Saturday, June 13, 2009

Back In The Saddle Again

I've renewed a habit that lay dormant since 1992: I've taken up commuting to work by bicycle once a week.

When I used to work as an engineer, the group I worked with was a hotbed of cycling enthusiasts. My best friend and I worked out a route where I'd meet him at a rendezvous point half an hour from my house. We'd wind our way to work over the next hour. The route was downhill the whole way. I'd leave the house at six o'clock, so it was relatively cool even in the dog days of summer. The challenge came on the ride home. Legs were tired, temperature and humidity was higher, and terrain was against you. It was great fun and a terrific way to stay in shape. At my best I could manage it at least once per week and sometimes twice.

I checked the electronic diary I've kept since 1994. I can remember the last time I rode to work. I was alone that day. It was August, close to the time when morning light is failing and the end of the season is approaching. I locked my bike in the rack outside my office and went inside, never realizing until later that it would be the last time for longer than I would have guessed. The memory is vivid, but I can't pin down the date. I have no mention of a ride in late August. I have to conclude that either I failed to make a note of it or the memory originated before my diary.

I was taken down by a car sometime around July 1993. Neither my bike nor I were hurt, but the fear and anger took some of the shine off bicycle riding. I was the father of a seven-year-old and a three-year-old girl at the time. I loved riding, but not so much that I was willing to risk being maimed or killed.

There were a few years where my bicycle sat in the garage for an entire summer, never coming out. I changed careers and switched employers frequently. Either excessive distance or lack of companionship on the road always kept me in my car. My pedaling lust lay dormant. I was injured for a while. It looked like my days in the saddle were over.

But last summer my neck healed. I still couldn't run, so I decided to try supplementing my swimming with a little riding. I pumped up the tires on my bike and started looping through the neighborhood. I had a great ride on 5-Jul-2008 that rekindled that old feeling.

I've written about my most recent change of employers. There are several perks that have come along with the change: a fifteen-minute one-way commute instead of fifty minutes; a fitness center across the street from my office that provides an assigned locker; an easy, safe path across the Connecticut River via the Founders Bridge.

One of my first thoughts after accepting the job was trying to hook up with my old cycling buddy. He's gone back to commuting by bicycle with gusto over the last three years. He's set a goal to log two-thousand miles this summer. In order to make it, he'll have to ride to work 2-3 times every week. Was he willing to let me tag along once a week? We got back on the road in April.

It's been great to ride again, mostly to reconnect with my friend. He's a person that I've known for a very long time. I feel like I can say anything to him. We both love politics (left-leaning), technology, books, movies - any topic is fair game.

The route is 22.3 miles each way from my driveway to my desk. It takes about 1:35 in the cool of the morning. The ride home is slower and far more painful. My first time took me 1:50. It's taken a few weeks to manage it, but this past Wed I arrived home in only 1:39. Not bad!

I'm still worried about injury. The other night I was alone after my friend turned off for home. I was pounding along the two-lane road that is the last leg of the journey when a car crossed over the white line onto the shoulder and came within inches of crashing into me at high speed. I never saw it coming from behind, in spite of the mirror on my handlebars. It was on me so quickly that I felt it before I saw it. That shook me, as it always does. My friend recommended an alternate route home that will require a lot more climbing. I'll try it this week and see how it works out.

I've got 258 miles on my odometer so far. Maybe I can crack 1,000 miles for the summer.

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