Category Archives: Commute Reflections

Ride Like Your Life Depends On It: Liz and Exu

One of the most referenced posts on this blog is about naming one’s bike. I never thought much of calling my bike by anything but the name the maker gave it. Then I received this beautiful post from BikeDC’s own Liz MacGregor.

In her writing, Liz shows how a bicycle can be an intimate companion that also represents a new lease on life. And when that happens, how can you not give your bike a name?

Thank you, Liz, for sharing the story of you and your bike, Exu.

Air Force Cycling Classic Crystal Ride. Photo credit Will Lynn
Air Force Cycling Classic Crystal Ride. Photo credit Will Lynn
In the pantheon of the Afro-Brazilian religion Candomblé, Exu is the messenger between the human and divine worlds, the opener of doors. He has special responsibility for travelers and roads, especially crossroads.

But Exu is also a trickster, a harsh teacher always ready with a lesson to humble the proud. His colors are black and red, and his salutation is “Laroyê Exu!” which means, “Protect me,” or more literally, “Save me, Exu!”

When I purchased a new commuter, a black and red Cannondale, “Exu” seemed an obvious choice to christen my bike. After all, I am a year-round commuter with a 29-mile round trip.

I go through 41 intersections, and that’s just on my way to work. To invoke divine protection for my travels – protection from the elements, trail hazards such as deer, and most of all, from motorized vehicles piloted by inattentive drivers – seemed a sensible hedge.

My suspicions that Exu would also be more than willing to play a few jokes on me were confirmed within a few days. As I perched in a wobbly trackstand, pondering which way to turn, Exu unceremoniously dumped me to the pavement in the middle of a lonely suburban intersection.

Exu at the Cherry Blossoms. Photo credit Liz MacGregor
Exu at the Cherry Blossoms. Photo credit Liz MacGregor
But I was looking to Exu for protection and salvation from more than just the assorted road hazards I expected to encounter. Six-and-a-half years ago, nearing the end of chemotherapy, I had peppered my oncologist with questions, based on exhaustive online research, about how to prevent a recurrence of cancer.

She gently interrupted me, looked directly into my eyes, and sagely intoned, “If you want to prevent a recurrence of cancer, you need to get your weight into a healthy range and get an hour of vigorous exercise every day.”

Exu in Ashland, Oregon, on a 24% grade. Photo credit Liz Macgregor
Exu in Ashland, Oregon, on a 24% grade. Photo credit Liz Macgregor
Before my diagnosis, I had been an intermittent bike commuter. It was the convenient way for a harried mother and professional to exercise, but also the first thing to be sacrificed when the schedule was too full.

The oncologist continued talking but my mind wandered off. I had not been on a bike, or done any other real physical activity, since my diagnosis seven months earlier.

I thought of the last new commuting bike, purchased two months before my diagnosis, gathering dust under the basement steps.

There is virtually nothing I can control about this nightmare, I thought. But give me one thing that’s in my control. One thing that I can do, and that I love to do. I’m going to ride as if my life depends on it. Laroyê Exu.

Air Force Cycling Classic Crystal Ride. Photo credit Mark Blacknell
Air Force Cycling Classic Crystal Ride. Photo credit Mark Blacknell
My return to the bicycle was accompanied by an urgency and seriousness of purpose that had not existed before. Gradually, my mixed mode commute – 12 miles round trip by bike, the rest by train – gave way to a bicycle-only commute. Two days per week became three, which led to four, and then some riding on the weekend, too.

In a gesture of defiance, I rode my bike to and back home from one of my last chemotherapy appointments. Riding became a refuge; two hours of daily solitude in a life that was hectic and sometimes sad.

Riding was a chance to get lost in thought or have no thoughts at all. Sometimes, I rode just to get lost. It was a routine or habit that became second nature. Riding made me feel healthy even as I harbored doubts about whether reality matched the brave front I put up.

I have a well-rehearsed answer when someone asks, “Is it safe?” Eight-five percent of my commute is on a protected trail or bike lane. After all these years, the urban drivers and I know each other well, and have long since made peace with our imperfect coexistence.

Danger panda. Photo credit Liz MacGregor, of course
Danger panda. Photo credit Liz MacGregor, of course
But really, I just want to reply, “How is it safe not to?” I’m a human being, a living creature. I am not meant to be passive. I am meant to be out in the world, to move, power up a hill panting, go flying down the other side as if ready to take flight.

I’m meant to feel the hot sun beating down on my back, and to gingerly brace myself against a fierce crosswind on a dark, frigid night. To overcome the tedium of thousands of pedal strokes over the same route, day after day, by making it transcendent.

To do more than exist. To live. What’s the point of being alive, if not to live? I have to do this. I ride as if my life depends on it.

Laroyê Exu!

Blizzard Weekend in Washington, D.C.

After months of unseasonably warm temperatures and thoughts that winter might pass us by, mother nature treated the D.C. area  (or punished, depending on who you ask) to record-setting snowfall.

Exactly how much snow is still somewhat in dispute, since weather officials at National Airport failed to follow the recommended snow measuring technique. Continue reading Blizzard Weekend in Washington, D.C.

Will Ride (or Run) for Kudos. Joining Strava

The virtual world of Strava always struck me as a dangerous place. A place where people competed for the fastest times on arbitrary segments of road, sometimes at their own peril– or worse, by risking the safety of others.

Strava was a world for spirited, competitive roadies. Transportation and touring cyclists like me need not join. That suited me fine. My private Excel spreadsheet was all I needed. Continue reading Will Ride (or Run) for Kudos. Joining Strava

Last Ditch Efforts

Annual mileage goals– I never set them, preferring to focus on the events or plans I make in any given year.

And yet, when the twilight of any given year is upon me I find myself inventing, and then fervently striving, for an arbitrary finish line.

My accumulated miles for 2015 are not really remarkable, but I’ll share them anyway.

Bicycle miles: 5,975

6,000 miles is just around the corner.

Danger panda

Running miles: 916

Tantalizingly close to 1,000. But 1,000? Feels overly lofty.
So how about 950? Better. Likely, even.

This matters why? I’ll let you know if I come up with an answer.

But I have done the math and roughly mapped out plans from now until midnight on December 31. They’re in perpetual draft, but they do exist.

I admit it’s a bit silly. Does anybody else do this?

No matter. A little sport in December helps keep end-of-year activities interesting.

Wish me luck!

Beauty Through Motion

Like many women, I struggle with notions of beauty and self-acceptance, especially when it comes to physical appearance. I look in the mirror and immediately see all the ways I’m lacking. If I shaved off a few pounds, and toned up this area here, and then put on a little makeup, I’d look so much better. Continue reading Beauty Through Motion

Unexpected Letdown

Almost two weeks have passed since Felkerino and I were last turning our tandem wheels through Idaho and Montana. This bike tour, combined with my recent work travels, really helped me appreciate my Washington, D.C., home. Continue reading Unexpected Letdown

BikeDC Homebody

Over the last month, I spent many days traveling outside of D.C.– away from Felkerino, the office, and the daily bike commute.

I suppose a change of scenery is a good thing. It’s always interesting to have a brief window into life outside the city. Continue reading BikeDC Homebody

Transformation and Inspiration

It’s surreal to recall it now, but bicycling– even running– were largely absent from my life during my post-college twenties. I worked long hours, drove my car, and attended many a happy hour. Continue reading Transformation and Inspiration

Stillness in the Ruckus of Washington, D.C.

Buses align Ohio Drive, one after the other, and block my once-daily view of the Potomac.

Large chatty groups of tourists swarm the National Mall, oblivious to the bike commuters that weave around them. They start the day early, and I fail to wake up any earlier to avoid their field trips.

The sudden influx is an annual jolt. Continue reading Stillness in the Ruckus of Washington, D.C.

Birthday Week Bike Rides in BikeDC

Dear Washington, D.C., my current city of residence,

I discovered a better way to maneuver around you after too many years as a subterranean Metro passenger.

Monday Afternoon at the Monument
Monday Afternoon at the Monument

Your dense pinwheel layout and abundant side streets instilled a belief that I could pedal your roads without too much angst or trouble. Continue reading Birthday Week Bike Rides in BikeDC

The Truth and Nonsense of the N+1 Principle of Bicycles

If you’ve been around bikes long enough, you’re likely familiar with the “n+1” principle. Velominati describes it as follows:

The correct number of bikes to own is n+1.

While the minimum number of bikes one should own is three, the correct number is n+1, where n is the number of bikes currently owned. This equation may also be re-written as s-1, where s is the number of bikes owned that would result in separation from your partner.

I became quite caught up in the n + 1 principle in my early days as a bike enthusiast, although I did not know it had a name. My stable quickly grew from one Fuji road bike to a road bike + fixed gear + light touring bike + a commuter/touring bike + folding bike + single speed folding bike + you get the idea. Continue reading The Truth and Nonsense of the N+1 Principle of Bicycles

Figuring Out How to Speak Bike

Recently Elly Blue put a question out to the Twitterverse, asking people about the things they found difficult when first taking up cycling. Her question took me back to 2003 or so when I began cycling around Washington, D.C., for transportation and fitness. Continue reading Figuring Out How to Speak Bike

Combating Cynicism Through Active Commutes

Today I was reading David Foster Wallace’s commencement speech “This is Water.”  In it, he addresses the theme of selfishness, as well as the tedious aspects of adult life and how we all construct and view our life experiences.

Our challenge, he says, is to step outside ourselves, take an active role in interpreting our surroundings, and not succumb to that everyday tediousness. I call this fighting cynicism. Continue reading Combating Cynicism Through Active Commutes

The Wheelman’s Song

Those of you who follow me on Instagram may have noticed that I’ve been perusing old issues of The Wheelman and Good Roads.

Both magazines were publications of the League of American Wheelman, which is now the Bike League, and date back to the late 1800’s, when people’s fascination with the bicycle was just beginning to take hold in the United States.

The excitement and novelty of riding a bicycle permeates these editions. From tour recounts to illustrations and poems, men (mostly men, as women are unfortunately largely absent from these publications) unabashedly adored bike riding.

An example of this appreciation for the bike is found in the poem below, “Wheelman’s Song, ” written by Will Carleton in 1884. It seemed a fitting way to end one year and help inspire the next. Continue reading The Wheelman’s Song

Giving Thanks for Bike Rides

Ten years ago I began life as a daily bike rider, after years of mass transit and more driving than I care to remember.

My bike was my tour guide, encouraging me to explore and familiarize myself with the city.

Because of bike rides, I gained physical strength and confidence. Continue reading Giving Thanks for Bike Rides