Last week I rode my 163rd bike commute of the year, surpassing my previous high total of 162 commutes in 2012. This all got me to thinking: just how long have I been at this bike commuting thing and how many times have I done it. As it turns out, back in my 20s I was an avid distance runner. I started keeping a diary of my runs. I am pretty sure these diaries date back to the early 1980s. The first few years are filled with scribbles about running, how many miles I put on each pair of running shoes (It matters. Old shoes are nasty bad for your legs.), where and how fast I ran. One year I actually knocked out 3,000 miles of running. Looking back on that I am stunned at what kind of shape I was in.
About 30 years ago I moved to DC from Rhode Island. Rhode Island is a runner’s paradise. DC is a sweatbox. Needless to say, my running suffered. Then in 1985, I was playing volleyball after work on a business trip in Austin Texas. I went up for a spike and when I came down my left knee popped. That was pretty much all she wrote for my running days. Oh, I kept at it for a few more years but all I succeeded in doing was wrecking my right knee as I compensated for my left.
I started running when the short autumn days made riding a bike without a light after my grad school classes too dangerous. Looking back, I was bike commuting often to the economics department in Providence. I didn’t think of it that way. I was just getting around the most efficient way I could without a car. So I didn’t keep track. When I moved to DC, I worked in an office without showers so no bike commuting for me. That all changed when they put in a fitness center at work. I loved the treadmills and the stairmasters and the weights. And in 1990 I rode my bike to work a whopping 6 times. Whoa, Nellie. I even rode my trusty 1978 Raleigh Grand Prix. (It literally fell apart on the Custis Trail at the top of a hill near Rosslyn Virginia.) For whatever reason, I didn’t commute at all in 1991, but in 1992, as a new dad, I rode my bike to work 6 more times! What a stud!
In 1992, I rode to work 32 times, apparently a few times on my new Sequoia. In 1993, I dropped back to 27 commutes, most likely because of back surgery in the fall and dozens of rides pulling my boy and his toys in our Burley trailer. I rebounded in 1994 to 38 and backslid to 18 in 1995 when my daughter was born. 1996 and 1997 were fallow bike commuting years, with only 4 commutes each year.
Then I started climbing the ladder. 55 in 1998 and 62 1/2 (apparently a one-way commute was in there) in 1999.Then came a seven-year run of over 100 commutes per year peaking at 146 commutes in 2002. Along the way I learned that my bike was the best choice for getting to work during dark times like the 911 attacks and the DC sniper shootings.
I back slid in 2007 to 57 commutes and started to climb the ladder again: 66 in 2008 then 86 in 2009. I haven’t been below 100 since. In 2010 my commutes popped back up to 146, then 134 1/2 in 2011.
In those early years I refused to ride in the cold. Instead I’d prop a bike on an indoor trainer and watch movies. Two hours on a wind trainer can kill you. Many of the low numbers reflect the hectic schedule of a bike commuter in a two-wager earner, two-kid family. It kind of blows me away how busy our daily lives were. For a few years, the Woodrow Wilson Bridge construction fiasco made it possible for me to commute and pick the kids up at school. We couldn’t drive to my kids’ school and get to and from work. Traffic was awful. So I improvised. Mrs. Rootchopper drove the kids to school. I left early and drove to a point just outside the beltway, pulled my bike off the back of the car, rode to and from work, and fetched the kids in the evening. No more construction delays for me. (Yes, there were several days when my 10 mile evening ride to the car was fast and furious. But I was never late for the kids. Go ahead VDOT, make my day!
So what does it all add up to? In the last ten years, I’ve ridden my bike to work 1,117 times. Since 1990, I’ve done 1,937 commutes. Through back surgery, raising two kids, six eye surgeries, and lord knows how many other debacles and disasters, I have soldiered on. Of course, when it comes to snow and ice, I am a wimp. We all have our shortcomings.
My early commutes were often over 40 miles because I rode way out of my way on the way home to get some extra exercise. My shortest commutes these days are 6 or 7 miles between car dealerships and my office. So for the sake of simplicity, I’ll assume that my average commute distance has been 30 miles. Doing the math, that’s 58,110 miles.
Sometime in 2014 I’ll hit 2,000 commutes. When that happens, I’ll give some thought to retiring. Biking to work is starting to get old.