I blame this on my Bike Shop Boy, in his delay in getting back to me. I’d first gone to the shop on July 3, a Thursday, and he’d promised to email with an initial go at the specs in “a couple days”. It was a couple days after those “couple days” that I finally heard from him, and by then I’d started reading obsessively.

I’d gotten downtube shifters in my head.

I couldn’t let them go.

I read what people said, some positive, some scornful, some not understanding, some as if they were the lost holy grail. Suffice to say, they were the only choice for shifters about 30 years ago, and now they’re pretty seldomly seen. Now there are integrated brake and shifters, sometimes called brifters, and I’d guess that most see those as where the evolution of brakes and shifters were always heading. So downtube shifters are likely seen by most as a step back at least 20 years.

But, you know, my truck is a manual shift. And I like it like that. My camera is manual, even if it doesn’t have to be entirely so. I usually have it on aperture priority, which is say, one third manual. (I use autofocus, after all.)

Anyway, perhaps it is just my quirky personality that likes things more manual, more directly controllable by moi. I also like how clean they look.

And I sort of felt like the Bike Shop Boy was going to be shaking his head and rolling his eyes at this clueless bike noob who was spending money just to get started in bike commuting, and wanted downtube shifters. I mean, really, right?

But I tried downtube shifters (annabelle, that 22 year old red beauty, has them!) and I loved them.

So the phone finally rings tonight, and it is indeed Bike Shop Boy. He identifies himself, makes the starting-conversation noises. And then:

“I just want to tell you that you are awesome for going with downtube shifters.”

I finally have a bike to ride. Not the bike that I’ll commute on, that won’t be for another couple weeks. But a bike to ride on is finally part of my life again.

I have been doing so much research in preparation to begin bike commuting that not having a bike to ride on at all has been aggravating. Partially because reading about biking made me want to get out and do it. And also because I need to get conditioned, at least to a point, to be able to handle the almost 30 miles of riding I’ll be doing daily once I’m bike commuting.

There are other reasons to bike, of course. Pure enjoyment, seeing parts of the world that I have never had a chance to notice before.

Last night, for instance, I rode about 3 or 4 miles away, and then back. I was amazed, it was like entering a new world. I saw that there are community gardens the equivalent of 2 blocks away. That close! And I’d had absolutely no idea even though I have an intense interest in these things. It is right next door to the off leash dog park I’d noticed a couple months ago.

It isn’t a street I’ve driven more than a handful of times, is a partial reason for my ignorance, but I think it is typical the way these things are obscured from us when we speed by enclosed in metal and glass.

And wouldn’t you know, not more than another quarter mile further were yet more community gardens. These stretched for at least a mile along the nearby bike path. It was such a nice use of the land, it gave me a really good feeling about the community as a whole. And as I rode further, seeing a lush and beautiful area along a small creek, I saw signs explaining the wetlands that had been planted there for environmental and ecological reasons.

Again, the warm fuzzy feeling.

This path was pretty flat, having once been a rail road line, which is why I was able to ride a fair distance for a first bike ride in years. I got a really large reality check on my way home after turning off the trail and onto the road home.

Giant Hill.

Really really giant.

I knew as I’d gone down it that it was going to be quite something to come back up. I got maybe a tenth of the way up before I had to walk it. I didn’t mind, though my legs protested even walking up it. I feel no shame in walking a hill like that (or any hill to be honest) – what shame can there be in getting anywhere by my own steam?

So I made it up the hill, got back on my bike, and got back on the road. And a few minutes later I was home.

This hill, the giant monster hill, is something I’ll have to tackle every day coming home from work, unless I can find a way around it. I imagine it will take me months and a good set of granny gears to be able to ride it all the way up.

I don’t think I’ll mind.

red bike


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