Nov 222011

This piece takes a different approach than our usual Q&A for the On a Roll with series. Introducing occasional guest blogger Betsy Lawrence: community college composition instructor, yoga teacher, and the founder of Belles and Baskets. What she doesn’t mention here that you should know: Her round trip to work is nearly 20 miles.

I was the baby of the family: the cute one, the dancing one, the happy one—NOT the athletic one. That was my big sister. I was the not-athletic one to the extent that my mom went to my grade school to warn the PE teacher (one of those old-school, could-have-been-a-character-on-Glee PE teachers) that I was not like my sister, so don’t expect much.

Mom was right. I didn’t learn to walk until I was two and couldn’t ride a bike until I was eleven. I couldn’t make contact with a ball with my hand, foot, or a bat. I spent my junior high years finding ways to be injured to avoid PE. When I ran out of injuries and had to do a 360 on the uneven bars, three spotters had to push me up and over. When we had to jump over hurdles, I refused. The teachers ran masking tape between rows of hurdles so I would jump over the tape without fear of the hurdle falling on me. Title IX was wasted on this girl.

Once I became an adult, while not an athlete, I was pretty active. I adored tap dancing, old-school aerobics, and weight lifting. In my forties, I began practicing yoga and soon became a yoga instructor. All these activities had something in common—they could be done indoors and didn’t feel like “sports.”

Eight years ago when I began dating Steve Faust, the man who later became my husband, he took me on a bike ride. I unearthed a bike that I had used twenty years prior on trips to the playground with my young children. I expected an easy ride, not the fifteen-mile, Riverside State Park loop that he took me on; it nearly killed me. (How is it that loop is uphill the whole way?) However, I enjoyed riding again, so I soon visited a local bike shop and bought a comfort bike.

In the following years, I came to love my heavy, comfortable bike. I added a rack and grocery carrier and became what I called a “lateral cyclist.” No huge hills for me, but living near drug stores, a library, and several grocery stores, with my bike I could easily accomplish tasks, get a little exercise, and (to my shock) feel a little bit less uncoordinated. I biked nearly every day during nice weather and it made running errands feel like play.

Betsy Lawrence in a Ruu-Muu on a summer Bikespedition to Carnegie Square.

Three years ago, as I became more comfortable riding, I heard about Bike to Work Week. I couldn’t imagine ever getting from my home near Comstock Park all the way to my work at Spokane Community College, but just to get involved, I volunteered at the BTW wrap-up party. I marveled at those spandexed folks who seemed to easily commute by bike. Even though I was daunted by thoughts of the trucks, the roads, the distance, the helmet hair, I vowed to ride to work during the next year’s BTW Week.

I began preparing for this task by gathering lots of information. Friends who bike commute explained routes that are commonly used, and I learned that I could avoid streets that frightened me. I found that those in the cycling community are thrilled to educate those who want to give commuting a try.

The next step to becoming a bike jock occurred when I rode in Spokefest the following September; there was a bus with a kind STA driver who demonstrated how to put my bike on a bus rack. Learning that easy, two-step process was the key to opening up the whole town to cycling. On a Friday in May, the last day of Bike to Work Week, I was ready. I rode to work and downtown to the wrap up party, put my very heavy bike on the bus for a two-mile break up the hill, and was proudly able to join the ranks of bike commuter.

No longer only a fair-weather rider, Betsy sets forth on winter roads.

Since that day two years ago, I have biked to work dozens of times. Last summer I decided it was time for an upgrade and bought a lighter bike that makes riding all the way up the South Hill easier. Bike commuting makes my work day a lovely experience. Sure, my hair isn’t quite as fluffy as usual, but after enjoying views of the river, saying “hello” to runners, yielding to geese, and smiling at truck drivers, I enter my work place much calmer than I would after driving. I am very proud to mention that I rode 1,000 miles in 2010—a huge accomplishment for the girl who took years to learn to ride a bike.

This piece first ran in Out There Monthly, Spokane’s fantastic free monthly publication featuring all things outdoors. It’s such a great story that we had to repeat it here to inspire those of you who think you can’t possibly ride a bike for transportation. Our thanks to OTM publisher Jon Snyder for permission to republish here and for being a sponsor from the beginning of Spokane Bikes/Bike to Work Spokane.

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