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The Reluctant Cyclist 

Part 5

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Number of miles ridden: 21 Time traveled: 2 hours, 5 minutes, 31 seconds Number of times scolded for not wearing helmet: 1 (it worked)

Number of times actively feared for life: 3

With my bike fixed and my work once again based in Arcata, I was ready to give the bike commute another go. The day's mission exceeded the simple back and forth. I'd need to ride not only to work, but to my dental appointment, to Humboldt State University to take a photo ID, to my friend Beth's house to pick up veggies and finally home. 

In a car, that would've accumulated to about 45 minutes. On a bike, over two hours total. Other things I might have done with that extra hour and 15 minutes would likely have involved going for a walk on the beach or to the gym or for a hike, so the outdoors and exercise tradeoff worked out okay — but if the surf had been better, I'd have had to drive.

I loaded up my panniers with the requisite change of clothes, laptop, etc., and hit the road. I stopped at Mad River Slough to take a photo because the high tide and the low wind made for an irresistibly glassy bay. Pedaled my way through the bottoms, cruised into Arcata via the "Bike Boulevard" and was navigating the potholes of N Street when my cell dinged. Apparently the 9 a.m. meeting I thought was next week was today. Oops. I rerouted to T's Cafe — and let's note that the day before I'd surfed in San Francisco, driven home without showering, hair knotted up in a French braid and slept, planning to ride my bike and clean up in the office showers come morning. So I showed up salty, sweaty and with the voluminous hair of a time traveler from the 1970s. 

But, whatever. 

Back to the office, I at last showered and changed from padded pants and T-shirt into a cute dress.

Later, I biked the few blocks over to the dentist's office, where the doctor numbed me up and resolved a pressing cavity with a jackhammer and other tools of the dental trade. (They're very nice there.) The actual filling didn't hurt but by the time I reached HSU, my cheek had swelled up. I'd finally arrived in the academic world and the ID card that proved it showed me looking like I'm about to cry and am possibly being held at gunpoint.

On my way back to work, no longer numb, I stopped at a stop sign (good on me) and, distracted by the throbbing of my cheek, momentarily forgot to twist my shoe out of the pedal. Fortunately the tilting over happened slowly enough that I was able to get my foot out and on the ground in time — I would've laughed at myself, but my mouth was hurting too much. (But please, let's picture the scene and share a giggle: There I am on my blue bike, wearing a short, ruffly orange dress and a big red helmet, jiggling my foot in a panic as I slow-motion-tip toward the pavement. Oh, you poor lady.) 

That Kind of Day continued to unfold as my post-work veggie pickup transformed into helping my friends track down the owners of a dog that followed one of them home. By the time I hopped back on my bike, panniers now laden down with not just extra clothes and my computer, but zucchini, tomatoes and other farm share bounty, the sun had dropped low enough I was concerned about making it home before dark. I don't have lights on my bike at the moment — a crash in my driveway broke the front one and the back one needs a battery — so my girlfriend loaned me a "butt light" and off I went, pedaling down Upper Bay Road to Siedel to Foster. If these roads weren't so broken and battered, the network of off-highway alternatives would serve cyclists well. 

Despite a couple close cars on the highway, I made it home without incident. (Insert standard plea for safer cycling routes.) My husband greeted me in the driveway and helped me lug my bags inside. I realize this kind of commuting is such a small deal, but operating without the convenience of a car can still feel like a big challenge at times. Accomplishing all the day's to-dos by bike felt good. And each little success chips away at my reluctance to ride. 

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Jennifer Savage

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