Wednesday, February 5, 2014


I used to be able to tell you the exact last time that I drove a car to work, but not anymore because, really, is it that important? I used to pride myself on not knowing the current price of gas. I can still tell you the coldest temp I've ever ridden in (-24F). I can tell you where the newest homeless camp has been erected or destroyed along a limited corridor of this town. There are three miles of this city that I am so intimately familiar with that they feel like mine.

It used to be seven miles. Then it was eleven. Then seven different miles. Then four. Now it's three. I know where every bump is at, where the cars won't give you three feet as they pass because they don't have it to give, and which lights won't turn from red to green unless a car pulls up no matter where you place your bike.

To be honest, Anchorage can be a bit of an ugly town, Alaska an ugly state. It's not the views that are ugly. It is the people and the ways that people treat each other here.

After the honeymoon glow wore off of moving here, it became clear that people here can be really ugly to each other. I first felt it as a cyclist riding for transportation rather than fun. When I first started commuting by bike, I didn't wear the uniform. I wore a mishmash of clothing from the thrift shops - the same as the homeless folks. I might have had a bit more focus with what I wore. But because I wasn't wearing what seems like the cyclist's uniform, I felt that I was often lumped by drivers into the same category as those who are often homeless or inebriated and riding bike in this town - inconveniences whom none would miss if gone.

I had close calls at least once per week with cars and trucks. Usually trucks. With big tires and fake testicles hanging from the rear bumper.

Then my I started wearing more cycling-specific gear - pants with reflectors along the sides, bright orange jackets, etc. And it seemed like the close calls got less and less.

Then I woke up and realized that it had nothing to do with my clothing or looking like a "cyclist," but rather was that my route changed so that I rode less roadways and more bike trails. I still generally fall into the dirtbag cycling category. And I love thrift shops.

Now that I am back to a fairly even mix of road and trail, I have a lot more close calls again. Or, rather, just those events that make me feel less than comfortable - a truck passing too closely, or a car riding my ass to the light and then gunning it around me in the intersection.

I read somewhere that many drivers unconsciously do not see cyclists as human and this is where many of the conflicts come from. I don't know anything about that. Instead, I think that here in Alaska, there are a few things that cause drivers to treat cyclists and pedestrians so poorly and that these things can be extended to how people here treat each other in general.

I'm trying here. Trying to make connections that still are only ideas in my head. Or maybe I'm trying to find answers for what I read in this article my wife sent me:

I don't want to belittle things, but I really think that the same behaviors and attitudes that allow so many in this state to metaphorically and literally spit on the homeless, get violently argumentative about user rights on public trails, run down cyclists and pedestrians, and even deface public schools by tagging them with swastikas or starting their playgrounds on fire are the same types of attitudes that allow rape to be such an epidemic in this state. It is institutionalized here - the victim is to blame.

I hope that I can become more eloquent and cognizant about this topic someday. I just don't know. I just can't get my head around the how and the why. And it scares me. It really, really does.

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