weird, plus Active Transportation Adventure journal #1

I woke up. I looked at a clock. It read 6 a.m. I thought, Oh, I’d best get up and in the shower. I showered. I blew dry my hair. I put clothes on. I looked at the clock. It’s only 5 a.m. How the heck did that happen?

I’m going to be tired later. But I might as well take advantage of the hour I suddenly have and update while I can.

Yesterday was the first day of my attempt to cut my driving in half by incorporating bussing and biking into my Ferndale commute. Here’s my morning notes from the bus (to be reworked into my next Eye column):

Dropped kids at school, packed a backpack for the day (waiting on panniers to come in), cruised a block to the Community Center bus stop. Nervous. The bus arrived, one bike already on its front. I lifted my bike on the rack, but couldn’t make it fit next to the other. I looked at the bus driver with a “Help!” look on my face. She gestured for me to turn the bike around, which made things much easier as the handlebars no longer collided. At this point, I noted the clearly marked “front wheel” label on the rack – d’oh.

On the bus, the crucial moment, like standing in the cafeteria looking for an open seat. The bus carried just enough people that I would have to sit next to someone. I bypassed the obviously crazy, dirty man in front and slung myself into a seat next to a more normal-looking fellow. I said hi, wasn’t it beautiful yesterday, he said hello and yes, and then we fell back into our respective silences. I must say, I don’t want to be one of those chatty, chatty people, but I do find it awkward to sit next to someone and not make conversation.

Based on appearances, the folks on the bus seemed to be mostly working folk, plus the crazy guy, plus a cute kid and his dad sitting behind me. The crazy, dirty guy carried a dark wooden walking stick and talked nonstop about Bush, guns and more that I couldn’t make out. When we arrived over the bridges to the 101, he interrupted himself long enough to say, “Is this Eureka? What highway is this? I’ve never been this far before. I’ll just chill for a while.” He exited a few blocks later, same stop as the cute kid and dad. The dad took his kid out the back door though, just as I would have, avoiding the crazy guy who stepped off from the front.

“That should be a reminder that drugs are bad,” one passenger commented as the doors closed.

Being a passenger through the Broadway gauntlet made for less stress than being the driver. My seat partner left at some point, so I started taking notes – I thought jotting stuff down alongside him might be rude or weird. The bus only carried maybe eight, 10 passengers at this point. If more people rode, that would be better for the environment, but less comfortable for the people on the bus. As it was, I spread my stuff out on the seat next to me and thought about what a difference having the right gear makes. I looked forward to my ride.

A passenger who had triggered the “Stop Requested” sign stomped to the front: “Hey! Aren’t you stopping!” Yes, the driver responded, at Broadway and Del Norte. “Fuck,” the guy muttered as he stomped back to his seat, complaining about the distance he would have to walk. Maybe more stops are needed? They didn’t seem far apart to me, but when you’re in a hurry or cold, the closer the better, right?

A check on my bike – everything looks OK.

The driver seems helpful, advising another passenger on how to make a transfer. The bus is clean, comfortable enough. We turn by the Eureka Marsh, where I’ve never been, and come out behind the mall. A woman one seat ahead and over from me is reading. I’m so curious what she’s reading – a habitual love of discussing literature – and thinking how nice to have a book. I didn’t bring one today as I’d planned on writing.

“Please do not bring aboard more stuff than you can carry” – sign on the bus.

I remind myself to be cautious about taking things for granted when talking and writing about this adventure. I’m so aware of people not being able to afford things – like bikes and cars – and don’t want to romanticize public transportation. I don’t want to sound like some privileged person delighting in slumming it, like those wealthy people who, after making lots of money and buying everything they need, decide to indulge in “the simple life.”

Stay aware of my own hypocrisy.

The dispatcher notifies the driver that “Joe [name changed to protect privacy] and his mother will be waiting across from Winco with a bunch of groceries.”

I had bad dreams last night, I remember, about trying to say goodbye to Kim and finding myself hours and hours late for the radio.

I think about the crazy guy and imagine him as Rambo from First Blood. I wonder if he’s a veteran, made insane by war and homelessness. I practice sympathy. Then I picture him freaking out and going nuts on the people around him, and am glad he’s not on the bus. How quickly an attempt at compassion turns into concern for self-preservation.

By CR, I see a hawk, puffed up, on a wire. Red-shouldered, I think. Three people exit at CR. I expected more, then remember this is spring break and am surprised anyone is there. We’re running early, so the driver takes a cigarette break. She looks younger than me by at least 10 years. I hear the geese honking over the bus’ rumble – thousands of them at the wildlife preserve across the highway.

I crave some coffee and remember I’m out of soy milk at the station. I wonder if buying soy milk in Cream City is wrong.

The ride from Fernbridge to KSLG is easy. People say crossing the bridge is scary, but a lack of cars makes it easy for me. I watch the clock on my bike computer and try to keep my speed at 15mph so I reach the station on time, but the few upward inclines make my speed drop. I’m such a wimp on the uphill – how I’m going to make it to CR and eventually to home after my shift is in question. But I arrive a few minutes before 10 a.m. and am happy about that. John already has Kara on air, so I don’t get to do a changeover with him; instead I stand there waiting, aware of the sweat collected on my back from riding with a pack – I will be so happy to have those panniers.

During my show, I set the bike between the counter and the futon, and practice clipping in and out of my pedals. I’d worn my regular sneakers for the morning ride, but considered wearing the bike shoes home. After several tries, I think I’m getting it, but then I have a moment of slowly pedaling forward and losing my balance – and barely being able to disengage before crashing down. The thought of falling on the road scares me, especially with the highway traffic roaring by. I’m tired, too, and not feeling my most alert, so I opt to stick with the regular shoes for the homeward trip. I hope I can adjust to the bike shoes, though – all the bike people say using them maximizes pedaling efficiency, and I’m going to need that.

I leave later than I should: 2:21 p.m. The ride to Fernbridge is fine, although this time more cars compete with me for bridge space, which is a little unnerving. I have a moment of vertigo looking over the side, realizing I sit higher than the guardrail and imagining what falling into the river would be like. I stop at Renner and call Nick. He’s fine.

The hill out of Ferndale nearly does me in. Just the freeway onramp is more than my burning quads can handle. I stop and walk my bike for a moment, then feel embarrassed and climb back on. In pain and watching my speed plummet and the time tick away, I very slowly reach the first summit. Then a brief respite and then the next hill. The wind pummels into my face, funneled from the north into the mountains, picking up power as it blows. I am pretty sure I am not going to make the 3:20 p.m. bus – at this point, I just want to make it up this damn hill. I decide those Tour of the U
nknown Coast people are sick. I can’t believe people do this for fun. Finally, I make it. Suddenly no effort is needed; I find myself flying down the hill, the speedometer rolling up to 25, 26 mph. The wind props me up, slows me down enough that I feel in control, outside of a momentary awareness of how much wiping out at this speed would hurt.

Hookton Road and I’m closer to making the bus than I thought, but my legs are aching as I’m forced to pedal again. I give myself pep talks like I’d give the kids: You can do it! Almost there! Don’t give up! But I reach the school at 3:22 p.m., two minutes late with no bus in sight. Damn. Damn, damn, damn. That was the last bus to Manila for hours. I ponder a Plan B, which turns out to be catching the 3:58 p.m. bus, exiting at Fifth and O in Eureka, then riding over the bridges to Manila. Fog has settled in; the damp chills me through my jacket.

Big trucks rushing past on the highway frightened me, but the bridges are much worse. The “bike lane” is only a few feet wide, cars fly by nonstop at 60 mph-plus, the odds of me going over the rail if a car does drift and hit me seem high. An image of my body falling over the rail and dropping into the water after a car has crushed my legs – stop that. By the third bridge, I’m off the bike, walking up. At the top, I’m back on and let gravity do its thing for a few wonderful minutes. Then I’m rounding onto the 255, so close to home. I can’t wait. I’m like a lost man finally returning to civilization. Food, water, a glass of wine!

“On the left!” a voice calls. I look back. Another biker, decked out in full gear, is just behind me. “You can pass me,” I assure him. “Oh, no,” he says, “I’m done, just cooling down now.” He’s ridden 78 miles today. I glance at my odometer. 18. He’s training for the Tour. Of the Unknown Coast. We sort of chat – he chats, I struggle – until I break off at my driveway. Home, sweet home. I eat, drink, change out of my icky clothes into some clean, comfy sweats, pet the dog.

——-

Something I didn’t take into consideration when planning this: baseball/softball practices begin this week. Because I rode a bike, Bobby had to take off work early, which meant he had to drive in instead of catch his usual ride. So while I saved 48 miles, he added 16. The net gain is still there, sort of. He lost $21 from taking work off early; I spent $4 on bus fare. At the 35 mph my Civic gets, driving would’ve cost $4.25.

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