16 May 2012

biking to work {or, why i am not audrey hepburn}

It's National Bike-to-Work Week, and as I so like to do, I'm celebrating appropriately: by biking to work.

Saying that, I get an image of Audrey Hepburn biking—perhaps cycling {a much more refined, Audrey-type word} through a field of tulips. Skirt flying, big sunglasses, laughing into the wind as she speeds down the lane, careful to not let her baguette, cheese, and wine spill out of her basket.

There's the Audrey Hepburn version of cycling:

And then there's the reality of me biking to work:
  • My bike has no basket.
  • Even if my bike did have a basket, I doubt Little Pug would sit in it for very long—and she certainly wouldn't look as content as Miss Hepburn's dog with her little bow. Little Pug is an explorer and has a scrappy side to her that may compel her to jump out of the basket, just to prove that she can. Then she'd land on the front wheel and become the tumbling pug.

    That sounds like a very good beginning to a very bad children's book: The Pug Who Did Not Like Biking.
  • I don't wear a headscarf so much as a big magenta bike helmet. This replaced the old Bell bike helmet I had when I was younger, an ugly travesty of a thing that brought me much embarrassment. So much embarrassment that I wrote about my Bell helmet once.
  • My bike doesn't have an Audrey Hepburn nameplate, for obvious reasons—the most obvious being: if someone thought my bike belonged to Audrey Hepburn, they would steal it.
  • I wear bike-appropriate clothes—wait, not spandex. Don't get that idea. I just mean that I wear clothes I don't mind getting sweaty, and then I bring with me—in the backpack I carried in college—my work clothes.

    In other words, I don't have an adorable cycling outfit so much as a practical approach to the realities of sweat.
It's a 20-minute jaunt to work, and I have to admit, I feel very European as I bike through downtown Wheaton, by the cafe that opens for breakfast at 6am, and past schoolchildren.

I have to hold in the urge to sing-song "Bonjour!" to the train, the commuters, the cafe, the schoolchildren, the people out walking their dogs.

Biking to wrk can be associated with a sower, more charmed pace of life—a pace we Americans often think, in a dreamy, idealized kind of way, all Europeans have.

If only I could bike to work like the Dutch {even their Queen bikes!}, we think, then my life would be hale and hearty. I'd stop at the cafe for an espresso with friends after work, and I'd have enviable leg muscles.

And it's true: these 20-minute bookends on my day do bring a sort of charmed airiness to the workaday world.

The gravel crunching under the tires, the archway of trees over me creating patterns of sun and shade, the fresh edge of the morning air, the pulsing of my legs as I peddle fast at the Main Street railroad crossing: it all combines into a kind of intense gratefulness for the day.

Lest I get too wrapped up in this idealized version of biking to work—and then fall down the slippery slope into thinking I'm Audrey Hepburn—I've made a list of Things to Keep in Mind While Biking to Work.

Things to Keep in Mind While Biking to Work

  • You're not actually Audrey Hepburn.
  • You're also not Dutch, not even the littlest bit.
  • Seriously, just because you rented bikes in Amsterdam that one time doesn't make you a Dutch biker.
  • Drawback to biking: It's challenging to drink coffee on the way to work.
  • Another drawback: I hope you don't have to run any errands at lunch today, such as getting an oil change.
  • You are your own pack mule when it comes to bringing lunch, so consider what you'll be hungry for at noon carefully.
  • You should get a little bell to ding-ding-ding. That can be your precursor to shouting out, "ON THE LEFT!" every time you pass someone.
  • After getting to work, it takes 15ish minutes to cool down enough to feel like you're presentable enough for actual work. Keep this in mind should you have any meetings to run as soon as you get into the office.
  • I hope I never forget my brush or my deodorant while biking. I bet everyone else in the office really hopes I never forget my deodorant.
  • On days you bike to work, for the love, do not do the legs portion of your weight lifting routine. Not necessary. And later, when you have to bike home and your legs are already sore, you will be upset at your overachiever morning self that tried to be all exercise-y.
  • If you can fit in a swim and a run before you bike to work, you can start bragging about doing a triathlon every day.

This is my bike. See how it's not at all like Audrey Hepburn's? It's older than I am, actually, and at one time, belonged to my older brother. Yes, I have a boy's bike. Yes, it is slightly too large for me. Yes, once when I stopped at an intersection, I fell over because my foot didn't reach the ground very well. No, I will not demonstrate that for you.

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