My First Commute
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.