Diamond-Cut Life

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Back On The Bike

June 3rd, 2010 by Alison · No Comments · community, global warming and climate change, sustainability, transportation

I’m sipping coffee at Seven Virtues* Coffeehouse on NE Glisan and 60th here in Portland, Oregon. Neil Young’s plaintive song Sugar Mountain is playing on the sound system. I suspect he’s referring to how I drink my coffee. I’m Seven Virtues’  first customer,  having bicycled briskly over in the sharply slanted light of early morning.

I confess there’s no cardiovascular virtue in a brisk pace when you’re bicycling down Mount Tabor as I do to get here. Rather, you worry about your whining brakes. I’ll be standing on my pedals to achieve a crawling pace when I climb back home for my 9 a.m. phone appointment. Thus achieving athletic, cardiovascular virtue.

I’m a little proud of having finally gotten my act together for the bicycle season. Even though 40% of trips made in the U.S. are two miles or less in length, i.e. easy biking or even walking distance, most of those trips are made by car. My theory, or at least my personal situation, is that the car bias is not due to physical laziness, but to the blowing of my brain’s logistical gaskets when it comes to locomoting by bicycle. Getting my helmet to stay on my head, getting that helmet to stay in one reliable place, finding a lock with either a key that fits or a combination I can actually remember, determining clothes of sufficient modesty and practicality for pedaling (I normally favor long, flowing skirts), and getting my laptop, DayRunner, purse and notebooks all fitted into the one pannier my husband is willing to part with -  my thin shoulders sag at the overwhelming nature of this sequence. And all of that before sitting down to the challenges of my paid work.

At the beginning of the season, it  feels like moving a mountain. Or at least a modestly sized, extinct volcano like Mount Tabor.  I’m always impressed that many people commute and travel by bicycle year-round. My logistical skills aren’t up to that. But now that I’ve got the helmet, lock, skirt and pannier situation under control, and the endorphin-driven pleasures of athletic virtue to look forward to, I know many of my short trips this summer will be via bicycle. It’s probably not a coincidence that later today I’m meeting with Stephanie Nolls of the Bicycle Transportation Alliance. We’re discussing my desk’s sponsorship of the Bike Commute Challenge coming up in September, an event that inspires thousands of people to commute via bike that month, many of which trips would have otherwise been via car. The BTA rocks.

* The seven virtues according to ancient Chinese lore are humility, forgiveness, compassion, gratitude, honesty, patience and kindness. If I were to add a few diamond-cut virtues of my own choosing I’d name thrift (helps both the pocketbook and the planet’s resources), courage (sustainability means consistently going outside our culture’s consumption-shaped box)  and . . . . . community. My experience is that the more we can connect with and depend on each other, and our own bodies, the healthier and happier we are, and the less dependent we are on machines and the fossil fuels that drive global warming, as well as the disastrous, ongoing oil spill in the Gulf Coast.

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