Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Stormy Weather and its Lessons

This week has seen the first major rain AND wind storm of the season here. It has proven to be more of a challenge than I was up for, so I decided to combine the distance/time advantage of my car with the benefit of dryness. Some longer-distance visits were in order, so it seemed  a good time to go to four wheels. However, I noticed a few things right away.

First, there is the matter of speed. I can cover so much ground in a car… but I notice it now. Going up hills with complete ease, through traffic corridors I would avoid on a bike, and combining a number of locations in disparate areas of town on one “voyage” is so natural—and seductive—in a car. Today I was made particularly aware of this because I went from one meeting to another, nearly seamlessly, but also without the transition time I have come to enjoy on my bike.

Second, I picked up quite quickly on how much my being in a car reduces my experience of the communities I pass by to that of mere “observer,” rather than a participant. Slowly over recent months, I have begun to expect more active participation in my transportation, as well as exercise, time for reflection, and the opportunity to observe people and nature.

It has never been my intention to replace my car with my bike, but over recent months I have largely done so. What struck me today was how much I now value the experience of cycling in addition to its obvious savings and health benefits.

I still would take the car today if I had to do it over again, though. Sheesh.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Out-and-about in Ordinary Time

This time of year is, in the Church Calendar, known as “ordinary time.” That means the weeks are numbered (ordered) from a previous important feast, in this case, the Feast of Pentecost. We are coming to the conclusion of this season now; soon the Church Year will start all over again with Advent. Preparations are well underway for this in the parish, just as preparations for the "Commercial Christmas" are well advanced in town, now that Halloween is over.

The phrase “ordinary time,” though, has significance for me outside of the churchly. It always reminds me that the vast bulk of our life is ordinary, common, typical. It is so easy to become dulled to the significance of daily events, perhaps especially in a mechanized world where so much is automated or reduced to impersonal transactions.

As I travel around town on pastoral calls using a bike, this automated rush is challenged. First of all, I happen to meet many parishioners and other town acquaintances with surprising regularity. That helps hold together already-formed relationship. Second, I often meet new people, making acquaintance with folks I may or may not meet again. Third, I see the community in which I live in new (and sometimes painful or challenging) ways. Finally, I find myself much more integrated into the natural setting in which this city is placed: the rhythms of the seasons, the connection between our environment and the population, the fact that what humans build is always in a dialogue (acknowledged or not) with the created order from which it arises.

So, while it may be at the end of “ordinary time” in one calendar, in another reckoning, the ordinary time isn’t ordinary at all: it is always—at least potentially—extraordinary

How have you found the extraordinary in and through getting out of your car and cycling along? That would be interesting to hear about.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Silent Ride, Holy Ride

Normally, this communion set is in my bag, but it photographed a lot better this way!

An important part of my way of life is bringing Communion to people who cannot come to church. This connects them to God, to our community, and to a sense of themselves as significant, real, and valued when some matters in their life would suggest otherwise.

To bring Communion, a priest usually has a traveling communion set. Along with a few books and other items, it forms a sort of “instant church” experience at a person’s home, or in hospital, a rehabilitation center, or other location.

A great privilege in my cycling life is to bring  Communion to people via bicycle. The ride to them is often a time of prayerful preparation, the ride away a time to reflect in the quiet and peace of cycling about what we spoke of and how God is present in this situation.

Again and again, I value not only the pace but the peace of urban cycling. One finds much more quiet and room for reflection than one would have thought possible in a car, where the sense of urgency is so much greater. I find that my visits made via bike are often more focused, more centered on the person and event at hand, and that is always the right way to bring and share Holy Communion.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Hurrah... and I take it all back.

A few days ago I was lamenting the leaves collecting in the street on one of my favorite cross-town thoroughfares, and expressed some frustration with the lack of leaf removal--with the resultant piles of wet, ground-up leaves making cycling on this fairly well-travelled (by car and bike) road rather dangerous. Well, today I was delighted by the appearance of a mini-army of leaf-removal apparatus: tractors, loaders, and dump-trucks. This signaled a transformation of the road. Add a street-sweeper (later in the day), and you have a marvelously comfortable and scenic ride under gorgeous autumn foliage--until the leaves pile up again. Predicted dry weather should make it last a bit longer.

All of this brings up the work done by city employees to keep streets passable through the year. Cycling keeps one in touch with the world a lot more (I am surprised how many people I meet and chat with while going about my travels), and this includes noticing all of the, well, garbage on the roads. With improvements in tires, one can go a long while without a puncture... but there are still a lot of things in the road that require removal. And there are squads of people who do just that for us.

Cyclists can get a bit shrill at times about all of the problems we face dealing with infrastructure set up for cars alone, or projects that seem to be undertaken for bikes with little sense of how a bike actually works. Sometimes this is quite legitimate, but at other times it is just more of the usual American sport of griping. Gratitude for blessings, kindness, and beneficial hard work where it is encountered should always be offered. Today, I found myself quite grateful for some equipment cleaning the leaves (and assorted other odd bits) from the side of the road. 

What have you been grateful for on the road lately?

Monday, November 7, 2011

From auto to bike, in stages

While I still own a car and will need one for the foreseeable future, I have been in the process for some time now of moving from using an auto for short-runs and daily commuting. I began by saying to myself that I would not use the car for trips from home to my office (in my case, a church) under “normal” circumstances.

This, in itself, made an enormous change. Suddenly I was using the car much less. In addition to cutting my fuel bill down dramatically, all sorts of other things began to happen: combining trips became important, making sure I packed a lunch (thus spending less on meals and trips back home for lunch), organizing my day to avoid peak travel times when possible, learning multiple routes and the neighborhoods along the way, and the like.

I then began to make more of my pastoral calls via bike. In my spiritual tradition, that means often bringing communion to members of the community. I had done this years before in a much smaller town, but now I began to do it anew. The hospital is on the way, as well, and it has good bike parking facilities: so, that too was added to the list.

The same with lunches/coffee out. This is a preferred way for folks “in my line” to meet with others, and many of the places I meet with people are in between where I live and where I work. Another part of my driving could now convert to cycling (the photo is from one such coffee meeting).

Eventually, I began to organize my schedule of visiting people further out (and I have some significant driving to do from time-to-time, as well some folks in terrain just too hilly for me to bike). Now, outside of emergencies, I am often able to limit my own car use to one day a week.

The point of all this is to say that becoming a “transportation cyclist” has been a step-by-step process for me. I don’t have a narrowly-defined “goal” for this: it is work in progress. Mostly I am trying find the right balance that leads to enjoyment, good health, connection with the environment and community, effectively living out my work, and cutting down costs.

One of the things I most enjoy about many cycling blogs is the various ways people have come to integrate biking into their lives overall. For me, it continues to be part of having a life where all the parts make sense individually and together. I doubt I’ll get there completely, but to be making some progress in this regard has been delightful, especially in a time when so much of the news we hear isn’t very inspiring or hopeful.

Domestic Cycling Infrastructure—on the cheap

A grand thing about cycling is that in many ways it is remarkably economical. The purchase price of a new, fully-equipped Dutch bike is nothing to sneeze at, but once that is done, many of the things that follow are pretty reasonable. True, when I finally decided on some rear panniers the cost was commensurate with the quality and durability—but in every other area, it has been remarkably un- “budget-busting,” from finding decent rain-gear on sale (who needs the latest?) to my solution to the parking issue in our garage.

I have a very small garage, built for something like a Model T. With a car in the garage much of the time, there is not a great deal of room for anything else. Just having a bike, ready to go, in the same space was a little bit of a challenge. There wasn’t enough room for it to rest on the kickstand (the current stand requires the bike to lean at too great an angle), and propping it against the wall resulted in a few occasions when it fell against the car as I was loading it. Hmmmm. I could purchase an expensive bike stand… or, I could jury-rig a solution using an eye-bolt and a bungee cord I already had. Presto! A way to keep the bike upright that is effective, easy on the paint, and very inexpensive. No big deal, of course—just another example of the way cycling tends towards simplicity and satisfaction.

With the bikes I own, I could leave them out of doors all the time and they would fare OK. Garaging them just makes it a bit more convenient, and allows me to keep them dry and close to the small amount of “gear” involved. Having it all fit into a small space is an added bonus.

Have you found any ways to do some “Domestic Cycling Infrastructure” on the cheap? I’d be interested to know.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Saturday Cycling in November

Today was a typical Saturday: sleeping in a bit, some coffee, brunch, time in prayer, and then off to my "office," if you will--a church across town. It's about 4 miles, depending on my route. It begins with a lot of downhill (meaning uphill for the return, of course), and then a leisurely traversal of our city's core.

This time of year, it also means rain and leaves. When dry and crunchy, leaves present some of the ultimate cycling pleasure... what is it about tossing up a billow of leaves and hearing them under one's tires that makes for such enjoyment?

But, when wet and ground into a kind of paste, they make for some nasty, slip-prone cycling. One of my favorite streets in town this time of year is an amazing display of green-going-to-yellow; riding under it is almost mesmerizing. But now it is becoming dangerous, forcing me out from where the bike lane would be (if there were one) into the jealously-guarded lane of auto-traffic.

The city's street-cleaning protocol does not seem to take cyclists into account here, as leaves tend to be allowed to stack up and become enormous soggy heaps for long periods between pick-ups. Sadly, this is one of the best cross-town streets here for slower cycling. So, I'm taking a different bike route while the leaves are on the road... I'll miss this street, though.

This brings up for me a long-standing question: why is it assumed that cyclists want to travel on the busiest roads? So many bike lanes are just where I wouldn't want to go: next to major arteries with lots of trucks, noise, and distractions.
That aside, it was a pleasant-enough day for a ride--if you had rain gear!

When the day's activities were done, the sun was close to going down. The rain was light, but steady. I had on my rather bright yellow raincoat and some new rain pants. The splash of the raindrops always catches one at first, but then I settled into the pleasant rhythm of my leaf-litter-avoiding route home.

When I come home in the rain on my bike, the house always seems extra cozy, extra wonderful. In so many ways, moving from a car to a bike changes one's perspective and fosters a more direct encounter with life. In addition to slowing down life to a more sane pace, it also fosters gratitude--like the gratitude one feels for a warm, dry house after a mid-fall ride in the rain. Feeling that kind of thankfulness for the things more automated life tends to take for granted is a real gift, and something I think we need more of if we are going to get healthier and care more for each other, our communities, and our environment.

How does your November riding experience encourage gratitude? Or, have you put your "steel steed" away for the season? If so, perhaps you might want to think again.