14 January 2016

A Fifteen-Year Commute

I’ve never considered myself a cyclist but I’ve been doing the same commute by bicycle, since 2001, very close to fifteen years. It is mostly a five-mile sprint through rush hour traffic both ways. I usually go along the same route but I occasionally mix it up when the daily repetition starts to numb me. Hawthorne, Morrison, Burnside, Steel, Broadway and most recently the Tillkum Crossing are the bridges that have floated bicycle and I from where I live on the Eastside to where I work on the Westside. Sometimes, I take detours up Mt Tabor, along the river or a swift whizz around stalled traffic throughout the downtown core. Every workday. All year round. Rain or shine, snow, ice or one hundred degree heat. It’s on. One winter I put zip ties around my back wheel for traction in the snow. It kind of worked. I tell myself I have no other option. We are a one-car family and I’m certainly not riding the bus, so I have to cycle. Have to. But it is rarely a chore.

I’ve never really considered myself a cyclist but I’ve been hit by several cars and I’ve hit several cars, flown over the front of them, smashed into the back of them. I’ve buckled wheels between the MAX tracks, and had people open their car doors on me sending me into the street, feet stuck in my toe straps, face-up looking at the night sky, while the confused perps apologize for nearly killing me. I’ve been yelled at and spat on. I was even punched by an angry driver who left his car in ‘drive,’ as he came after me in full heart-attack mode. I placed my bicycle between my body and his and pointed at his car as it drove driverless towards the Willamette River. I’ve been stopped by the cops and lectured. I’ve been chased by undercover FBI agents on an anti-war demo that happened to side-track one evening commute home the night the US invaded Iraq. I was following a rolling bridge blockade and he demanded I “Get out of the street!” I said, “Who the fuck do you think you are?” And then he pulled out a badge, “FBI stop!” I can still feel the exhilaration of that sprint…

I’ve never really considered myself a cyclist but I’ve seen the best and worst of Portland on this commute, from Critical Mass, to over-entitled new comers who are more frustrating than the car drivers, whose actions I can almost always anticipate. I’ve cycled home through the empty leafy neighborhoods first thing in the morning after twelve-hour overnight shifts and had friendly races with bike messengers back to the Northeast at midnight, tearing through the hood being called ‘faggots’ by youngsters in cars.
Several times, my commute was lengthened by memorial rides for deceased cyclists.

I’ve blown my fuse many times, chased cars, used some of my most colourful language and a good few times, apologized and admitted where I was wrong. One memorable encounter resulted in a profound conversation with a truck driver where after screaming bloody murder at each other for a minute or two, we both suddenly stopped, looked at each other and agreed, it had been a long hot day and we are both just trying to get home to our families and maybe we should just be a bit more polite to each other.

I’ve never considered myself a cyclist but I used to tell my acupuncturist that some of my most trying times have been on this commute. Where my decency as a human being has really been tested. That this bike commute was one of the few places that I continued to ‘lose my shit.’ In recent years, I’m proud to say that I’ve got a grip on that (mostly) and let live to live, adjust my course around each and every obstacle that’s thrown in front of my handlebars and let the bullshit slide, whether it is a pothole or someone’s stupidity or rudeness. Everything flows better that way, from my wheels to my emotions.

I’ve never considered myself a cyclist but I’ve ridden to work on a mountain bike, road bike, touring bike, beach cruiser, city cruiser, fixed gear with no brakes to single speed with brakes again.  

I’ve never considered myself to be a cyclist but no one overtakes me on this commute and if they do, they will have to work for it. I’m not a competitive person. That’s why I surf and skate. I just don’t give a shit about competition but on my commute, you will not overtake me without a fucking race. I don’t know where it comes from and sometimes I walk through the door feeling like my heart is about to explode. Alison will inevitably asks me if I raced someone home again, “Yes, I say, some asshole who thought he could beat me.” “Did he?” She’ll follow-up. “No fucking way.” I laugh as my thighs and quads settle from the burn.

I’ve never considered myself a cyclist but I’m now realizing, as this commute just might come to an end very soon, that those five-mile sprints back and fore to work have been a huge part of my life for the last decade and a half. And I am not sure what is going to replace it.