Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Biking in Seattle

I'm a list person.  I've had a running list in my head of all the pros and cons of moving to Seattle for...well, when did we bring this idea up again?  And even though it's a Done Deal, I've still got this list in my head.
One of the biggies, for me, was biking.  Pro: bike culture is strong here.  Pro: no snow and ice in the winter, which usually stopped me in Fairbanks.  (My bike was so completely unsuited to snow and ice.)  Con: lots of cars.  Too many cars.  Con: Seattle has lots of bike lanes, but Fairbanks has tons of bike paths, completely set away from cars.  Con: the distances will be greater.
I honestly worried that we'd move down here and I'd stop biking.  Long distances and hills!  Would my natural laziness manage to be overcome by my love of biking?  It turns out, I needn't have worried.  The day after we arrived (in the middle of the night) I went for my first run in nearly a month, in brand new shoes.  The day after that, when I woke up seriously sore (to the point that stairs became my nemesis) I still decided to ride in a ladies-only alleycat bike race.  That was my grand introduction to biking in Seattle.  I met some wonderful ladies, including one of the ringleaders for Seattle Family Biking.  ("Ooh, is that a trailer hitch on your bike?")  And I came in 28th out of 90 riders!  I credit my stubborn determination not to slow the rest of the group down for such a good spot.  Not being able to walk properly for the next week was totally worth it.
We started riding with an infamous Seattle are bike group on Thursday nights, and scoured Craigslist until we found bikes which were far more suitable for this area than our trusty old Fairbanks bikes had been.

If you see this bike and I'm not on it, call me because it was stolen.

I had worried that biking with the Munchkin near cars would make me too nervous, but it really hasn't so far.  For the most part, I feel fairly safe.  At least, I don't trust drivers more than I could throw their cars, but I am as careful as I can be and so far we haven't run into too many assholes.  Plus, the Munchkin loooves bike rides.  Who am I to deny her that joy?  So, we bike.  To the farmer's market, to the grocery store, to the park, to the library.  I tried to think of times when I ride without her, and realized that in an average week the only ride I do sans trailer and toddler is the Thursday night ride.
Let me tell you one of the secrets to biking most places: it makes you feel like a certified BadAss.  Today, I biked the Munchkin over to the pet store and we biked home with both cat food and litter.  All the way up the hill I couldn't even get upset that I was on a hill because, damn, how many other people are out there biking up hills with toddlers and heavy cat supplies?  Not many.  I might not be an elite athlete, but I know that in my own way I am in an elite group of people.  And the more I ride around, the easier it's getting.  I know, I know: I'm stating the obvious.  But it really is that easy.  Hills don't scare me anymore.  Distances that seemed long in Fairbanks have become routine.  I'm even becoming adept at throwing out one-handed (or one-fingered) signals to drivers.
For her upcoming birthday, HusbandX's parents bought the Munchkin a balance bike.  It's still just a touch too big (bummer!) but she loves to play with it and we push her around the block on it sometimes.  The first time we did so HusbandX was telling her, "Not only do Mommy and Daddy love biking, but your uncle is a legendary bicyclist, so you've got a lot to live up to."
I know it's not totally safe to bike.  Cyclists get hit all the time.  One of the ladies I raced with way back at the beginning of the summer said she'd only been bike commuting for 9 months and had already been hit twice.  But, driving isn't all that safe either.  People drive and get hit all the time, and no one thinks anything of it if they get back in the car and drive again.  There's no cautioning, "Are you sure you want to drive?  You remember what happened last time...."  Frankly, I'm sick of cars being the status quo.  I'm tired of the fact that they are considered by many (most?) people to be necessary to modern living, and that the inherent dangers of cars are brushed aside.  I hate that bicycling is seen as somehow super dangerous, when driving a one-ton death machine around while texting or talking on the phone, or doing makeup, or eating, or doing any number of other distracting things, is seen as totally normal and even ok to many people.  I hate that they are the de facto method of getting from place to place, that most infrastructure in this country is built around cars, and the fact that being a person who mostly bicycles is considered counter-culture.  WTF?
And despite all of that, the thing that makes me most angry is the simple fact that biking is fun, and most people don't realize it.  No matter how bad my day has been, when I hop on my bike I end up smiling.  It's the best way I've ever found to de-stress, so much so that I biked to my last interview.*  It helped me to relax and think about answers to possible questions, to arrive calm and confident and collected.
I've heard people say they like driving, but no one really likes driving in traffic.  The act of driving might be interesting, but the congestion that has developed pretty much everywhere just sucks.  Driving is a chore.  Biking your errands, on the other hand, is inherently fun.  You don't have to worry about traffic jams because you can bike right on through.  If more people biked, it would become far safer and more infrastructure would be built around bicycling, making it even safer.  Then, there are the health benefits.  Yes, cyclists get injuries.  I was introduced to the term "collarboner" recently: any accident which sends the rider flying over the handlebars, usually resulting in a broken collarbone.
But cyclists are also fit, and frankly, I know of very few healthy groups more aware of their own mortality than bicyclists.  There are some unsafe jerks, but for the most part cyclists are trying to operate in a car's world as safely as possible.  It's not easy.
I recently installed the app Strava onto my phone, thinking that I would use it to track my running and biking miles.  Almost immediately I signed up for the challenge to see how many miles I can bike and run this month.  Then I promptly forgot about it.  I've used the app for precisely half of one ride.  Every time I was nearly home from a ride and thought, "Crap, I did it again!  Well, too late to track my miles now," it got me thinking about why I didn't remember to use the app.  On my ride home today it occurred to me that I don't use the app because I don't ride thinking of how many miles I'll get in, I ride for the joy of riding my bike.

*Don't worry, I had items, like nice clothes, packed in my bag to make myself presentable.  I didn't go into the interview all sweaty and wearing yoga pants.

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