Silver Wordsmith: An author's journey
I’ve recently decided to incorporate riding my bike into my morning commute, once that becomes part of my life again, and so far, it has been a grueling failed experiment.
As I’m sure I’ve mentioned before on here, my office at the university has been exclusively work-from-home since the pandemic started, save for the one or two people who want to come to campus as a preference. I’ve been quite satisfied working from home since cutting out my commute essentially puts two hours back inn my day and being able to split that between commitments to work and personal life have really improved my situation overall.
Of course, despite the recent rise in cases, the hope is that the pandemic is tapering out here as our vaccination rates are quite high, so we’re talking a return to the office around November. Things won’t be back to what they were before the pandemic but also there won’t be an opportunity to continue that exclusive work-from-home arrangement, so it looks like at least twice a week my commute will be back on the menu.
Let’s just say after going almost a year-and-a-half without a single cold I’m not too keen on hopping onto public transit again. Something about being with fifty strangers in a cramped space during the wet and cold Vancouver winter months, stewing in everyone’s sniffles, just doesn’t sound terribly appealing anymore. It’s bad enough that I’ve got two kids going back to school in September and will likely bring back all sorts of goodies from the germs marketplace. So it’s safe to say you’ll never catch me on a bus again without a mask, and the less commuting I do on public transit, the better I’ll feel.
That said, I’m not about to replace that commute with a car either. Between gas, parking, the environmental impact and tying up our car for the whole day with my wife not being able to use it, this doesn’t sound like a great option either.
So I thought maybe I should join the ranks of the thousands of bike commuters in the city and kill two birds with one stone – avoid taking public transit, and getting some of my morning exercise out of the way.
I took my dinky commuter bike that I’ve owned for fifteen years and slapped more safety gear on top of it than my bike is worth. Then there was the addition of a fetching safety vest from Costco and a reflective water-resistant cover for my helmet, and any car will light me up like a magnificent biking Christmas tree.
What’s also opened up this possibility for me is the addition and discovery of some biking routes to work. My wife and I are both pretty risk averse people (I’m sure more than once we’ve been accused of being ‘lame’), so I wanted to avoid biking along the busy street-side routes, especially that one stretch of semi-highway where the speed limit is 90kph (60mph for my metrically-challenged readers). Now with the relatively new greenway that can take me a third of the way there, and the discovery of the awesomeness that is Pacific Spirit Park, which would bypass the highway stretch, I thought this was going to be a piece of cake.
Turns out baking is hard.
It’s not like I haven’t done a 14-kilometer (9-mile) bike ride before – my end-to-end greenway trips are slightly more than that, but it’s one thing to bike down a paved even greenway – and another thing entirely to do the rough terrain in Pacific Spirit. The first time I did a test run of this ride I entered the park with cheery optimism, and was ready to die two minutes later.
Pacific Spirit isn’t exactly a rough hiking trail, but it is dirt paths, sometimes with embedded roots and rocks that take you through about as wild an urban park as you can get. The gradient can be fairly steep since it follows the terrain (and not like the greenway which was built atop an old rail line, which had its own inclines but never sharper than what a freight train could handle), and my poor little bike that’s hardly worth the spare parts was no help at all, no matter what gear I switched it to. I don’t even think I made it past the first uphill before my legs up and I was left to shamefully walk my bike to the crest of the hill. I’m not an athletic person by any means, but it’s been a long time since something defeated me so thoroughly. And it didn’t defeat me just once, but again and again, to the point where I started contemplating how I might be able to take public transit home.
In the end, it didn’t have to come to that. I struggled through all of the hard stretches, walking my bike more than once, and making it home just fine, and after a quick shower I passed out on the couch for one of the best naps of my life before the kids woke up.
I’m not intending to abandon the idea, but I realized I have a whole lot of training left before me if I’m to make this a regular part of my commute. Honestly, the challenge is kind of fun, though I’m thinking maybe finally it’s time for that new bike.
Michael is a husband, father of two, lawyer, writer, and is currently working on his first novel, at a snail's pace. A very leisurely snail. All opinions are author's own.