8 Miles

“Watch out for the turtles and rabbits”, I tell my son who is pedaling his bike a few yard behind me.

The sun has set but that’s no consolation.

I still think I’m in Seattle where mid-afternoon temperatures in the 80’s can easily dip into the 50’s by nightfall. But that’s not how it works in the desert where an afternoon hovering over 100 barely retreats to the mid 90’s by the time we fill our water bottles and take to the road.

Lincoln is in on the joke and gives a quick laugh to prove he’s listening. Of course we’ve failed to spot a single turtle or rabbit on our regular rides up against the Red Mountain.

We continue to pedal and, if I’m patient, I can get Lincoln talking between breaths, and by talking I mean asking a lot of detailed questions.

“When can we add more memory to my computer?”

“How many miles have we traveled?”

“When can I tour my new school?”

Unlike a couple of my children, Lincoln does not handle vague answers well. When I reply, “Maybe next week” to his last question he comes back with, “OK, but what day?”

And if I toss out a day, he’ll want the time and you can see how his plays out.

It can be draining at times, but I can also appreciate his direct manner.  It just takes me a few minutes to shift into that gear.

We finished our 8-mile ride up past the Tuachan Amphitheather where Starlight Express was being performed. As we put our bikes away Lincoln said, “I always feel good after we ride even if I didn’t really want to start.”

“That’s how it is with a lot of things in life.” I replied.

I closed the door to the garage, locked it and handed the key to Lincoln to hang up just inside the sliding door that leads to chilled air.

“Sort of like church and scouts, huh, dad?”

Back on my Bike

Each day I ride my bike I’m putting my body (and maybe my life) in the hands of strangers driving 2-ton vehicles. It’s an odd feeling to be in such a vulnerable position.

When I began riding to work last year I was scared of traffic for the first couple of weeks. I stayed as far off the road as possible and seldom rode with traffic. As I got into better shape and felt more confident in my riding skills, I began riding at speeds where I could often keep up with traffic, at least through town.

I continued to ride in the bike lane when one existed. But when there was none, I inched my way further onto the road making it easier for drivers to see me. There’s a fine line here because I don’t want to slow traffic behind me, but I also have every right to use the road.

Unfortunately not everyone understands that cyclists have that right.  (At least in the State of WA)

But I’m not going to focus on that today because most people I share the road with are kind and courteous. Many go out of their way to make my ride safe by slowing down when the road narrows or yielding a turn to me when they don’t have to. Metro bus drivers, for the most part, have been very kind. Seems like each week one waits for me to pass before making a right turn that would cause me to react quickly, which can be a problem given the amount of rain we receive.

I’ve enjoyed getting to meet a number of people I wouldn’t have had I been in my car including people in my own neighborhood. Many of them smile and wave as I ride by alone or with my kids.

So I had been feeling pretty good about cycling up until about a month ago when I crashed while riding in the rain. I was riding through town and failed to notice a steel plate in the road that becomes slippery in the rain. My bike ended up taking the brunt of the damage, while my leg had a few cuts and scrapes.

A group of teens were crossing the street and witnessed the crash, and came running towards me. One of them lifted my bike off me while the other two helped me to the sidewalk. I was still a bit dazed, and they stayed with me until they felt I was OK.

The scabs on my leg are gone and my bike has been repaired. But I decided to take a couple of weeks off from riding to work. I didn’t expect my confidence to be shaken, but it was. A few times I did get on my bike but I didn’t venture far from home and certainly didn’t ride off the hill and into town where the crash happened.

Although it’s been cold and rainy this past week I decided to ride to work twice. But I really didn’t notice the rain or the cold very much because I was so happy to be back on my bike.

Two Blocks

I hadn’t pedaled two blocks from home today when I began to wonder why I had decided to bike to work in such chilly weather. I’ve biked to work on a few colder days, but today I felt it through my whole body.

I haven’t pushed my body like this since I was in high school. Some days my body pushes back and I’ve learned it’s best to listen when that happens.

I’d rather bike when the sun is out and the roads are dry, neither of which come to mind when you think of Seattle.

But yet there’s a satisfaction in knowing I didn’t turn back.

They Don’t Speak As Loudly

I zipped around the curve and up the small hill before heading down the final stretch to home this evening. The sun had gone down and a cool breeze had moved in. Three months ago I would have been out of breath and thinking to myself, “Why am I doing this?”

But tonight was different.

Although my light didn’t shine too far down the road I didn’t really need it.  The dog walkers and kids were safe inside by now allowing me to accelerate down the road without worry. I had worked up an earlier sweat, but the cool air blowing through my shirt and helmet felt so good.

I’m pushing myself physically in ways I haven’t since high school. But body is coming around to the fact that I’m not dinking around this time. The many aches and pains are still there, but they don’t speak as loudly.

I didn’t anticipate how biking would relax my mind. No music, no cell phone or the sounds of kids arguing. Remember the ad for the two-seat Porsche that suggested the more children you have the more practical it becomes?

The same could be said for biking.

Unforeseen Benefit of Biking

I’ve written a number of times on the health benefits of giving up my car for my bike. I’ve dropped a few pounds, sleep better, and feel more alert at work. I’m finally at the point where driving makes me feel lazy which is a great because it means I’ve developed a healthy habit.

But one of the best benefits had slipped my mind till today.

The last couple of weekends I’ve taken Lincoln with me on longer rides along the interurban trail that connects north and south King County. As we rode along the trail this afternoon I noticed a women picking blackberries.

 blackberries

Lincoln pulled up alongside me as we stopped to watch. The woman asked if we’d like to pick berries and offered us a plastic bag. We got off our bikes and began carefully plucking blackberries off the bushes lining the trail. If you’ve ever picked blueberries it’s similar except the blackberry bushes have sharp little teeth that latch on to your fingers, hands and arms when you get close. They really are nasty little buggers.

We didn’t fill our bag, but we had enough to show the girls what we’d accomplished which was our goal. We jumped back on our bikes and rode along the trail, stopping only take a few gulps of Gatorade.

Up until now, the strongest connection I’ve made with Lincoln came last spring when I taught him how to solve the Rubik’s Cube. I know he also enjoyed the time we spent preparing his pinewood derby. He’s not a demonstrative young man most of the time which makes it difficult to gauge his interest in my hobbies.

That’s changed this spring when I biking because it’s an activity we can do together a few times each week and for more than a few fleeting minutes.

As we rode through town I asked Lincoln if he’d like to take the longer but easier route or try the shorter but more difficult route up Lea Hill. The shorter route includes a tough right turn that requires some speed. The last two times have resulted in disappointment as he’s nearly fallen off his bike by taking the turn at too sharp of an angle.

As we got closer to deciding what route to take, I told Lincoln I was sure he could do it. I explained how I’d ride ahead of him. We’d make a wider turn than before giving us a few more feet to accelerate. He nodded without saying anything. 

He made it around the turn without a problem, and we continued up the hill together.

Normally, he doesn’t say much when we’re riding. I don’t either but that’s usually because I’m out of breath. But today he couldn’t stop talking about how great it felt to conquer the corner.  He couldn’t wait to tell his sisters and mom what he’d done.

Down the road I’m sure I’ll appreciate the health benefits I’m experiencing through cycling. But today what mattered most to me was connecting with my son while doing something he enjoyed.

600 Miles

After nine weeks of riding my bike to work I hit the 600 mile mark, and it feels great. Instead of finding excuses why I couldn’t ride to work (it’s raining, it’s too far, it’s too dangerous) I decided to find ways to work it into my job and family’s schedule.

Overall it’s been a welcome lifestyle change. I started out just biking to work but that quickly changed into biking anywhere I need to go. I’ve biked to church each week with at least one of my kids and across town to catch a baseball game or school play.

Nearly everyone I meet while on my bike has offered encouragement and support. On my ride home last night I stopped to rest outside City Hall.  A man in a suit approached me and explained that he sees me riding around town and wondered where I was riding my bike each day. He mentioned that he had just begun riding his bike but was frustrated when he wasn’t able to make it up Lea Hill without walking.

I recall having the same thoughts when I first began biking and Ben Talbert encouraged me to keep going and ignore the hecklers. I decided to share that with this man I’d just met. We shook hands, and I told him I hoped to see him on the hill.

I filled up my car for the first time in six weeks. Any savings I’ve experienced by not having to purchase gas has been put into biking gear to make my ride safer and more comfortable.

I feel as though I’ve acquired a good habit. I still have a number of bad habits to get rid of including drinking too much Diet Coke and staying up late. But this biking is a good habit and one I plan to continue for a long time.  Thanks for Ben for the continued example and to my family to being patient with me as navigate my way around Auburn and hopefully beyond.

Getting Passed

As I’ve written before, I’ve been riding my bike to and from work each day going on just over a month now. Some days I fly up the hill to my home and some days I barely make it home.

Who am I kidding, I never fly up the hill. I still use the lowest gear possible and there are many days I feel like my heart is going to explode if I don’t pass out first.

Last week I was making my way up the hill after a couple of days of bad allergies. I was tired and groggy and having a difficult time keeping my bike in line.

As I considered dismounting, a group of cyclist rode up behind me. My initial thought was, “Great, they are going to be pissed I’m slowing them down” as there’s only a few feet of shoulder making it difficult to pass.

I moved over as far as I could to the right. They were wearing matching jerseys and rode fancy bikes. As each of them passed me they didn’t make me feel stupid or sigh loud enough to let me know I’d slow them down on their training climb.

Instead, many of them encouraged me to keep going. A few smiled while giving a thumbs up.

They quickly sped ahead of me, and in less than 30 seconds had disappeared from my sight.

I thought of the many times I’ve stood behind someone in line at the grocery store tapping my foot. Or waited impatiently for the pedestrian to get to the curb so I could make the right turn to get to my destination 15 seconds faster.

Thank you to the cyclists for reminding me that a few words of encouragement go a long way.