About a month or so ago I decided I was going to start biking to work. This decision was fueled by a number of motivations, most of them practical: I don’t have my own car, I’m too cheap to ride the bus, and the daily commute back and forth from work would give me a little exercise, meaning I wouldn’t have to worry about paying for (not to mention actually using) a gym membership. Commuting by bike just made sense.
But if I’m honest, my major reason for deciding to bike to work was that I had a very specific idea of what kind of person biked to work—and I really wanted to be that person. I had a vision of a slim, fit environmentalist who ate lots of organic salads and used only recyclable products, making other people feel both impressed and ashamed when she walked into the room. Working at a new job where I often felt like the office idiot running around asking too many questions, I really wanted the chance to feel just a little superior, and this seemed like a great opportunity. If I showed up to work every morning on my bike, it wouldn’t matter if I made a stupid mistake or pestered my co-workers with endless queries. I could still have a small moment in which I knew they stood in awe of my fitness and environmental responsibility.
So, armed with my new ambition, I threw myself into preparations. I spent $500 on a brand new road bike, mapped out my route to work, and went for a test ride with my boyfriend. This went pretty well at first. The trail we were riding on was flat and easy. We live in Albuquerque, which is peppered with bike trails that are perfect for hours of effortlessly spinning your wheels. The only problem I had was that after thirty minutes or so in the seat, my butt began to hurt. And I don’t mean a little, slightly annoying hurt. I mean a “Get off this thing now while you still have lower extremities to work with” kind of hurt. Suddenly, as I peeled myself off of my bike seat, my ingenious scheme didn’t seem like such a hot idea.
My boyfriend assured me that this feeling would pass. “You’ll get used to it eventually,” he said. “You’ll develop butt calluses.”
This was not at all encouraging. I had no desire to have calluses on my backside, or to deal with a week or so of the pain required to get them. Still, I put my faith in his opinion since he had much more biking experience than I did. I decided to proceed with my plan. On Monday I rolled up my work clothes and stuffed them in my backpack, mounted my new bicycle, and headed off to the office feeling optimistic about my new form of transportation.
There was one thing, however, that I hadn’t considered before embarking on this adventure. I was prepared for the sore bottom, the extra weight of the backpack, and the modest (or a little more than modest) amount of sweat. I was not at all new to physical exertion—I ran, I swam, and occasionally I practiced martial arts with the filing cabinets at work. In general, I considered myself pretty fit. But I wasn’t a biker, and there’s one thing about biking that really, really sucks if you aren’t ready for it: hills.
I don’t know how many of you bike, but if you do you know exactly what I mean (unless you’re one of those über bikers who travel 30 miles a day and wear spandex at all times. If you are, don’t read this). There’s really no way to bike up a hill easily or gracefully, especially if it’s long and drawn out. You basically have two options: 1. You nearly bust your knees (and lungs) trying to get through it quickly in a higher gear, or 2. You switch to such a low gear that it no longer hurts as much but you essentially go nowhere, pedaling frantically just to advance a few feet, as normal people in their cars zoom past wondering what on earth is wrong with that dumbass on the bike. Either way, you aren’t in for a whole lot of fun.
My route to work involved a lot of hills. In fact, it was pretty much one big hill that lasted for eternity. Occasionally the incline would taper off for a brief moment of relief and I would think I had finally made it. I would cheer to myself: I did it! I rock! I’m a badass! Then the next hill would appear over the horizon and I would consider giving up and just turning around. How necessary was it for me to be at work on time, really? At one point I actually stopped and walked for a few minutes, having become so void of oxygen and strength I had trouble standing upright. I felt myself burning with embarrassment as drivers and pedestrians went by, sure they were inwardly mocking my inability to make it up a tiny little hill. But I remained determined, and after a short break I returned to my two wheels and headed for the next hill, bravely ignoring the angry screams emanating from my legs (not to mention my not-yet-callused butt).
Google Maps had claimed my ride would take 26 minutes. It took me 40 and I felt it. By the time I got to work I was tired, sticky, and thoroughly beaten to a sad little pulp. It was pretty hard to feel superior stumbling through the front door with tangled, sweaty hair and quaking knees while my co-workers looked on in their crisp work clothes and make-up. I shuffled to the bathroom to change and decided not to say anything about it; maybe they hadn’t noticed my loud panting and staggering gait and were secretly impressed. Or maybe they were just politely ignoring it.
I still bike to work almost every morning, and I am slowly becoming fit enough to make the trip with a relative amount of ease. But even so, I don’t think I’ll ever become that persona I once dreamed about. I will never be the cool, fit, modern hippie on the bike. In fact, I’m not entirely convinced that girl exists. If she does, she’s probably a freak of nature with thighs of steel. And she’s probably a bitch.