Monday, 8:40 AM. February in Seattle: The skies are dark gray and it’s doing that weird Seattle thing where millions of tiny water droplets seem suspended in the air. Mother Nature doesn’t even go through the bother of having the water fall on your head; as you move the air just makes you wet.
It’s time for my morning bike commute. My usual route has me climbing twisty, steep Ravenna Boulevard shortly after I leave my door. In the winter I value going uphill. As long as the temperature’s above freezing, I know I’ll be warm soon after I start an ascent.
To get downtown, I bike down Roosevelt Avenue, cross the University Bridge, head south on Eastlake, and finally ride a tiny stretch in heavy traffic on Stewart. I’ve always felt safe riding this route. There’s ample room for bikes and cars on most of the roads I ride. Because there’s a lot of bike traffic, drivers know to look for cyclists. My only accident in a year of commuting came from taking a downhill turn too fast and having my bike slip out from under me on a wet road… entirely my fault. (I treat wet roads with a lot of respect now.)
Even though I’m comfortable biking next to cars, my bike commute requires me to be much more alert than when I drive to work. I’m scanning the road for bits of glass, gravel, or potholes. I’m listening for the cars approaching me from behind and I’m watching the ones in front of me… which ones need to turn right? I try to guess if any doors will open from the parked cars I pass. You know how you can drive along a familiar route, get to your destination, and not remember a thing about how you got there? That never happens on my bike commute.
But oddly, “alert” does not equal “stressed.” Driving makes me stressed, like when I do the “death merge” in the morning from 520 over to the Stewart St. exit. Or when it’s time to drive home in the evening, and I neurotically monitor the I-5 traffic from the office window wondering if I have to leave NOW NOW NOW or if I can wait another 10 minutes and still pick up the kids. No, biking isn’t stressful. Riding alert makes me feel more connected to my city. Being exposed to the wind, rain, and sun connects me to the seasons. And, aside from that one ride home with the flat tire, I pretty much know exactly how long my commute will take. It’s so liberating to never worry about that. Even the Seahawks Super Bowl parade didn’t mess up the bike commuters.
So, even though it’s 39 degrees and wet, I start pedaling — and smiling.