Bike to Work Day is designed to encourage people who usually drive to ditch their cars and give pedal power a try – and that’s what I did.
The organizers convinced me. On Thursday, I decided to forgo merely reporting on the event as I usually do and joined the estimated 100,000 cycling participants across the Bay Area.
No huge obstacles loomed. I live in northwest Napa near Alston Park and the Napa Valley Register is located a mere 4.5 miles away at Soscol Avenue and Vallejo Street. The Napa Valley Vine Trail goes for most of the route. Bike to Work Day is made for people like me.
I had the doubts that many cycle-commute newcomers might experience. Being mechanically inept, I would probably fail in any attempt to fix a flat. I could call my wife to pick me up, but that would be an embarrassing end to this story.
Plus, being a reporter, I might be assigned a story later in the day in some far-flung place such as the top of Atlas Peak. Would my editor lend me his car or tell Mr. Bike Commuter to start pedaling?
Fortunately, Bike to Work Day features energizer stations with experts to answer questions. I left my house at 7 a.m. and biked to the nearest one along my route about two miles away at Redwood Road and Solano Avenue.
The station had bananas, scones and other treats, but that’s not what I wanted. I wanted a little renewed inspiration.
“So why am I doing this? What do I get out of this?” I asked Dame Rahal and Bob Hillhouse, who staffed the station.
“It’s healthy – healthy for your physical body and mind,” Hillhouse said. “It’s great for the environment. It helps the congestion of the cars on the road.”
“It reduces stress,” Rahal said. “It brings you back to a child on a bike.”
“It feels good,” Hillhouse said. “Driving is stressful. Biking is a stress release.”
Well, not always. I recalled that at my journey’s start, a car had failed to stop at a side street and turned right in front of me, forcing me to hit the brakes. That wasn’t the way I had intended to get my heart pumping.
But the next part of my journey took me on that bike freeway that is the Napa Valley Vine Trail. Plenty of bikers and walkers and no cars. I enjoyed the cool morning, listened to the birds singing and took in the graffiti covering a fence.
I came to another energizer station at Jefferson Street and met cyclist Stefanie Pratt. She doesn’t own a car and bikes seven miles to work each day. She’s biked across the country three times.
Perfect, a biker with experience. What, I asked her, does a bike-commuting neophyte like me need to know?
“You need to know the rules of the road,” she said. “Probably be prepared to change clothes (at work).”
In general, drivers are good about keeping cyclists safe, she said.
“I’ve developed a hard look at people who come out of turns and parking lots,” she said. “I want to be sure they see me.”
Unfortunately, I forgot to have her demonstrate that hard look. I’ll have to develop one of my own that commands attention, but doesn’t unleash laughter.
I looked at the blueberry muffins on the energizer station table and pondered whether eating one would cancel out all of the virtue I was accumulating by cycling.
From there, it was a quick trip to the Napa Valley Register. Drivers stopped for me at the street crossings even when they didn’t have to do so. The Register has a bike locker in the parking lot, making storage no problem. Everything was so easy.
Did I plan to bike again any time soon? You bet. After all, I still had to go home at the end of the day.
Beyond that, I don’t think so. My hobby of running provides me with plenty of exercise. Biking to work leaves me the problem of what to do if that Atlas Peak story assignment comes up.
But for this year’s Bike to Work Day story, at least, I did more than write the words. I rode the ride.