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The Reluctant Cyclist

Parts 2 and 3 of a series

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Part 2

Number of miles ridden: 31.2 (roundtrip)

Time traveled: 2 hours: 57 minutes

Number of Confederate flags sighted: 3

Number of times actively feared for life: 0

This wasn't a work commute, but a "fun" ride to the Humboldt County Cornhole Association's annual tournament. I mention it to show that a) I am not a complete wimp; b) to exhort the wonderfulness of the Hammond Trail. 

What a grand thing, to take most of our excursion via a path that's both beautiful and safe. Where can we get more of these, Humboldt?

In contrast, today's bicycling adventure:

Number of miles ridden (one-way): 4.0

Time traveled: 21:10 minutes

Number of epiphanies: 1

Number of times actively feared for life: 1

If a safe, separate bike route existed, riding a bike from Manila to Eureka, like I did for work today, would be no big deal. As it is, the bridges prompt heart pounding both out of fear — the car that speeds by at 60 mph close enough to touch — and because the view of the bay expanding outward in both directions is an affirmation of the beauty that surrounds us lucky Humboldtians. I can feel the joy bursting from my chest! Or maybe that's just the result of pedaling uphill.

Several years ago, I was returning home to Manila in my car and happened upon the immediate aftermath of a vehicle vs. bicyclist collision. The woman cycling had been struck by the side mirror of a truck as the driver swung too sharply to the right. Despite her helmet, she suffered head injuries, among others. I saw her again at a public meeting held to address bicycle safety in the aftermath of Greg Jennings' death. (Jennings was bicycling home on State Route 299 to Blue Lake one Monday evening after work in 2008, when a pickup struck and killed him.)

So yeah, concerns are not unfounded. 

I also surf and, while I have witnessed a great white attack from 30 feet away, chances of an ugly encounter are far greater on my bike with a car than on my surfboard with a shark.

But today's pedaling journey involved only one sketchy moment and was otherwise easy-peasy — a little effort on the hills, fun blasts on the downsides of the bridges. I arrived in Eureka with time to change into my work clothes — which reminds me, here's a question for you regular bike commuters: At what point do you wear bike gear and bring stuff to change into? Fully suiting up with the puffy pants and such to hop over the bridges feels kind of silly — I look like I'm on a serious mission — but cycling in my work clothes seems gross because sweat, ew. 

Part 3

Look, I was ready, sporting my stylish bike pants, pannier packed and motivation high. Unfortunately, my tire was low and no matter how much I tried to inflate it, the rubber stayed squishy to the squeeze. I ended up lifting the bike into the truck bed — a working tailgate would be nice at times like this — and driving it to Revolution Bicycles, the place from whence it came all those years ago. 

They are nice people, the people who work at Revolution. They've never made me feel dumb for knowing nothing about bikes. And yet, due to my own awareness of my cluelessness, I walk in wearing embarrassment like it's a T-shirt saying, "Not An Actual Bike Person." 

I wheeled my bike over to the repair area and explain that "this" — I point to the tire, apparently unable to identify it by name — "isn't holding air." Also, I continue, "The ... chain? ... uh ... won't shift?" Because that's another thing I noticed a couple days ago — that the front version of the things that shift into different gears isn't working. Usually I just leave that one alone and switch the back one up-and-down — see? I didn't even know the parts to explain what was (not) happening. 

When Justin Brown, one of the owners, said hi and complimented my bike on being ridden, I told him I was writing about bicycling for the Journal. I gave my name to the repair guy for the form and he said, "Oh, I've read a lot of your stuff," in a tone that was neither complimentary nor derisive, leaving me unable to determine if it has been a good or bad experience for him. I stood awkwardly until he said, kindly, that he'd have an estimate for me the next day. And then I left.

Now, it's possible that I appeared normal to those not living in my head. Or my dorkiness could have been as obvious as it felt. Hard to say. In any case, the bike was in cleverer hands and I would have it back soon. 

In the meantime, some further thoughts on bicycling home over the bridges from Eureka last time (covered in Part 2). The morning ride had taken place after 9 a.m., but my return trip was squarely in the midst of rush hour:

Number of miles ridden (one-way): 4.0

Time traveled: 23:51 minutes

Number of other pedestrians passed: 2

Number of times actively feared for life: 5

Vehicles speeding by are much worse when they come as a relentless onslaught instead of an occasional hazard. The increased traffic also meant that passing cars didn't scoot over nearly as much, which was especially troublesome when I had to go around the people walking over the bridge — not their fault, but there's no room for a car to go around a cyclist steering around a pedestrian. And drivers can't seem to just maybe slow down for a minute while we all work this out.



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