This is a story about a long, bold cycling adventure.
If you have not had the good fortune to discuss cycling with me, any day involving me and my bike qualifies as bold. My bike languishes at home, the victim of grand ambitions, days spent running between yoga studios and, let’s be honest, laziness. I’ve taken the bike out a couple of times this year. Each time I declare I’m going to ride my bike more. Then it sits.
Today, however, was different. I sold an old friend — my trusty, beloved Subaru Forester. (We’d been together 14 years, and had a lot of adventures together. Sniff.) I had to meet the new owner in South Lake Union, many miles from home. Once I handed over the keys, I needed another way home.
Genius idea! Ride my bike!
I put air in the tires and stuffed my bike in the back of the car. I felt certain the Forester’s new owner was mildly impressed when I pulled my silver commuter hybrid out of the trunk. I checked in with a cyclist friend about my route. He recommended I head downtown to 2nd Avenue for the bike lane and cut through the International District before going south. Sounded easy enough.
Whenever I hop on my bike, I get a thrill. It’s so much faster than walking. Maneuvering streets is fun. I felt excited to join the ranks of urban cyclists. There I was, on my way to 2nd Avenue, overly proud to be cycling, when I realized I was huffing and puffing. I thought I packed light; all of a sudden my backpack felt like an extra 40 pounds. I had only gone about six blocks. This did not bode well.
I made it to 2nd Avenue, a busy one-way street with pedestrians and cars that like to turn across the bike lane. All the horror stories I’ve ever heard about cyclists getting crushed in the mean streets of Seattle flew through my head. I kept expecting someone to open a car door, and BLAM, there would be me, bloodied, on the evening news.
Not to mention the hills. Seattle is known for being hilly, but the only times I notice the hills are A) when it snows or B) when I’m on a bike. Once I got to the International District, I took a good, hard look at the hill in front of me, took my bike down to the lowest gear, and told myself, “Fifteen blocks. You can do it.”
As I churned my legs to get up the hill and thought biking might be the worst idea I’ve had all summer, I saw an intersection and rashly decided I could turn earlier. Naturally, I chose a major thoroughfare without a bike lane. Suddenly, the cars felt more ominous. Seattle drivers are used to cyclists, so nobody was aggressive, but they were going fast and the road was bumpy. I grew nervous. I had to divert a couple more times to avoid major intersections and panted up another hill before I made it to the final, flat part of the ride. Whew.
By then, my legs were exhausted. I considered stopping, but I was hungry, and I hate giving up. I pushed on until I made it home, 55 minutes after I started.
Sweat and wheezing aside, it’s nice to see the city at a slower pace, even familiar sights. I put Tofu House on Jackson back at the top of the list of places to try as I cycled past. I saw the first leaves turning red. I appreciated the nice bike lanes, when I managed to pick a road with bike lanes. I realized that despite the hills, Seattle is a pretty good riding city. So good, I may even do it again. Next time, however, I think I’ll map myself a new, less uphill route.