Why do I commute by bicycle you ask? Well, in a metropolitan area with over 2 million people competing for shrinking available space, roads that are jammed to capacity, drivers that are uptight, angry and aggressive, and working at a job that put me on the I-5 corridor for at least 45 minutes every morning and an hour every afternoon last year, I found myself becoming more and more stressed out in my life. OK, admittedly, the 2 hours of time spent cooped up in my car breathing exhaust fumes wasn't all of it. My job was stressful enough. And with the work I was doing, driving to the office was just a small portion of my on the job driving. In 2004/2005 I drove over 150,000 miles.
Now, I'm a guy who loves to drive. I was named after a racecar driver, Don Porter, from Redding, California. At the age of 5 I got in big trouble for driving Pop's '49 Plymouth coupe out of the driveway. All I did was push the clutch in and it rolled out of the driveway with me at the wheel, coming to a stop in the middle of the street. A year later, I took my sister's 26" girl's pink and white Schwinn, and coasted down 97th Street to Sandy, teaching myself to ride a bike. At 11, I got to drive Jack McCoy’s racecar around the track. He had to help me with the pedals. Later that day, he taught me how to shift gears in a street car with chunks of 2x4 taped onto the pedals so I could reach them. At 14, I did my first solo adventures in a car, both trips which netted me some genuine consequences, one of which resulted in me eventually arriving at a foster home on a 40 acre farm in Seal Rock, Oregon, where I learned how to operate Sonna and Butch's D-2 Cat. Throughout all of this, I only had one bicycle of my own, an old clunker Pop bought fixed up for my 10th birthday. It was stolen that summer out of our garage and he never got me another one.
After I got out of the Marines, I moved to Boise and rode my brothers Windsor Deluxe around town for chores. A couple of months later, Pop gave me a '62 Studebaker Lark. All was right the world. It burned a lot of oil and one morning it started to make some noise. We found it was very low on oil. David suggested I use the quart of transmission fluid we had in the trunk until we could get to the station. Six blocks later the engine seized and that was the end of the “stud” as I had named the green box of a car. I replaced it not with a bike but a 1949 International KB-1, and have never been without a car since, except for a one year period in 1975/76 when I lived in Portland and had a bicycle that I rode everywhere until it, too, was stolen. Then I walked or hitchhiked.
But I really liked to drive. As soon as I could afford one, I bought another truck. I love cars and love trucks even more. And even more than that, for some unexplainable reason, I love John Deere tractors.
In 1988, having received so many speeding tickets I was always at risk of losing my drivers license, I decided not to drive for a whole year. I bought a new Raleigh Technium Skylight and rode it to work every day. After a year, I got my drivers license back and forgot all about riding my bike, except for some short, family rides with my boys on the bike trail. I always made sure they had bikes. In 1991, a friend invited me to ride Chilly Hilly with him and in order to do so; I needed to get a few miles in. So I rode my bike to work a few days. Then we decided to do STP and needing to get in shape, started riding to work once or twice a week when weather was nice. Now the cycling bug really had me and I started to look for ways to bicycle rather than drive and got the kids interested in doing endurance cycling.
In 2006 I really began to look seriously at being a daily bicycle commuter. After two years living out of my car, and putting in over 150,000 miles behind the wheel, I needed to do two things; first was to stave off the effects of the depression I was developing from being exposed to so much devastation following seven hurricanes and adjusting claims with so many people who had lost so much, and second was to relieve some of the stress I had from spending so much time driving. Where once I truly loved driving, I found myself dreading driving to work every day. The dilemma was I needed car to do my job.
I tried various techniques in order to bike commute when I could, but it was difficult. With a ride of 27 miles one way, if I rode all the way into the office I needed to eat two breakfasts and was ready for a nap by 10:30 a.m. Typically, I would drive to the office on Monday and ride home, leaving the car at Logboom Park overnight. This gave me a 20-mile commute and I didn't have to finish the ride with a 7-mile climb, which left me sweaty, and without shower facilities. I tried busing part way, too. On numerous occasions, however, I would get assignments overnight that meant I needed my car leaving the house in the morning but it was in Lynnwood. It was never convenient and almost as stressful as driving because of all the complications.
When given the opportunity to change jobs in April 2007, I jumped at the chance. If it meant giving up some of my independence of being a field adjuster, it provided me with an opportunity to reduce my stress levels dramatically. Instead of spending a half hour every morning trying to prepare myself for a stressful drive to work, I found myself excited about leaving the house and arrived refreshed and with a clear head.
All of this of course is all on a personal level and doesn't take into account any of the political ramifications of my heavy reliance on oil during a time of war in which it appears to me that our principal interest is not as much based upon our interest in making the world a better place for others to live but rather, our interest in dominating the shrinking pool of resources in the world. It gives me great pleasure when I look at the last year of my life and know that I have at least done a small part to make us just a little less demanding of these precious resources and at the same time have done at least a little bit better in reducing greenhouse gases.
None of us is truly independent. Each day my decision whether to drive or ride my bike affects those around me. Of course, the bicycle is not a solution to all of the world’s energy problems. But in the greater scope of things, I believe I make the world a better place on two skinny little tires burning 600 calories on the way to work rather than a gallon of gas.
Politics and energy aside, I suppose the greatest reason I ride my bike to work is because I truly love riding my bike and would really rather do that than just about anything. The improved health, reduced stress, reduced expense, reduced greenhouse gases, reduced consumption of vital resources and everything else are simply a side benefit that is gained by doing something that is fun and I can't get enough of in the first place.