Admission: I almost always ride my bike to work, but rarely do I ride my bicycle.
In other words, I take my motorcycle to work as often as possible, so I do better than the average car with my 55 to 60 mpg, my small parking footprint and relatively few raw resources required in the manufacture and upkeep of my transportation. If anyone is wondering, Ride to Work Day for motorcycles, is July 15.
Today, May 11, of course is the first day of Bike to Work Week (I guess they need a week, 'cause they move so slow compared to motorcycles), and I still did not ride my bicycle to work. Like everyone else who failed, I have an excuse: 2.3 million errands and meetings to fit into a very small time span and a very large space span.
Internal combustion aided and abetted me and I feel OK about it.
But I do plan to honor Bike to Work Week for the remaining four days. 4.7 miles each way is not a big deal in a normal city, but in Santa Fe, it can feel like a death wish. Still, ever since being an avid rider and amateur racer in the 1980s, I have remained a big bicycle dork, so I'm looking foward to it.
In fact, my big dilemma is wheter to take the fixie–fast and light–the single speed coaster brake with the big farmers market basket–utilitarian with a touch of hooligan–or the 29er–able to roll over cars at will.
All are single speeds, naturally: it's pretty flat around here and I lost my taste for riding up steep mountain roads a long time ago.
It's got to be the niner, I've decided, just because it makes me feel more able to survive the dump trucks, drunk drivers, screaming children and toy poodles that clog my commute. This morning, as a nod to Bike to Work Week, I set up the niner with a better gear ratio for riding the road, by putting a freewheel with a smaller cog on the back. We'll see. I also figured I'd fill out the Santa Fe Metropolitan Planning Organization's Commuter Survey, just to help out.
But that just made me angry. See, you get to the survey online and you click on the link and...it's a downloadable .pdf file. Presumably you have to print it, fill it out in pen and then send it somewhere or drop it off. I don't know because I deleted it and decided to spend my time complaining about the survey instead of filling it out. Computer literate earth to Metropolitan Planning Organization: Why don't you check out Survey Monkey or any of the multitude of free online survey tools available? Don't put something online as a teaser and then get all snail mail on my ass. Wake up and smell the absence of ink and the instant, computerized tallying. Or do you guys justify your jobs with the labor hours it takes to tally surveys by hand?
Anyway, me riding to work for Bike the Work Week is a lot like the lame-o, pseudo-environmentalists who only do much of anything relevant on Earth Day. But I'm going to do it anyway and I'm going to diligently post my diary. Let's see, it's 2:50 pm now and I have a 3 pm meeting. If I take my bicycle...I'll never get there on time.
Because I live in Agua Fria Village, the notion of happily commuting to work on my bicycle is tied to the successful completion of the River Trail. When I can scoot over Agua Fria St., drop into the river and not hit traffic again until St. Francis (except for crossing Camino Alire), I'll have run out of excuses. But by the time it's finished I might be too old to ride a bicycle.
Today I determined to take the River Trail anyway or at least what will one day be the River Trail. I blipped down Agua Fria to the crossing at Camino Carlos Rael. Half way down and pedaling furiously (that 16 tooth cog I put on the freewheel yesterday is not going to cut it), I remembered that the Santa Fe River is now running. Barreling toward the water, I imagined the front wheel sticking in a silty sand drift and me toppling over into the water, trapped like an upside-down turtle while river water slowly infiltrated the laptop in my backpack.
But I powered through, barely wetting the tips of my boots. After the crossing, I hit the trail north of the river and opposite Frenchy's Field. Nice. Until the dead end. I followed a “Y” and dropped into the river, crossing it twice before climbing the bank again through a forest of “Private” and “No Trespassing” signs. Just beyond that I found the recently paved section of the actual, eventual river trail. Very, very nice: a gentle curving path along the running river in spring. What could be better?
I was soon back to bushwacking—and at least two more river crossings—before emerging at the Paseo de la Conquistadora bike lane. It's a short hop from there over to Camino Alire and the paved bike lane that runs through park along the south side of the river, crossing to the sidewalk just before St. Francis. Foolishly I pushed on through the narrowing trail and the brush until I emerged at Alire alongside the river. Even given all the struggle, it only took me 10 minutes longer than it would have if I'd stuck to paved roads.
Imagine the day when the trail actually exists.
I scooted up Alameda and over to San Francisco St and across the plaza to the Reporter office. Sweet baby Jesus, the plaza should be closed to cars.
The ride home was a dusky, downhill blitz on Agua Fria, only interrupted by a quick Scotch at a friend's house and a full-regalia fire that blocked traffic on Agua Fria for at least an hour. But it didn't block bicycles.
Surface streets are at least 15 minutes faster than slogging through the non-existent River Trail, it turns out.
Instead of splashing through the river, I crossed at Frenchy's Field, across the bridge and pushed it hard down Alameda all the way up into downtown. My big question for the day: Why do I keep putting off bolting up a water bottle cage? I arrive at the office sweaty, dehydrated, delerious.
Still no water bottle for the ride home, but I super hydrate before leaving. I retrace my route exactly. Alameda has more uphill when going southwest than Agua Fria does. It's not quite the downhill thrill ride that Agua Fria is, but I'm a bit less nervous abou the cars.
Day 4: Speeding for Obama
Thursday, I had to take a pass on biking as well, but it was an entertaining one:
Through some fluke of mapmaking, Sandoval County's southeast corner points out just far enough to overlap somewhere around four miles of Highway 14. From anywhere else in Sandoval County, one must pass through at least one other county before arriving at the short stretch of highway.
So imagine my surprise when, a couple of months ago, just after dusk had gone to dark, I was pulled over by a Sandoval County Sheriff's deputy in that barren stretch. Times being what they are, it's hard to imagine he was doing anything other than revenue poaching, especially since I was (honestly) moseying along and pulling a trailer with a fragile table as cargo.
I had accelerated to crest a long hill and just as I was applying the brakes to slow my descent, I noticed a car parked in a darkened curve at the base of the hill. “Dangerous place to stop,” I thought. Then he lit me up.
Flash forward to Thursday, May 14 and my 8:30 am Magistrate Court date in the City of Bernalillo. I'm up early to the unhappy discovery that I'm out of coffee. I scoot down the highway, keeping it a reasonable 5 to 7 over the limit. I pass probably 4 state troopers and a couple of sheriff cars stalking commuter prey—par for the course.
The off ramp at the Bernalillo exit is like a mating dance between emergency vehicles; strange birds flashing plumage at each other while perched around a big rig. Entering the city proper, there's a cop car of some kind every few driveways.
“These people are very fucking serious about an orderly morning commute,” I think. I mean, I know it's the only place all the cops can afford to live, but it lends a fascist vibe, if you know what I mean.
It's after about the count of around 40 cop cars that I finally realize President Obama is going to be passing through. Hey, I haven't had any coffee yet. It takes me another beat to start generating some serious hope and belief that there is no way the deputy who pulled me over is going to be in court. He must be on one of these security details.
Sure enough, the judge immediately begins to call up dozens of people at a time and dismiss their cases for “lack of prosecution.” They all file out of the room with big grins on their face, leaving me and the deputy who pulled me over.
I think he was sadder than I was, trapped in court with me and unable to be out on a warm morning, all gussied up in bulletproof vests and billy clubs and frolicking with his fellow LEOs. For a moment I felt bad for him, but then I thought, “I bet you wish you'd let me off with a warning now, bastard.”
He quickly arranged a deal for me: no more citations for 60 days and the charges are dropped. I agreed. Part of me wanted to see him squirm some more, but I also didn't want to be trapped behind a presidential motorcade.
I buzzed back to Santa Fe, knowing that biking to work the next day would be a good start toward avoiding citations.
Maybe it's because I was late to work or maybe it's because I'm lazy, but I wanted to check out the bus/bike integration.
I sprinted the few hundred yards to the nearest bus stop, arriving breathless and invigorated. Then I sat around panting and eventually completely relaxing before the bus trundled along, only about 4 minutes late. Not too bad.
It takes a bit of stuffy to make anything with 29 inch wheels feel secure in the bus' fold-down racks, but with the kind of strength and ingenuity born from looming embarrassment, I was able to do it.
I hopped aboard, took a seat and...nothing. The bus sat still for a very long 30 seconds. The driver cleared his throat. I looked around. Everyone stared at me.
“Your fare, sir?” the driver inquired.
“Um,” I stammered, “Isn't it free this week for people with bikes?”
“Oh yeah. Totally spaced it.” And we were off.
In good form, with the right lucky breaks helping to maintain my pace (not to mention proper gearing) I don't think I would've hit downtown very far behind the bus. But then the Reporter isn't the kind of office where we have locker rooms, showers, massage therapists and gourmet lunches, so I figured my coworkers would appreciate me not arriving in desperate need of a shower.
I had a meeting today as well—to go spy on Alvord Elementary School and see if the student body is really as diverse as is claimed—but that's an easy meeting to make on a bicycle, scooting along Alameda and then along the Railyard Alameda and around the corner to the little school.
Of course there's the problem of the self-appointed Farmers Market cop, who thinks that it's his job to enforce bicycle safety along the Alameda, even though it's an entirely public right of way. Being Friday, it's not an issue, but on Tuesday's the dude is known to yell at people for traveling the Alameda on bicycles at a heady speed, just below average walking pace. Get a life, guy.
Careening home as dusk drops over the city, the end result of Bike to Work Week is good all the way around. Sure I, uh, kind of flaked on part of it, but it is still a challenge to make cross-town meetings—something's got to give and, more often than not, it's my carbon footprint. But just cycling a few days a week does wonders for your body and your mind.
Let's just get that river trail in, please.