Be honest. If you drive regularly for transportation, how often do you get wherever you’re going and say, “Wow, that was such a great drive! It made me so happy! I had so much fun!”
Sure, you might be glad to arrive. But did you feel happy along the way specifically because of your mode of travel?
This is what bicycling gives me: A direct experience of happiness created by the way I’m moving through the world.
I’m especially appreciative now because I’m coming back to riding after months and months of not being able to thanks to that pesky broken wrist. Similar to the feeling of coming back to riding after breaking my elbow a few years ago, I still get some pain and I’m not able to ride the way I used to. Not yet. Riding is part of resuming my regular activities, which is an assignment from the physical therapist.
Since I telework I don’t always have a reason to go anywhere, though! Sweet Hubs and I go for regular long walks, most often on weekends to the farmers’ market. I’m not physically ready for long bike outings just for the sake of racking up the miles. This week’s schedule cooperated in providing a reason to ride Monday through Friday, and I rode happy every single day.
Monday: In the evening, rode to an event with biking friend Stefanie, who lives nearby. Weather: Crisp and clear. Traffic: Very light. Riding with a friend, chatting as we rolled through the neighborhoods: Delightful. Mileage for the day: 5.46.
Tuesday: Whoa, I went to the office for work! Had a couple of meetings that could have been online/hybrid but it was a chance to get together with colleagues I haven’t seen in three dimensions in quite a while. One of the reasons to be happy: Having abundant bike parking at the office, both near the front door and in the parking garage. Another contribution to bike happiness: I use different routes coming and going and get more variety that way. Mileage for the day: 6.42.
Wednesday: And again to the office! This time I needed to go speak to a gathering of the Alliance of Boys & Girls Clubs. I biked the short distance to the capitol campus rather than walking because if I’m trying to get somewhere with some time pressure biking is easier than walking so I won’t be as sweaty.
Got a dose of happy at the capitol campus when I rolled up to the small hut where the security folks stood. As I paused, scanning the buildings ahead of me, one of them stepped out and asked, “Looking for bike parking?” I said, “Yes!” He said, “There’s some right over there. Let me show you. It’s one of those where you hang the bike up.” I said, “Uh-oh, I can’t lift my bike to hang it.” He said, “No problem. If you can’t park it there, bring it back and we’ll watch it for you.” I said, “Really? Thank you!” He said, “That’s what we’re here for.” Then he walked me over to where he could point out the bike cage. Fabulous.
As it turned out, I could lock my bike even though I couldn’t lift it, so Zelda was just fine.
Second dose of happy: On a bike it’s so, so easy to make a quick stop. Before leaving for home I texted Sweet Hubs about his interest in something from the food trucks at 4th and Plum. Fried plantains from Arepa Latin Street Food, you betcha, Sweetie! And a sabich for me from Nineveh Assyrian, oh yeah.
From there I rode home along East Bay Road by the water. I love doing that for the views of great blue herons, seagulls, buffleheads, mallards, and the occasional seal. Zelda gave me a boost up the one steep hill. Another dose of happy: I chose the route that lets me use a short stretch of sidewalk between two streets where drivers encounter a “Dead End” sign. If I were the type to write on public signs I’d add #ForCars on that sign because it isn’t a dead end for those of us walking or rolling. It’s like having our own secret passage. Mileage for the day: 7.7.
Thursday: Today’s reason to ride: Going to a meeting at a location just under five miles from home in a different direction from going to work. This meant some time on a quiet county road where almost no cars passed me. If I were the sarcastic type I’d ask why we’re building that infrastructure for driving if I don’t see anyone using it at the exact moment I pass by. After that a stretch of new bike lane with the pleasure of freshly laid asphalt smooth as a baby’s bottom. And then, joy of joys, the Chehalis-Western Trail for a while. People walking, with or without canine companions; people riding; people out moving around on this quiet rail-trail through the woods.
I had left in plenty of time to get there, but also noticed the effect that riding has on my time perception. Once I’m on the bike I’m in bike time. I’ll get there when I get there. Yes, I can pedal faster but that’s not going to make a material difference in my arrival time. (And guess what, drivers, that’s true for you too despite all that horsepower, especially over the short distances of most trips, so don’t speed. When you drive faster you’re just narrowing your visual field so you won’t see me crossing the road in time to stop.)
On the way home I rode through what I refer to as our “veggie mister” weather, which gave me a Monet-like effect through my glasses. No problem seeing to ride, and after all, I’m making decisions at bike speed, not at car speed. That’s one of the things that makes me happy! Mileage for the day: 9.44.
Friday: Back to the same location, same route. Happy moments: Listening to birds calling to each other in my neighborhood; no idea what they were but I saw them high in the trees. Red-winged blackbirds trilling at a small pond I rode past on the Chehalis-Western. Stopping twice on my way home, once to take a picture of strings of Mardi-Gras-like beads strung on a fence and a second time at a local farm stand to get eggs, salad greens, and baby kale from a very trusting setup in which I took those from a fridge and left cash in their place. I’ve been passing that fridge with its lettering FARM FRESH EGGS SALAD GREENS for a while now and finally stopped. Bike happiness points include being able to stop easily for a couple of minutes, and noticing things like those beads that I wouldn’t really be able to see at driving speeds. Mileage for the day: 9.55.
To recap, riding my bike every day made me happy for lots of reasons, none of which have much to do with the total mileage for the week (although yes, I do track so I know it was 38.57 miles). This list of happies or something close to it is available to me every time I ride.
- Spending quality time with a good friend.
- Feeling the air on my skin as I move through it.
- Hearing and seeing birds.
- Appreciation when someone helpful points me to bike parking.
- Encountering people out enjoying a great trail through the woods.
- Viewing the world like an Impressionist painter.
- Stopping spontaneously when I spot something interesting.
- Taking different routes to and from a destination to mix it up.
- Getting to use the secret passage that drivers can’t use.
- Fresh asphalt in the bike lane—woohoo!
- Freeing myself from time pressure.
- Moving through the world at a human speed that gives me time to make decisions.
- Bonus: When I’m on my bike I’m removed from technology other than the simple button I press if I want Zelda the e-bike to give me a little assist up a hill. My brain appreciates the quiet and the opportunity to just be in the world.