When I was 15, I had a summer job watering the grass for a church in my hometown. The campus was several blocks from my house and watering was done in the evening, five nights a week. Walking didn’t seem like the most time-efficient option, and I was too grown for my old Huffy, so I was loaned green “10 speed” that belonged to a friend of my mom’s.
As summer progressed, I spent more and more of my evenings on that bike—exploring town, climbing hills, coasting, climbing again, shifting and testing limits. The bike was both simple and complicated, a mechanical wonder. I rode and rode and rode, listening to cicadas talk with one another, alone with my thoughts until the sun disappeared. When I was on that bike I could fly. I was completely, totally free. It was one of the most memorable summers of my life.
Then I turned 16, got a car and the bike went to the shed.
Twenty-five years later, I found myself fairly sedentary, stressed out and regularly working 12-hour days as an editor and that’s when I knew I needed a change. It was time to get active, start taking my health more seriously and get away from all the screens, if only for a bit.
At that time, I had just started working at Tyson Foods, and miles and miles of RAZORBACK REGIONAL GREENWAY were being developed in our area, waiting for car-free exploration. So, I bought a bike of my own. Other than marrying my wife, it may have been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
In the time since, I’ve ridden multiple centuries (100-mile rides), cycled ACROSS IOWA a couple of times, and regularly ride after work and on weekends. I’ve cycled in San Francisco, Chicago, New York, Washington, D.C. and Denmark and have even started thinking about self-supported bike-packing trips on gravel roads. I’m what friends call an enthusiast.
Despite all my frequent-flyer miles and cycling adventures, the hardest thing I’ve done is commute to work on a bike.
Partly inspired by JEREMY PATE’S PUBLIC PACT to cycle to work, and partly to practice what I preach, I’ve been giving commuting by bike a shot. My round trip is short in comparison to Jeremy’s — a mere 17 miles — but it’s been a game changer. I get the pure joy of riding before work and I know there’s no other choice but to ride home. Sometimes it’s difficult to get out of bed and commit an hour to what normally takes 15 minutes; to pack saddlebags with clothes and contents of a briefcase. And I’ve had to be more deliberate with planning lunch breaks and after-work activities. But without a doubt, on those days, I’m more productive, focused and, well, happier.
Not to over sell it. I’m not a daily commuter — rain and life get in the way — but it’s now a real and viable option for me to get to work. In the months when weather permits, I cycle. I eat better, feel better, sleep better and am generally in a better head space.
As May is NATIONAL BIKE MONTH, I’m encouraging readers and co-workers to give it a try — my colleague, LOGAN, has already started. National Bike to Work Week is May 13-19 and National Bike to Work Day is Friday, May 17, so what better time to consider alternative transportation for commuting. I’m committed to commuting to work by bike as much as possible this month.
If you’re hesitant, consider some of the health perks of biking to work, like decreased risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease. Biking to work can also reduce your carbon footprint and lower your gas or public transport bill.
If your situation isn’t good for commuting, try to get out one morning or evening and take a ride. If you don’t have a right-sized bike and a helmet, no sweat — many bike shops have rentals and every city I’ve visited recently has a bike share system. Don’t worry about all the other trappings, just get out, enjoy and be safe.
We all have something we stuck in the shed a long time ago.
My hope is that climbing on a bike will help you find it, dust it off and take it for another spin.
This month, I’ll be watching the progress of local cyclers via NWA BIKE CHALLENGE on Facebook and about local news at BIKE NWA. I’m hoping my fellow Miles that Matter team member will be posting on @milesthatmatternwa.
More to help you jump-start or enjoy your cycling:
- Join the NATIONAL BIKE CHALLENGE, which is May through September
- Go to THE LEAGUE OF AMERICAN BICYCLISTS for info about National Bike Month
- Visit PEOPLE FOR BIKES for bike advocacy, stats and resources
- Take your bike on vacation to a NATIONAL PARK
- Learn about the nearest RAILS TO TRAILS project
- Check out the U.S. BICYCLING ROUTE SYSTEM at Adventure Cycling Association
MILES THAT MATTER
A group of co-workers and I started MILES THAT MATTER in 2016. This spin off of our disaster relief program called Meals that Matter, is designed to get Tyson Foods team members outside and exercising. For every mile they and their family members run, walk or cycle, our company donates a pound of protein to an area food bank. I’m pleased to report the program has resulted in more than 300,000 pounds donated to date and is expanding to some of the other communities where we operate.
Published May 1, 2019.