Active Commuting Update!

I now have two jobs in two different parts of the city. It’s also May, which is a different animal from February. And I’ve been at it a few months, increasing both my comfort and my fitness. Time for a check-in and an update!

A little background: I moved from Tucson to Portland in January. I also changed jobs, with more time in an office and less time working from home or being very active in the clinic setting. The commute to my new office is longer— I lived super close to my office in Tucson, and I’m not used to giving up so much time to travel. And there’s both more traffic and less parking here. So I figured I’d attack all those problems as once and figure out how to make active commuting part of my routine

There’s no bad weather. Only bad gear.

Old REI Proverb
blue bike
my trusty steed.

Now, I generally go to my original teaching job two days per week and my new clinical job three. As winter has lifted and summer is approaching, it’s light from 5:30 AM until 8:30 PM, so I never have to leave in the dark. It rains a bit, but not as much as in winter. And I got myself geared up (mostly). I thought about about what I would spend on gas, parking, or train tickets, and channelled it into stuff I can use. I traded in the two bikes I used in Arizona for one solid commuting bike and I love it. I bought an expensive but very effective rain jacket and I got a cool backpack-panier as a birthday present. I also wear a lot of stealth-athletic clothes— stuff from Athleta, Lululemon, REI, and the like that looks casual but is secretly stretchy, wicking, and washable.

So, here’s where I’m at: my commutes to my teaching job are mostly on my bike, then I park it at the bike valet and switch to the aerial tram. This is about 6 miles on roads and bike paths (and slightly downhill on the way there), plus the 5 minute tram ride and 10 minute walk. It’s a lovely way to commute, actually. I could bike up the big hill at the end, but I like the tram, I can avoid riding through downtown traffic, and I like the secure bike valet service. I’d say I do this route most of the time, as the default option. Every now and again, I will take the bus either to the bottom of the hill and hike up, or all the way to the door. I’ll only do this if I’m truly wiped, not feeling well, or the weather is atrocious. Drizzle’s fine. Thunder or true downpour, I’ll bus it. It’s awesome that biking now feels like the easiest option. Do my legs feel a little shot sometimes? Yes. Do I get home a little sweaty and tired some days? Sure. Is this bad? Not really!

Hey, guess what? I can do it.

For my new clinical job, I can drive there— there’s plenty of easy parking. But with an 8:30-5 schedule, traffic’s a bitch, and that doesn’t leave me a lot of time for a long workout. But since I’m now an experienced bike commuter with some decent gear, biking to work seemed like a reasonable thing to try. It’s a little farther (8 miles), and involves a little more complicated wayfinding and a few more hills, so I might not have tried it if I didn’t already know I could do the easier one. But hey, guess what? I can do it! I drove on my first day, but I already felt like I needed the ride in to feel good when I got there. So on day two, I figured it out. I can store my bike inside. I can change and clean up in a single-occupancy bathroom if needed. It works. Yay! I definitely feel a little spent when I get home, but less every day. And in a better way than I do when I drive!

I few things help me succeed at bike commuting: I use an apple watch, and one thing it does is estimate the calories you burn through activity (not just dedicated exercise, but also general movement throughout the day). While I know lots of folks use this to track calorie burn for weight loss or things like that, I find it useful because it reminds me that I’ve been particularly active some days, and thus need to do things like rest and eat. I now keep a good snack stash in my desk at both jobs— nuts, trail mix, lara bars. Also, my workplaces are really set up for active commuters— there’s bike storage, there are showers, and it’s generally casual. I also have my own office at one of them with a locking door. Both provide bonuses for non-driving commuters, and one even gives you a bike maintenance rebate. This is awesome. And finally, I have a back-up plan. I take the bus to teach, or I drive to clinic. Often just knowing this is an option makes me choose to bike anyway.

always bring snacks.

What do I wish I had known on day one? 

  • If you want to do it, do it. There will always be excuses. Most of them are bullshit.
  • Bring what you need. I sometimes just bring a fresh shirt. If it’s wet, it pays to pack a complete dry outfit.
  • Warm hands are the most important thing when it’s cold out. Do not underestimate this.
  • Wear good socks. Wool is awesome especially if it’s cold, and I also like a good wicking synthetic.
  • It’s totally fine to embrace wild hair, slicked-back hair, or IDGAF hair. No one cares.
  • Check your face for dirt before you go into an important meeting.

Do you active commute? I’m still interested in running it some time, but I haven’t gotten up the gumption yet!

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