My First Bike Commute, Part II: “It’s really not that bad.”

The day for the first bike commute finally came. Google maps said it would take an hour and fifteen minutes, but I decided 45 would be plenty. It was mostly downhill, and hearing the ride described as, “really not that bad” over and over again, I figured I could beat the average time. I wasn’t worried. (Spoiler alert: I should’ve been worried.)

The ride began with me noticing my tires were both completely flat. I stole my wife’s car before she had to go to work and drove to the gas station with the bike halfway out of the trunk. At a stoplight I checked my email on my phone. Surprise: tons of stuff to do. Now I was late and stressed. The air pump at the gas station didn’t fit the weird air valves of my bike tires. Google told me I needed a bike shop to give me a special pump. Luckily there was one down the street, but I needed to bring my wife’s car back. Now it was almost time for me to be at work and I had morning deadlines. Cue freak out.

I made a quick plan:

  1. I’d get A, B and C done at home (thanks to Mixte’s distributed team set up)
  2. I’d walk to the bike shop on my lunch break, get everything fixed up and then cruise down to the office
  3. I’d get D, E and F done, send a few emails, and
  4. I’d cruise back home with Jamie and Karim at the end of the day.
  5. Everything would be fine.

After the first half of the plan had gone well, I put on jogging shorts, stuffed work clothes in a backpack and grabbed breakfast on my way out: half of an old Redbull and a leftover peanutbutter cookie. The bike shop gave me a hand pump that fit the air valve and I pumped up both tires to what seemed like the right amount of air.

Then I saw the shelves of bike accessories and realized I didn’t have lights for the night ride home or even a helmet. In the midst of buying them, there was a huge explosion in the store. Everyone ducked for cover. I looked over and my back tire had blown up. I guess I gave it too much air. The cashier made a joke, “So do you want to buy a new inner tube now or later?” I didn’t think it was funny, but I still had to buy it.

After more patronizing advice from the staff I hopped on the bike and headed to the office, still thinking about my to-do list and my laundry and everything besides the bike ride because it was supposed to be “really not too bad.” But as soon as I got out of the parking lot, I realized that the next 45 minutes were not going to go as planned.

Cars whizzed through a giant intersection in front of me and my eyes opened wider than I thought they could. I could barely balance on the tiny road tires and I didn’t know how to get onto the street, much less where to ride and how to not get killed. I shame-walked the bike on the sidewalk until the traffic died down and the road seemed less intimidating. That’s when I began pedaling.

Suddenly, sandwiched between an SUV to my left and a parked car to my right, a pothole appeared. I couldn’t move, I braked too fast and very un-dramatically halfway fell over and twisted my ankle. A nanny pushing a stroller across the street made eye contact like she felt bad for me and then walked away.

Within twenty minutes, I was gasping for air but all there was to choke on was car farts and dust. My chain fell off twice. I kept switching into the wrong gear at the wrong time. My knees were on fire and my legs cycled between sore, numb and dead. Every time a car narrowly missed me all the bad things I’d ever done flashed through my head. I was grabbing the handlebars so tightly the rubber grip kept falling off. The space between my backpack and my back had developed a tropical microclimate. Even when riding down hill there always seemed to be huge gusts of wind pushing me every way but forward. And I was very aware that I was running late.IMG_0732

Everything hurt. I decided to never do this ever again. Five minutes later I decided to never do anything again. I vowed that when I arrived at the office, I would tell Jamie that I was taking a cab home and never leaving my car again.

Then the lack of food and water started to kick in. I was dizzy and angry at everything. I had lost all inhibitions. I was swearing out loud, spitting in the street and making weird grunt noises on every bump. When I wiped sweat off my face, I also wiped a bunch of dirty bike grease onto my face.

When I got to Pacific Beach, I should’ve stopped at a gas station for some water, but I was delirious and just kept pedaling. I saw some people camped out behind In-N-Out with a couple bikes and figured they had tried the same ride as mine and had just given up forever. It seemed reasonable.

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By the time I made it to Mission Bay I was sure I was experiencing organ failure. I got off the bike on purpose for the first time all day and took a picture of the beach. I figured I could write a blog about how cycling allowed me to fully appreciate the beauty of San Diego. I thought this while I puked up half a peanut butter cookie and some red bull in the grass. An old couple stared at me. I awkwardly pedaled away.

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All of the sudden I saw the bridge to OB and for the first time I thought everything would be alright. Then the Sea World protected bike path veered right and I was headed somewhere else. I was too focused on not dying to make the decision to turn back. Luck and survival instinct somehow brought me back to our office on Voltaire St. Later on, I measured that I went five and a half miles out of the way before I finally made it to Mixte.

As I pedaled the final block, I probably should’ve felt accomplished or relieved but I didn’t have any calories left for emotion. I didn’t even think to take a second to compose myself before walking into the office. All of a sudden I was standing and not pedaling. Lauren and Jamie were applauding and telling me they were worried what had happened to me (I was pretty late). The record indicates I took a picture, but I don’t even remember it.

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Finally my dramatic journey was over and I started to forget my near-death experience. Several glasses of water probably helped a little more. Then Jamie showed me how to set up my lights, offered some helpful advice and gave me her air valve converter so I could use a regular pump for my tires. Somewhere between getting back to work, a huge mug of Ryan Bros. coffee, meeting a few deadlines and inhaling a giant burrito, everything started to feel normal again. After the rest of the Mixte team texted me congratulations on my first bike commute I felt even better than normal.

Then 5 p.m. hit and Karim stopped by the office. He and Jamie started packing up their saddle bags and clipping in. “You ready to ride?”

I had completely forgotten I would have to do it all over again. This time 80 percent of the ride was uphill and I’d be wheezing and panting and sweating in front of people I’d have to see again on Monday.

I reached deep down inside myself and felt around for an emergency trap door, “Grandmother just died? Fish needs washing? I left my legs at home?” but there was nothing. The universe had locked me in and so I surrendered, except for a quick pre-apology and a huge understatement, “Just so you guys know, I was struggling a bit to get here and that was all downhill…”

Jamie assured me, “Don’t worry, we’ll go slow.”

I clicked my helmet strap on while the phrase “struggling a bit” danced around in my head with visions of vomit, asphalt and embarrassment.

This time though, I actually had nothing to worry about. Even though it was uphill, the ride was five-ish miles shorter, I was hydrated and (semi) properly fueled with tortilla carbs and there was nothing to be late for.

My ass hurt even worse then on the way down, my legs were killing me and I was dead tired within a few minutes, but this time it was all manageable. Bicycles are meant to be ridden with friends. We chatted and cruised by a sunset lit Sunset Cliffs. The sky was on fire and the water danced. My eyes flew wide open to let in all the San Diego details (I was too busy enjoying myself to take a picture on the ride, so the internet offered this as a stand in).

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Jaime showed me several shortcuts and Karim explained the glory of bike shorts underneath regular shorts. I pleasantly took note that a Karl Strauss tasting room marked the halfway point on my route home. We made it to my apartment successfully and there were plenty of high-fives before Karim and Jamie biked all the way back home.

They both showed me that pedaling uphill for miles and miles “isn’t really that bad” if you have good company and something to talk about. They were right.

Read Part I Here