Green Commuting Day

Where I work they sponsored a Green Commuting Day recently. The idea was to take an environmentally friendly way to work.

I ride a motorcycle that gets close to 50 miles per gallon to work whenever I can, but in the spirit of the event, I chose to ride my bicycle for the 10-mile commute each way that day. The only thing greener than a bicycle is walking. Maybe someday I’ll allow myself three hours to try it but not this year, haha.

At 6 a.m. I made sure the bicycle’s tires had enough air, strapped on my bag, put on my helmet and shades and, just like that, I was off.

It was cool that morning, but I knew from past experience all I’d need to wear on top was a t-shirt. A ten-mile ride is nothing for an experienced bicyclist, but for me, I knew I’d work up a good sweat by the time I got to the office. That’s why I brought a bag containing a change of clothes along. There’s a shower where I work but I hoped that wouldn't be necessary — hopefully, I wouldn’t be pedaling that hard.

The first part of my route took me through the Albany Pine Bush Preserve. Every morning during the work week I either drive my truck or ride my motorcycle through there. The contrast in doing it on a bicycle was surreal.

First of all, going slowly you can much better appreciate the beauty of nature. The lush greens and earthy browns of the sleepy forest combined with the early rising sun have timeless beauty. The amazing thing was hearing the singing of the many different species of birds that live there.

As I slowly pedaled through the winding curves I imagined that this symphony of nature was being performed just for me. The thought came that once we humans finally finish ourselves off if we manage to leave any kind of habitable planet at all, the insects, birds, and other wildlife will do just fine without us. Kind of morbidly pragmatic, I know, but this is the tenor of the time we live in.

When you are walking or riding a bicycle on a quiet road and a car passes at 10 miles an hour (or more) over the limit you realize what a violent and shocking event that really is. The shoulders on the roads around here, if they even exist, are not all that wide. Being that close to 5,000 pounds of speeding metal, glass, and rubber is quite disconcerting, to say the least.

The commemorative T-shirt I was given for Green Commuting Day shows two arrows with the words “3 foot, please,” asking for at least that much space from passing cars. Wouldn’t it be nice, as the Beach Boys famously sang.

From the Pine Bush, I soon found myself heading east on Washington Avenue Extension. This busy four-lane road has really wide shoulders, which is great. The bad thing is there is a lot of detritus and debris there. You never notice it when you’re flying by on a motorcycle or in a car, but on a bicycle it’s all there for your endless fascination and enjoyment. Here are the items I saw:

— car parts of all kinds (belts, hoses, reflectors, mufflers);

— all kinds of cans, bottles, and fast-food bags and wrappers;

— clothes, including T-shirts, sweats, and a bra;

— pennies;

— sunglasses;

— dead animals, including a large, smashed turtle;

— lumber; and

— broken glass.

Most of this stuff I've seen before, but how do you wind up with your bra on the side of the road? I must not be going to the right parties anymore.

When riding a bicycle on a busy road like this, the name of the game is constantly trying to anticipate what the car and truck drivers are going to do. I installed a little mirror on my left handlebar and it’s so handy I’ll never ride a bicycle without one again. Seeing what’s coming up behind you is so valuable. It’s still kind of nerve-wracking when a lot of cars are flying by, but it’s manageable if you always pay attention and stay as far to the right as you can.

The thing that never fails to amaze me when walking or bicycling on roads that we normally drive on is how much work the vehicle is really doing for you. There are inclines that you have no idea are even there until you walk or bicycle them. The engines in our vehicles take all the physicality out of getting around.

Now you might ask yourself, is that worth all the pollution, the depletion of our finite resources, the traffic, and the accidents? We have structured our society so that a vehicle is, in most cases, just about mandatory.

However, I heard that in Sweden you can bicycle everywhere on dedicated paths, and then in the winter, you can even ski to work! I like that a lot, I really do. Can you imagine how much fitter we’d all be if it really was convenient and safe to ride bicycles or ski all over the place?

When I got to work, I locked the bike up at one of the many racks provided. Then at my desk, I made the decision not to change into my clean clothes. I was a little bit sweaty and I had to ride back home anyway so why bother? The bright, day-glo commemorative T-shirt I was wearing would be a good advertisement for Green Commuting Day. Maybe next year more of my co-workers will participate. Another benefit of not changing out of sweaty riding clothes is it’s a great way to keep meetings short, haha.

When the work day ended, I began the ride home, and that’s when the trouble started. The ride into work had been very pleasant and enjoyable. The ride home was without a doubt the worst bicycle ride of my entire life.

First, it was late in the day, so there was much more traffic. Then there was the heat, which was very, very hot for May (a day after setting a record of 95 degrees). Lastly, I had a 20 to 25 mile an hour headwind in my face for virtually the entire ride home (due west and I’m told this is the way it is all the time). Not only was this headwind terrible to pedal into, for much of the ride it smelled like skunk. If this ride sounds terrible, believe me, it was. When I got home I was just about wiped out.

Green Commuting Day is a great way to encourage finding energy efficient ways to get to work. I’m glad I participated and I hope it happens every year. Any time a vote comes up for more funding for public transportation or bike lanes, I’m there. I hope you are too.