My husband and I knew what we wanted when we moved to Minneapolis from New York City four years ago: a house with a yard, jobs that provided a better work-life balance, and proximity to siblings and in-laws who would be supportive when we started our family. We got everything we wished for when we moved here with great jobs in local schools, a small house with a big yard, and adorable twin girls who are showered with love from doting grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. We love living in Minnesota. We ride our bikes to the lakes on beautiful trails and often walk to the little strip of commerce at West 54th Street and Penn Avenue.
What we gave up, however, were our happy commutes and the sense of community we gained from using public transportation and walking to get from point A to point B; plus, we added a few pounds because we were no longer walking to reach places. Most people would not say that their commutes bring them joy (it is the opposite), but a commute can provide one with a sense of peace, happiness and community. At the least, we should aim for our commutes not to inflict psychic pain.
Now that I am beginning my fifth year in Minnesota and have figured out that the road construction never ends, I decided to honor a promise I made to myself when we moved here: that I would bicycle to work as often as I could, an 18-mile round trip.
I am not a good bicyclist. I forget which arm to use and how to bend it to signal turns, I get nervous if someone is too close, and I am very, very slow. I resent those people who race the Tour de France at noon on a Sunday when everyone else is out for a Tour de Ice Cream Cone at Lake Harriet. I prefer a bike with a comfortable seat, a Dutch-style step-through design and a basket on the front. I want to sit up and see the sights and say hello to people on my route.
Over the summer, I practiced my commute a couple of times. I knew I needed to build confidence in my route and myself before proceeding alone. What I discovered is that I can commute almost all the way on bicycle paths. The only streets I traverse are in quiet neighborhoods — one mile at the beginning and end. My route is beautiful and safe.
The first day of my new commute was a recent Tuesday. I had been putting it off, nervous about beginning something new, but then I heard that our city leaders want more of us to use our public transportation, our paths, ourselves to get to work. I view this as a civic commitment.
I was nervous, when I started out, that I would be yelled at by some overzealous bicyclist who knew, just by looking at my ride, that I am not a serious biker. Not to worry. Almost everyone ignored me (even when I said hello) as they zoomed past, heads down, earbuds in, with nary a bell-ring or a cheery “on your left!”
This is what they, or anyone else who did not bicycle Lake Harriet, Bde Maka Ska, Cedar Lake and Theodore Wirth Park that morning at dawn missed: a loon calling at Lake Harriet (is there anything so hauntingly beautiful and lonely?) and sunrise over Bde Maka Ska with the Minneapolis skyline shimmering in rose in the distance. They missed cycling over Interstate 394 with backed-up traffic humming beneath and taillights glowing, and the cool, wooded expanse of Wirth Park.
I may have gotten to work a tad less fresh and a bit more rumpled, but my spirits were high.
Sarah Buntzman Strong, of Minneapolis, is a teacher.