I conducted a cycling experiment yesterday in which I was the subject. I drive. A lot. I mean, a real lot. I live in Bloomington but work in Noblesville. Many of you don’t know this because, well, like a good cyclist, I really don’t complain a lot. Except to my wife, but she knows how to handle my bluffing. It’s a 72 mile commute, one way. Now don’t get me wrong, I love my job, I am making a difference and I am adding to the GDP. But I am using a lot of gas and probably singlehandedly increasing Indiana’s carbon output, which I don’t feel great about. So, I have figured out a way to semi-commute. Here’s how it works, in theory. I drive to work on Monday and then back home Monday night. On Tuesday, I drive to work (bike on the roof and a change of clothes in the car), but on the way home (about 6:30pm) I stop in Martinsville, parking somewhere in town, and cycle 22 miles home down Mahalasville to Low Gap to Anderson and Old 37. On Wednesday morning, I leave the house at 5:00am, cycle the same 22 miles to Martinsville, get to my car, and drive the 50 miles to the office, etc., and so on, doing this until other reasons prevent it (like getting a life).
Back story. I’ve been having this dream lately. It’s a derivative of my hunter/hunted series in which I am the latter of the two. In this variation, I am cycling hard and a mysterious, shadowy person is in pursuit. I usually wake up in a sweat. He has never caught me. Also, I’ve been an epic night commuter before. When I worked at Cannondale and lived in Bridgeport, CT I would cycle to work and back (20 miles one way) through Fairfield county. In Vermont, as a bike shop mechanic in Manchester I would cycle from Weston on Route 100 to the bike shop and back almost daily over Bromley Mountain.
So, I decided to start this macabre commute this week, or at least try it out. Yesterday I drove up to work, bike on roof, change of clothes in the car, lights charged, winter cycling kit loaded. I was having trouble staying focused late in the day so I left a few minutes early to beat the rush to route 69 S. I changed along the way (please don’t try this) and in just over an hour I was in Martinsville. The sun was setting and the temperature was just above freezing. I was eager to get started as I was looking at this more like an event than a commute. Lights. Check. Toe warmers. Check. Car locked. Check. Off we go. I hit it pretty hard, turning the lights on just after getting to Low Gap a few miles later. The road was deteriorating just as it was getting really dark out. But my lighting system was doing its job and I could see the road and pick out the potholes and debris. I was able to navigate the eastern edge of the Morgan Monroe State Forest without much difficulty. I turned onto Anderson, threw in a windup at one of the World’s sprint point lines, turned toward home on Old 37 and finished up over firehouse hill.
Now, I felt pretty darn good about pulling this off. I was able to save a gallon of gas, get a ride in, not be too disruptive on the family and get home in time for Idol. I washed and dried my kit, charged the batteries, checked over the bike. I had to call it an early night because, to make my time check (for work) I needed to be at my car for about 6:15am. So I would have to leave at 5:00am to ensure this. However, the night passed uneventfully and I hit all the right buttons (not including the snooze) in the morning, brought along a water bottle of hot tea and was on the bike and out of the door at 5:00 sharp. The cold was breathtaking and the quiet was deafening. Yesterday’s climb up firehouse hill at the end of my ride was a welcome increase in warmth, this morning, it was a bone chilling roller coaster descent right at the start. Time and space seemed out of synch as I turned down Anderson. The utter darkness, the extreme cold and the small beam of light all conspired to create this surreal sensation, compressing time but lengthening distance. Landmarks that were familiar on these often traveled routes were now set at great distances from one another. I turned up Low Gap and realized that I would be generally ascending through most of the forest. My speed was falling; 18, 17, 16 mph. I was standing hard on the pedals as I climbed through the forest. The bare trees bordering the road cast eerie shadows as my headlamp scanned for critters. I heard a crash in the underbrush as a deer tap-danced across the road some distance behind me. The road was broken up badly as I picked my way through this section, becoming aware of my labored breathing, watching this barren landscape through the condensation in the cold beam of light. I kept thinking of those dreams that I had been having. I felt a chill on my back that wasn’t from the cold. “Stay focused.” I think I said out loud. Then I broke through the forest. The road leveled out. The potholes were replaced with a centerline. The lights of Martinsville appeared in the distance.
I got back to my car after being out for only an hour and 12 minutes. It had a thin sheet of ice on it. I put the bike on the roof and as I looked up toward the waning moon I saw the constellation Orion, the hunter, high in the Southern sky. I started the car, wrapped myself in a blanket and headed toward work.