When I quit smoking cigarettes decades ago, I made a solemn vow not to become one of those obnoxious, smug ex-smokers who try to make life miserable for all the other smokers in the world.
Not for me the pious lectures on the evils and dangers of inhaling all those noxious gases, and tars, and nicotine. I promised to keep my mouth shut for three years, barely responding even when asked whether and how I had quit.
I knew what an insufferable bore it was to puff on a “harmless” cigarette and listen to some loathsome convert try to make you feel guilty and ashamed, so I kept quiet. But when the three years was up, I let ‘er rip.
“The cigarette does the smoking—you’re just the sucker,” I would intone in what I thought was a clever, off-handed manner. “Go ahead, light up,” I would offer. “Whatever turns you off.”
My friends got sick of me. My wife threatened to divorce me. Eventually I learned that it’s better just to maintain silence, instead of quoting a lot of statistics everyone already knows.
That’s why it has taken me so long to write about bicycling. I haven’t wanted to be known as one of those pushy weirdos who wants everyone to give their cars to the Salvation Army, cut up their driver’s licenses, and turn all our freeways into flower gardens. But I’ve got to tell you, folks, commuting to work on a bicycle has given me a new lease on life.
We were in Canada, just outside Vancouver, B.C., over Labor Day weekend in 2005, when Hurricane Katrina was raising havoc in Louisiana and raising gasoline prices above $3.00 a gallon. We had taken our youngest daughter to Trinity Western University to study linguistics, and were feeling quite pleased with ourselves, albeit sad for the folks in New Orleans.
Then we filled the gas tank for the trip home and paid $100 even. I tried to make it feel better by recalling that they were Canadian dollars and Canadian gallons, but it didn’t help. I swore I was going to start riding a bicycle to work when we got home.
My lovely, gentle, supportive wife laughed in my face, reminding me that I was two days shy of 63 years old; that my daily commute was 16 miles one way (approximately the total distance I had bicycled in the last 20 years); that I was at least 30 pounds overweight; that I didn’t even own a bicycle; and that I’d probably get hit by a car the first day out.
I countered her cogent arguments with the old husband’s standby: grunts and incoherent grumbles. I had her on the last item, though. We live barely a stone’s throw from the end of the Springwater Trail in Boring, and I worked a similar distance from the trail in southeast Portland. Riding the converted railway bed would reduce the danger from passing traffic to nearly zero.
On Labor Day I borrowed my friend Earl’s bike and took a practice run. I promised if it took more than two hours I would abandon the project. Ninety minutes later, I sat on the steps of the place where I work, eating my lunch, and announcing on the cell phone: “I’m going to do it.”
I had figured to visit a yard sale and pick up a junker for twenty dollars, but my helpmate called me at work the next day and said, “If you’re serious about this, meet me at the bike shop and I’ll buy you a birthday present.”I was. She did. And in 16 months I had
a) logged 9,000 miles on my Trek 7000;
b) lost 25 pounds of fat and gained 10 pounds of new muscle;
c) eliminated the need for blood pressure medication;
d) been asked by my physician to be his poster child for exercise and weight loss;
e) saved $3,500 in gasoline and related auto expenses, not counting;
f) $250 annually in auto insurance—coincidentally the cost of the bicycle.
I started this adventure just to save money, but the residual effects in quality of life are phenomenal. Now, don’t get nervous. I’m not asking you to start bicycling to work. I’m just saying—you know—it’s something to think about.
–Next month: rabbits, deer, coyotes, pigs out for a stroll, and icicles in my beard.