Tossing and Tortured 'Till Dawn

I come back to you now, at the turn of the tide.

Friday, March 27, 2009


What people can become accustomed to is impressive. Commuting by bicycle is an interesting crucible.

I leave at 5:30 in the morning, and it takes a hair under two hours to make it to work. Thirty-two miles, door to door. Whining melts away. I cannot think about the rain, the dark, or the cold, how comfortable my bed might be. Commencement Bay is beautiful in the pre-dawn, a strange fusion of industrial and natural. Vashon Island’s green is nearly visible across the water; steam billows from smokestacks on the tideflats, the cranes of the port still silent. The trains slowly rattle along the tracks, clunking along as the load up past the grain silos.

Physical limits of man and machine reveal themselves as excuses and alternatives disappear. It’s a little north of twenty hours per week, if I do each leg, with eight hours of desk time in between rides. There is no way to do this without the fatigue settling into my legs as the week goes on.

Tacoma’s roads are famous mostly for their potholes, their cobbles. The Pacific Northwest is famous for its number of days with measurable precipitation.

In the past week, they’ve taken their toll. My fender snapped clean in half. A water bottle cage broke at the weld. Riding home on Tuesday, I broke a rear spoke cranking up the steep section of Peasley Canyon Way. With a rattling fender and squeaky, wobbling wheel, I limped the remaining fifteen miles home. I’d tell you about the headwind of doom, too, but then it would sound like one of those old-man stories.

I swapped the wheel out for a backup, and on my commute in on Tuesday I learned the hard way that the backup tire had seen a few too many miles of cobbles itself. The first flat, in the dark and drizzle of Dock street, I repaired fairly quickly, thanks to the magic of my Lezyne pressure drive pump, but apart from quickly sweeping the inside of the tire there was no chance to track down the real cause of the flat.

Fingers crossed, over the bridge and out of town, down now-infamous 20th until the interurban trail picks up past 74th, through the gravel and sporadically patched potholes that was once Barth Road. , up through the neighborhoods and all the way into Kent.

I think about accessibility as the cars trundle past along their commute. I try not to think of them as cattle. As I cross highway 167 on my way to the trail, I smile at the traffic that ritually snarls this stretch of the commute – and I consider how Seattle’s traffic is supposed to be light compared with the bigger urban centers of the country. I don’t even want to consider Los Angeles rush-hour commuters.

I make it until about five miles from work before the sucker goes flat again. This time, I limp to an underpass and find the problem – the last flat had been from something quite sharp, and a small section of the rubber is completely removed, leaving just the inner casing between air and road. I’m surprised it lasted as long as it did. Thankfully, I carry a boot, too, and a second tube.

On the road again, to arrive at my desk at two minutes to eight. It might’ve been a little more cinematic with a countdown timer, maybe something that goes boom, but, I’ll take it.

Today, I ride five miles to a café and drink coffee, read a book while awaiting a carpool from a coworker. This seems a great luxury, and makes the day feel like another part of the weekend.

A little extra energy in the legs for the ride home doesn’t hurt, either. They feel the week’s miles, the monotony of the flat, stable commute. They miss speed, they miss the tan lines, the variation.

Like clockwork, ninety minutes into the ride home, I feel how much I need dinner. As I roll over the bridge back into town, ready to put the day’s ride away, the last five miles stretch out before me. I take pacific to sixth instead of the water. Rolling along the cars, the quick flicks of urban traffic somehow don’t disappoint me the way the drone of the wide suburban roads and highways do.

I enjoy my rides, even in the rain and mud and sand and cold. But, once all that complaining about hard is done, I find that I am not a robot after all. I get cold, I run out of energy, I’m not as fresh four days into the week as on Monday. Both body and metal need maintenance.

Happy Friday.


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