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Posted by on May 24, 2010 in Uncategorized | 55 comments

My First Commute

Practicing high speed turns in the Savvy Cycling class

In May, three circumstances converged in a perfect storm that convinced me to travel eleven miles on busy streets for National Ride Your Bike to Work Day.  1) I read a book called “Younger Every Year” that stated everyone needs at least an hour of exercise per day for optimal health.  2) My twenty four year-old daughter, an engineer in the power-generation field, talked excitedly about opportunities for greener living, which made me think hard about my own carbon footprint.  3) To please my fiancée, who likes to ride, I took a Savvy Cycling course that convinced me I could ride to work safely.

As a former Girl Scout, I take the motto “Be prepared” very seriously.  I Google-mapped a proposed bike route, and then drove it in my car to verify its safety.  I also drove an alternate route, in case unforeseen circumstances caused a last-minute change of plans.  The day before Ride Your Bike to Work Day, I stored a professional outfit, shoes, a hair dryer and toiletries in the women’s locker room at work.  I verified the location of our company’s bike rack.  Most important of all, I told several friends and co-workers what I planned to do, so I couldn’t back out the next morning.  I knew I’d take severe ribbing if I did.

That night the phone rang.  It was my daughter.  “Mama, I’m worried about you riding your bike to work tomorrow,” she said.  “Be sure to wait until it’s light out.  Call me the minute you get there.  And if you get too tired, call me on your cell phone and I’ll come get you.”  I assured her I felt completely confident, but appreciated her concern.

A few minutes later, the phone rang again.  My fiancée was a bit more upbeat.  “Have fun riding to work tomorrow.”  Then the other shoe fell.  “Give me a call when you get to work, so I know you made it okay.”  I fell asleep grinning.  Nice to be worried over, for once, instead of being the one worrying.  “Better you than me,” my friends at work had smirked.  I vowed I’d show them all.

The sun rose on a beautiful Friday morning, and I bounded out of bed a full hour before usual, eager to set out on my big adventure.  After scrambled eggs, orange juice and yogurt, I washed my face, brushed my teeth, and dressed in bike shorts, sneakers and a safety-green tee-shirt.  No way drivers wouldn’t see me coming.  I glowed like the sun.

Tires pumped up?  Helmet on?  Water bottle full?  Check, check, and check.  Charged-up cell phone, driver’s license and cash for lunch?  Into the backpack they went.

The world smells good at 6:30 in the morning.  The light is soft; there’s a sweet breeze.  Early risers are walking their dogs, picking up their newspapers, or taking a jog, and all of them are returning my wave with a smile.  Large wading birds turn their heads to watch me pass; their smaller cousins sing me on my way. The drivers I encounter on Avalon Park Boulevard give me plenty of room, and I obey the traffic rules and signal my intentions clearly so they know when they can safely pass, just like my cycling instructors said they would.  Life is fine.

Uh-oh.  Here comes trouble.  A skate-boarder heading for Timber Creek high school weaves in and out of the bike lane into oncoming traffic with his head down, oblivious to both me on my bike and the automobiles.  Looking out for both of us, I give the driver behind me the “slow-down” signal and, checking first to be sure she understands, I  pull even further into the traffic lane.  We pass the clueless skate-boarder, and then the driver passes me with a smile and a wave.  Share the road, indeed.

At Colonial Drive, I wait at the light with the line of cars, and then ride a little over a mile until my route takes me down a street behind the University of Central Florida.  Whew.  Did I really hold my breath the whole way?  That stretch was actually painless, and the only testy driver I encounter on the whole trip appears on this slow residential street.  Evidently it hurts her feelings to follow me around an S-curve at my pace, so she ignores my “wait” signal and guns around me.  Can’t she see that other car approaching?  I can, which is why I didn’t wave her around.  Her big, round cartoon eyes show that she now regrets her impatience, but thankfully the other car reacts in plenty of time, avoiding a collision with the hotshot.

Once on the UCF campus, I know the end of my journey is near, and I’m surprised to find that I wish the ride could last longer.  My bike doesn’t trip the red light, and no cars are leaving the campus at that time, so I have to push the pedestrian “walk” button before I can cross Alafaya Trail.  I coast to the rack and lock up my bike before going inside to shower and dress for a day at work.  I get to my desk early for once.

I call my daughter.  I call my fiancée.  I crow a little.  They are proud of me.  I am proud of myself.  And that good, good feeling lasts all day.  Will I commute to work every day?  Probably not.  Will I do it again?  Yes, and often.

55 Comments

  1. Great story, Darlyn! Thank you for sharing.

    • You are one of my inspirations. So thank YOU!

  2. Daryln, congratulations on your first official commute to work!!! It sounds like you had a great ride. Looking back, do you find yourself saying, “I never thought in a million years I’d ride my bike on Colonial Dr.?” I know I did after my first couple of commutes. Wasn’t it easier than you thought?

    I love that you planned every detail of your commute. You planned your route. Test drove it. Thought about a change of clothes and toiletries for the office. Scoped out bike parking. “Plan the ride and ride the plan” helps eliminate surprises!

    And I laughed when you wrote, “The world smells good at 6:30 in the morning.” I’m a big “smell” person; my family says I have a nose like a Blue Tick Hound. I love the smell of a late fall afternoon, the sweet scent of orange blossoms and the freshness following a summer storm. You have so many scents to look forward to!

    Thanks for sharing your story.

    • Some folks would maintain I have no “scents” at all!

      I’m a poet who cycles; you’re a cyclist who describes “smells” like a poet. Who knew?

      And yes, I am still amazed that I rode easily, confidently and safely on Colonial Drive. It was great fun, and I can’t wait to do it again.

  3. Congratulations all the way from Maine, Darlyn! It’s a real inspiration to read of a confident beginner having an almost effortless first trip (thanks to that Savvy Cycling course)! Do you mind if I post a link to your essay on my local Bike Commuting Meetup? (Click my name to visit it)

  4. Being the shy, retiring (HA!) hopeless attention-hog that I am, of course you can post a link to my essay on your beautiful website. I hope it helps get some folks off the couch.

  5. Beautiful, beautiful! Like you!

    • Hush, or my handsome, brawny, cyclist fiancee will hear you! Thanks for the inspiration, honey.

      • Speaking of inspiration . . . I’m going to commute in from Ocoee tomorrow to help plot that bike route for Katherine. Silver Star doesn’t hold the scenic promise of Avalon Park — there’s a lovely tire store in Pine Hills and a new Walmart near the homeless camp at John Young — but I may very well see a few birds, depending on the moods of my fellow commuters.

        • To quote a great American: Be really careful, and call me when you get there, to let me know you arrived safely. Oh, and have fun!

  6. A wonderful ride report and more! I also liked the reference to the smell of the morning. It’s hard to get up early, sometimes, but when you do, look what you find as a reward.

    thanks for sharing a great experience. Some word-smithies really have a gift.

  7. It is hard to get up early, but worth it, as you say. I’m glad you enjoyed the story.

  8. Good on ya, Darlyn! If you stay with this, you’ll find that on days you simply cannot ride you’ll miss it terribly. And you’ll be truly hooked if you start thinking you need one bike for good weather and another one for bad weather!

    Welcome to the club.

    • On my budget, my rainy-day bike will look a lot like the one I already have. Plus a yellow rain poncho.

  9. Beautiful! I just got back on my commute last Friday after a long battle with a (non-bike related) foot injury. It was like the very first time, and your words expressed the feeling perfectly. Although since my commute takes me 9 miles straight down OBT, I do envy the scents of your commute. Mostly I get diesel fumes, but it sure feels like flying, doesn’t it? Good going!

    • So glad you’re back in the saddle, so to speak. I don’t really fly, I mosey, but my heart soars, which is almost the same thing.

  10. Congrats!

    Regarding the “insensitive” traffic light, here is a quick primer: . Basically the local traffic folks needs to test the loop, adjust if necessary and then mark where the cyclist needs to be stand: .

    Cheers!

    • Thanks for the tip! Who knew cyclists were so friendly and helpful?

      • Congrats once again!

        Regarding the “insensitive” traffic light, here is a quick quick primer:. Basically the local traffic folks needs to test the loop, adjust if necessary and then mark where the cyclist needs to be stand: .

        Cheers again!

  11. CONGRATS!!!!
    i loved bike commuting. my biggest regret was that my commute was only 3.5 miles. how was the ride home?
    did you have a flasher on the back of your saddle? small investment, so worthwhile. i use mine even in the day, when i’m riding in traffic.
    there are lilac trees on the pinellas trail…

    • Do I have a flasher? Do I have a flasher? I turn it on all the time, and I love, love, love it. It’s so sparkly!

      • :) oooh … sparkly!

  12. What everyone said! Great story, lovefest of comments. Darlyn, thanks and more thanks!
    John Schubert, Limeport.org

  13. If I’d known it would be this much fun, I’d have ridden to work years ago!

    • Thank you, Fred. I’ll check it out.

  14. OhMeGawds I thought at first you were going to tell me that you biked UP ALAFAYA TRAIL from Avalon Park to get to the UCF area! Then I rechecked the map route…

    • I rode in again this morning, and turned too soon out of UCF, landing on Alafaya Trail. I used the rules of the road I’ve been taught, and made it across with no problems. My reward for biking to work again? A double rainbow!

  15. Hey, it is great that you rode to work and plan to ride some more. I know it soothes my brain, and I know it will yours as well.

    More than that, though, I wanted to compliment you on your writing! Everybody can enjoy a bike ride, but few can communicate their enjoyment as well as you did. I hope you’ll write some more!

    • What a nice thing to say! If you want to read more, I have two books on Amazon.com: Three Houses and Red Wax Rose. You can also visit my website at darlynfinch.com

  16. Great article, Darlyn! Cycling is big over here, although it looks very frightening to me, with cyclists trying to dodge double decker buses on these skinny streets. It was especially inspiring to see Denmark, where everyone cycles, even in the poorly weather over there. Good to see you again. I miss our group, hear you are having one last meeting. Hope all goes well. Tricia

    • Yes, traffic in London is crazy! We miss you, too, Tricia. We’ll be taking our bikes to Alligator Point this time.

  17. Loved this, Darlyn! I think I might just take a bike ride today. (And like someone above mentioned, my favorite part was when you mentioned how nice the morning smells.)
    Julie
    P.S. Great pic, too. :-)

    • So glad you’ll be biking today. It’s a great day for it. Enjoy!

  18. Sorry for coming so late to the party, but let me add my Bravo! to the chorus. Always so gratifying to hear such success stories from students!

    • Thanks for your help, teacher!

  19. I bet if everyone did this one day a week, it would make a hugely positive impact on the environment.

    • Let’s beat big oil at their own game, and save some marine life and waterfowl in the process.

  20. Darlyn, congratulations on your dedication, and welcome to the community (family) of cycle commuters. Your article will be an inspiration to who-knows-how-many others, and for that alone I thank you.

    Bill Hoffman, LCI #33 and LAB Director
    Lancaster, PA

    • My pleasure! I’d like us all to ride, get fit, and leave the world a greener, happier place.

  21. Darlyn – this is FABULOUS! Love it love love it!

  22. You guys are making me want to buy a bike! But I live in Altamonte and work in Daytona. Weekend outings, maybe?

  23. Darlyn, thank you for sharing this beautiful experience!
    The writer in me applauds your story…told in full detail. I’m encouraged to consider cycling again…haven’t done so since my bicycle was stolen at age 10! (Daddy didn’t believe in “rewarding carelessness”). Anywho, sounds like you had a great adventure; what a cool way to start your day! Congrats!

    • I’m so glad you’re going to ride again! Be sure to contact the Florida Bicycle Association for their “Street Smarts” booklet for safe cycling. Then get rolling. Have fun!

  24. Darlyn,

    Love it! All the aspects of nature from birds to the wind in your hair (almost) and face. And arriving early! A great story.
    And I thought parking my car a mile or more from work and walking to and from was a feat.
    Keep on keeping on!

    Ali’e

    • That IS a great “feet” feat. Did you notice that Bike/Walk Central Florida has a walking component? What a great way to get/stay in shape!

  25. Darlin, A grand story about a great ride. I’m assuming there was a return trip. Did you have to climb back into sweaty clothes? I’m retired and so have no commute but you have given me incentive to go ahead and buy a bike. Besides, my son,(Gainesville) rides and claims it’s a great way to meet interesting ladies. Now that I’m a widower and back in the game, I need to take every opportunity. My best and happy trails.
    PS Will you try that alternate route next time?

    • Chick … I know you asked Darlyn, but I’ve found that many of the larger churches around town have fitness centers and would consider renting you a towel and a locker. Several people are also interested in encouraging commuting by getting shower stations (pay as you go) at Light Rail stops. Lots of interesting things happening. Keep up with it at commute orlando and register to make your voice heard at http://www.bikewalkcentralflorida.org .. you may also be interested in joining the bike walk central florida group on Facebook

    • When I commute to work, I hang the clothes I wore to ride to work in a locker, where they are dry, although a little “ripe” when I put them back on to ride home. I figure, why get a second set of clothes sweaty when the first thing I’ll do upon arriving home is take a shower? Of course, I’m lucky that we have nice shower facilities where I work. The bottom line is, if you want to make it happen, you can make it happen.

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