I started bike commuting in late April of last year. Not to lose weight. Not to be a better citizen of the earth. Not to sneak in some extra miles. And certainly not to enjoy the scenic beauty of Upper Torrance.
Nope, for me it was simple: money.
I calculated that after canceling our cable TV, moving to a small apartment, and reducing use of the Racing Camry (198k miles and counting) from seven days a week to two I would save enough money to pay for one half of one week’s tuition at my eldest son’s fancy East Coast college.
In the process I’ve learned that bike commuting, at least in the South Bay, has all kinds of benefits, as well as the occasional downside or two. First, the downsides…
1. Fatness. Although the average bike commuter loses 15 lbs. in the first year of commuting, I’ve actually gained 15 lbs. This is because I now start my day with breakfast at home and then follow it with a second breakfast at work, usually consisting of a chocolate-covered donut with cream filling (plural) and a small hog trough of oatmeal with heavy cream and butter. Why the extra breakfast? Because nothing makes me hungrier than riding my bike, even when it’s only 9.9 miles one-way.
2. Calamitous exhaustion. When I combine my 19.8-mile commute with the New Pier Ride followed by Telo and the final 1,300-foot climb up Mt. Flail to Chez Wankmeister, it’s, like, almost three hundred miles of riding. This leaves me completely waxed when I get to the office, with scarcely the energy to tap out a 3,500-word blog post before it’s time to saddle up and ride home. Then, once home, all I can do is eat and sleep. Not always in that order.
3. Route learning curvishness. It took a while to figure out the best way to get from Chez Wank to Little Shop of Horrors, and during that time I wound up on some pretty nasty roads. By the time I learned that Hawthorne-all-the-way-there-and-back was quick but laced with death, it could well have been too late.
4. Back door sneakishness. So there I am in my best yellow-and-orange polyester business suit with white shoes and a purple tie, sitting with a client as we discuss some terrible problem. They have confidence in me. They know they’ve hired The Best. Then, if it’s an end-of-the-day appointment, I dash into the men’s room, swap out the subdued business attire for a garish bike kit, and roll pell-mell out of the driveway. Unfortunately, my client has struck up a conversation with someone, and the delay means that we meet…again…except now I’m all shave-leggedy and bike-pedalley and alien-lookity. Professional confidence in their choice of legal counsel vanishes in a poof.
That’s the extent of the downishness. The uppishness is up beyond compare.
Having survived the Hawthorne embrace of death and the Anza doorprize bikelane, I’ve finally found the perfect route, which is down Highridge to GVA. Once you hit GVA it’s Switchin’ To Glide nirvana, just a long, gradually accelerating downhill series of curves until you’re screaming (but not above the speed limit) onto Via del Monte where you barrel at full speed limit up to each stop sign, come to a complete stop and put both feet down, after which you check both ways and then rip the fucking shit out of the hook turn, tucked into a complete suicide chuteless-dropkick out of the plane at 35,000 feet while maintaining all speed limits and ensuring that your bicycle never leans so far over that you can lick the pavement, and then a leg-breaking blast of speed limit up to the next stop sign where you repeat all of the safety maneuvers you’ve been repeating all the way down and then you go flat fucking balls to the wall like a blind banshee out of hell at the speed limit but not one click over until you come ass-hauling down by the library, stop, look both ways, scream through the plaza never exceeding the speed limit while stopping again, and then bomb like a death defying shooting star all the way down to RAT Beach churning and turning and streaking and raging and racing and freefalling like gravity, all the while obeying the California Vehicle Code as applicable to cyclists in all its particulars.
Which is pretty badass.
Stopping to smell the pelicans
Other times, the uppishness is poetic, like this morning. I had dropped down out of the clouds and was easily pedaling along the seawall with the hills of PV behind me, the curvature of the bay in front of me, and the beckoning folds of the Malibu coastline off in the distance. The remains of a nice swell pushed pretty, unridden lines of neatly breaking waves up onto the beach. I got off my bike, leaned it against a bench, and had a sit.
Put there for my enjoyment, and for yours if you were pedaling to work today, were tens of thousands of invisible small fish beneath the surface of the water, just beyond the breaking waves. Brown Pelicans took turns following the schools, dialing in on their prey, folding their wings, extending their aquiline necks until their bills became the needlepoint of a perfect dive into the water, and quickly popping back up to the surface with their catch.
Surely the pelicans are like us, it seemed. Amongst themselves there are the good divers and the mediocre ones, but perhaps no bad ones owing to the minimum standards of competence imposed by survival. Surely they watch each other and critique, or likely even jest at the expense of a friend who went in for fish and came up with nothing more than a bill full of brine. Without a doubt the men vie for attention amidst the females, trying to impress them with the biggest pouch or the tastiest haul. In the same vein the girls must pull away in pairs or smallish groups and remark on the prowess–or lack thereof–of those trying so hard to earn their eye.
Before long, and it was much more before than it was long, perhaps not more than ten minutes, I saddled back up and pushed the pedals through the sunshine, the cool morning air, and the gentle sea breeze, on this, my morning commute, the most beautiful and wondrous and magical and peaceful part of the day.