May 6, 2010

Rural Commuting by Bike

Long before the oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico, I've been trying to reduce my consumption of gasoline and kick the car habit. With the ecocidal disaster striking now, I realize that it's providential I've come across my new bike when I did.

I finally was able to squirrel away enough money to purchase a road bike that I got at a Bicycle Coalition bike swap. It was in my price range (under $150) and it was my size (I'm 6'4" so my needs in frame geometry are statistical outliers.) It needed a little work (new seat clamp, new derailleur cable, some adjustments on the brakes) but now it's ready to rock and roll!

Now, as a musician who needs to carry around large and awkward gear, including but not limited to: an upright bass, two 120 watt amps, two electric basses, I know that I'm never going to kick the automobile habit entirely.

But for all that other stuff where I don't need several dozen cubic feet of hauling capacity, like grocery shopping, picking up a paper from the corner store, or heading into town to see friends, I don't actually NEED a car. Now this might seem obvious to city dwellers, but I live in a very rural area. The closest grocery store is a 14 mile round trip through hills and valleys, and "in town to visit friends" means a 40 mile round trip.

So my plan is to start IMMEDIATELY using my bike as much as possible for small errands and casual visits to friends, which is actually kind of a big deal. To that end, I'm making sure to keep my body and bike conditioned, and I'm riding at least 10 miles every day, which isn't really a big deal.

Now in the past I've done long distance bicycle commuting, but today on my 14 mile trip I was reminded of all the revelations I'd had previously and I wanted to share them.

The first thing one notices when biking on routes they take frequently by car, is that there is a LOT OF STUFF along the way that you have never noticed before. Part of this is obviously because you are moving at a slower pace, but I think that the real reason the experience is so much different, is that the rider exists in a different mental state than the driver.

When one drives a car, they are in transition between one place and another. One sits in a comfortable seat, and looks out of windows which are very much like movie screens, and uses controls which are very much like video game controls. Options are limited to the road you are on, and places to park. There is air conditioning, and the ability to block out the air outside.

When one is riding a bike, no matter where along that distance between points, one is always presently where they are. There's no floor under your feet, just the road. Smells from flowers you never have noticed while flying by at 55 mph are suddenly potent and immersing. There is no point of departure or arrival, only a continual state of being. You always have the option to stop, and investigate side routes, to walk through a field of dandelions, or to investigate a brook flowing under a bridge.

Tomorrow I'll be sure to take pictures along my route, and I'm sure I'll have more to say.

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