By Michelle Fredette
Newman Center at U. Mass.
I went through a long span of not riding a bicycle. Prior to my sophomore year of college, the last bike I had owned was a pink banana seat called the “Sea Princess.”
In my senior year of high school I finally got back on a bike. I was working at a camp about 2.5 miles from my house and I was carless, so I rode my sister’s black Mongoose to work everyday.
Since then I’ve been trying to make any small commutes via bike – at least when the weather is nice. It gives me a chance to think about my day and to notice things I wouldn’t if I were driving. When I’m driving, I’m focused on what other cars are doing, how long until I need to be at my destination, or maybe the radio. But when I’m riding my bike, I focus on the way the wind feels on my face or on how fast the leaves seem to be changing this year.
I recently started working at the Newman Center in Amherst, and with the Norwottuck Rail Trail I felt I couldn’t pass on the opportunity to try commuting to work by bicycle. So little of the United States has bicycle friendly infrastructure that I feel almost guilty not taking advantage of the parts that do provide bike lanes or trails.
My first idea was to try to drive only partway to work, park by the bike trail, and bike the rest of the way. It required some bike deconstruction since my car is small and I don’t have a bike rack. Every time I commuted I had to take the front wheel off and on again to squeeze it into the back seat. Biking was great – I felt refreshed when I got to work and the ride back to my car was an automatic de-stressor at the end of the day. But the hassle of getting my bicycle in and out of the car (and rainy forecasts) had me driving the whole way again for the next few weeks.
But then this past Friday the forecast was for sunshine all day. I decided to do it: bike the entire way to work. That’s 18 miles one way. 36 miles total for the day. I got up extra early to give myself enough time to get to work, packed up my basket (lunch box, purse, camera, nice shoes, and sweatshirt), and away I went. It was hard. I’m not going to lie and say it was easy, because it wasn’t.
My legs were tired, and I got lost (tip: if you’re trying to go east, don’t follow the signs that say “west”), adding an extra 3 miles to my ride there. But I loved every minute of it. Riding down route 5, cycling beneath the trees arching over the rail trail, saying good morning to other early-morning cyclists – it was all wonderful. The way home was even harder since the last 6 miles or so were uphill. I had to give my legs a pep talk with about 2.5 miles to go. I told them, “I know this is hard, but you’re amazing. You’ve gotten me this far and you can get me home.” And you know what? They did. And it felt amazing. I plan to do it again as soon as this rain disappears.
This probably isn’t feasible for most people. And that’s fine. I understand that people have kids or other commitments and can’t afford to spend 3 hours on their commute. But instead of thinking about what you can’t do, think about what you can do. Can you drive partway and bike the rest? Can you use your bike to do some errands, like going to the bank or out for coffee? Even if you don’t have a bike, could you take public transportation more? Do what works for you.
The same is true in giving to others. What one person can give of themselves may simply not be possible for you. If you can’t give $50 to a charity, can you give $5 or even $1? Can you offer your time instead of your money? Think about what you can do in all aspects of life, not what you can’t. You’ll be amazing to find all the things that you’re capable of.
It’s not easy. I’ve been yelled at, been called names, and have felt unsafe in traffic at times. But I stay riding because, as Ghandi said, you need to “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”
I want to see a more bike-friendly, less car-dependant world, so I ride.