May 302012
The Long Path to Becoming a Spokane Cyclist: An Andrea Post

A Spokane icon--the Riverfront Park clock tower--reflected in Andrea's bike mirror. Photo by Andrea Parrish.

Spokane in the mirror
My first bike commute in Spokane was anything but blue skies. Photo: Andrea Parrish-Geyer

The first time I biked to work (such as it was) was in 2007. In the 5 years since then, I have learned quite a bit about pedaling my way around Spokane. Lately, though, I’ve gotten lots of questions about “if I have always been this big of a cyclist.” While this question usually elicits a burst of laughter from me, followed by a longer explanation, I wanted to outline how I’ve gone from an everyday driver to someone who has a goal of 100 miles a month for at least the next 5 or 6 months.

My Spokane Bicycle Commuting Start

While I was working at Mountain Gear, my boss had purchased a Kona Africa bike for his significant other, and it ended up being just far too tall for her. They suggested the bike might fit me well, and I bought it, figuring I would use it for a few runs to the grocery store here and there. Never having been accused of a lack of bravado, I decided that I would also go whole-hog and cycle to work.

Let me set the scene: I lived 7 driving miles from work, and had been using Spokane Transit or driving the entire time I lived in Spokane. I wasn’t incredibly familiar with the routes, but I figured I could just bike the same route that I drove, and then “catch that Centennial Trail thing” when I got near the river. It was 90 degrees and humid out. The first mistake was that I was wearing a pair of workout pants that didn’t quite fit right, showing a bit of plumber’s crack whenever I was on my bike. It wasn’t comfortable, but I was going to do this thing, darn it!

The Biggest Mistake of that First Ride

So first of all, I was wearing clothes that didn’t fit. The bigger mistake was that I didn’t really map out my route, I just jumped on my bike and started pedaling. I only knew town well enough to know the arterials, so I ended up taking Mission Avenue almost all the way across town. It was a two-lane road, and while I tried to claim the lane as my own, at 7:30 in the morning, the drivers were not having any of it. So I ended up cycling on the sidewalk, which was about 8 kinds of unnecessarily uncomfortable and dangerous (at least I was riding WITH traffic)! When I got to Spokane Community College, I was so relieved to see the Centennial Trail sign that I got right off the road and hopped onto the trail. And kept pedaling. And pedaling. And pedaling.

I eventually realized that I had gone far beyond where my office should have been, and the river was between me and the office. I even found what I thought should have been a bridge, but ended up being the dam that I couldn’t cross. I had no idea how long of a ride it would be to the next bridge. So I had to turn around and retrace the last few miles of the ride, go through the SCC campus, and finally get to work. What should have been a 7-mile ride that I had planned an hour for ended up being a 2+ hour ordeal. Exhausted, sweaty, and discouraged, I put my bike on the bus and let Spokane Transit take me home that night, and rode my bike just a few times more that summer, including a few white-knuckle trips to work that were never really enjoyable.

Working my Way up to Bike Commuting

Cup Holder

In 2008, my then-boyfriend and I bought a house in a different section of town, and moving in seemed to take the entire summer. Then, in November of that year, I was laid off work, snowpocolypse hit, and I got pneumonia. So instead of biking that summer, I spent most of 2009 working on my own businesses, setting up our home, and generally driving wherever we needed to go.

Then, in 2010, I got a job smack-dab in the middle of downtown, where I had always wanted to work. That summer, with the encouragement of my then-fiance, we started biking more often. My S.O. doesn’t have a driver’s license by choice, and has always biked, bussed, or gotten rides wherever he needed to go. I won’t lie that the prospect of being able to have a glass or three of wine without worrying about being the only driver was something that helped get me on those pedals. It wasn’t an everyday thing, but every now and again we would hop our bikes to make the trek downtown. I even managed to make it to the 2010 Bike To Work kickoff breakfast that year.

Really Getting into the Bike Commute

It wasn’t until the summer of 2011 that I really started making bike commuting one of my “things.” I got to know the local bike shop guys very well, because my poor bike was in the shop as often as I was riding it. I probably spent $500 on upgrades and repairs, but by the end of the summer I was comfortable pedaling the 5 miles to work, and then, more often than not, catching the bus north to go home. At the end of July of that year, I started using an app to track my miles, and tracked 235 miles over July, August and September. This is when I would say my obsession really got started. I decided that if I was going to be known as half of the “Wedding Cans” couple and speak to environmental concerns, I needed to walk the walk, not just talk the talk.

I Suppose I am a “Cyclist” Now

So yes, now I am the kind of person who aims for 100+ miles on my bike a month. I have a bike locker at work. I spend way more emotional energy fretting over my bike when it’s in the shop than I probably should. The day after we bought a new-to-us car, I biked.

I didn’t start out that way, though. I started out white-knuckling it in badly fitting clothes on some of the most dangerous roads in Spokane, bussing more than I was biking, and driving even more often. Some people may wake up one morning and decide to change their lives, but for me, becoming a “cyclist” has been a 5-year process, and I still hop the bus when I’m facing the South Hill.

By guest blogger and generally awesome woman Andrea Parrish–Spokane-based co-owner of Savor Sweets and Hydra Creations, photographer, and all-around netgeek, as her website will tell you.

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