Thursday, October 10, 2013

46 & 2

There's been much discussion lately on the MTBR commuter forms about how people got started with their bike commuting lifestyle.  On that forum I gave a quick synopsis of my transition from car to bike and I thought it might be fun to expand that discussion here.

I'll start with the purchase of my first decent bike in 2006. I was in graduate school in Vermillion, South Dakota and we had just sold our house and I wanted a bike to ride between our rental house and the college campus. I made my way to a bike shop where I was looking to buy something in the 3 to 4 hundred dollar range. The shop owner had just gotten a 2004 Giant NRS2 in the shop on trade in. The bike was more than that 3 to 4 hundred I'd expected to spend, but was also a much, much nicer ride than I could have gotten from a cheaper bike. One brief test ride around the parking lot and I was sold.

I lived, at the time, about a half mile from the school, so I would ride often. But there were plenty of times when I would get a ride from the wife and a few times when I would actually drive and park on campus. In short, I commuted by bike, but not religiously. I viewed the bike as more of a recreation device. I spent many, many hours and miles riding that thing all over the country side. I didn't have much in the way of trails to ride, but I did have plenty of gravel roads and farm highways.

When I completed graduate school we moved a bit further west. To Pierre, South Dakota where, again, I was less than a mile from my work. I started out strong, riding almost every day to work and back. But too often I'd drive because I knew I'd be going home for lunch and didn't want to deal with the extra ride each day. So I'd drive. As winter came on, I rode bike less and less and drove more and more, eventually I quit riding altogether. As I learned of my job and impending move to Anchorage, I started biking to work again.

At the time I was working on a joint Federal/State project and was getting massively over-paid. We all knew it and we also all knew that we would be transitioned off the project soon. The way that the company I worked for worked is that they would offer some folks the chance to stay on and move to the next project, but more often contracts were terminated and, because the work was alway set up as temporary, there was no severance packages or anything.

So as I saw the project starting to wrap up, I decided to move on and moving on led to me here. It also led me to take a significant pay cut. There was simply no place that would pay me what I had been making unless I got onto another short term Federal/State project, and I was done with that. Couple a big pay cut with a huge jump in the cost of living and, to be completely honest, even if I wanted to drive, I couldn't have afforded it most of the time. We had a number of times where we were scrounging the couch for gas money as it was. As an example of the vast, vast differences in cost of living in South Dakota our decent sized two bedroom townhouse style apartment was around $435 a month. I don't recall if it included utilities or not, most likely not, but still. We tried to get into a two bedroom up here that was $1100 a month, no utilities, and much smaller than where we had been living. Given that in our lives food and housing were our two big expenses, this jump was a shock.

In essence I started bike commuting not so much out of a desire to bike commute, but out of necessity. If I wanted to live in Alaska, this is what I would have to do.

At first I wasn't sold on the idea of commuting by bike. It seemed to add a lot of overhead to the day - clothes to carry and worry about changing into, the "extra" time it took to ensure that I arrived at places on time, and the sudden need for routine maintenance on the bike all seemed to be more hassle than it was worth. Not to mention my first morning riding in sub-freezing temps.

I quickly realized, though, that the commute by bike, under most conditions, did not take much longer than it would take me to drive - the routes being almost exactly the same, mileage-wise. The drive was about a half mile shorter than the bike route.  Indeed, there were days when the drive would take the same amount of time or a bit longer than riding.

That revelation certainly increased my desire to bike over drive. But I can't say there was any other giant A-Ha moment that made me decide to forego the car completely for my commuting purposes. I just remember waking up one morning in December or early January where it was well below zero and I got myself ready and out the door without asking myself the question I'd been asking since I had started riding bike: "Should I drive today?"

That was a big moment. I had been asking myself that question over and over each morning, but for the weeks prior it had become harder to find a worthy excuse for not riding until it got to where it wasn't even a question anymore.

And that's where I'm at now. It's not a question I ask. Just like drivers don't ask themselves whether or not they should drive to work or go by some other means. When it gets to that point, you know you're hooked. It just is what it is. Sure, there are days when I'd rather not have to work to get to work, but then I think about how bad I feel if I don't bike to work, how out of sorts and discombobulated.

It is what it is. And that's all it is.

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