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Guest Writer

Enough about you
Gold star
by Rachel Mendez

want to be one of those people who bikes to work. I want to walk into work, take off my helmet, shake my hair loose and listen to the sounds of my cycling shoes clicking on the concrete floor – a sound which must make cyclists feel so proud, like a woman feels in loud high heels: "Notice me! My shoes are loud! I bike to work! I am healthy and I care for the environment! Click Click Click!"

Last month I signed up for the Bicycle Transportation Alliance's Bike Commute Challenge. At first I was excited to log in to the Web site and see my name listed alongside my coworkers who actually belong on the list, the ones who bike to work every day regardless of the month or the weather.

On this Web site, you get a gold star for every day you bike to work. As my coworkers' charts filled up with stars, mine remained mostly empty, day after day. I managed to ride to work twice. I wish I'd never registered. Now everyone can see, by my stars, how lazy I really am.

I encountered problems when I tried to be athletic and environmentally responsible. One problem was time. No matter how much I wanted to be able to wear a T-shirt that said "One Less Car" or "Go By Bike," I couldn't get myself up early enough to bicycle to work. I never leave myself enough time in the morning.

When I was a child, I used to hate getting teased on the school bus. I learned that if I wasted enough time in the morning, or forgot my lunch and had to go back to get it, or even hid from the bus, I would miss it and my mother would drive me to school. I do the same thing as an adult. I run up and down the stairs in the morning to get my jacket, my Walkman, lead for my mechanical pencil. I spend too long in the bathroom reading a magazine or I actually take the time to sit down and eat. Then I don't have time to bike to work and I have to drive.

If I could bike as fast as my boyfriend, I could pedal to work in the same time as it takes me to drive there. But I am not as fast as him. I am not as fast as most of the people on the road. I am not as fast as people who look like they are biking really slowly. My legs feel like they are spinning and spinning as I get passed by someone on a rusty, squeaking bike with a wheel like a Pringle.

Another problem I encountered in my plan to become a cyclist was comfort. Let's face it, riding in my 16-year-old car with windows that don't roll up is still more comfortable than riding the bike to work. In the car I can listen to NPR, drink coffee and apply mascara while stopped at red lights. On the bike, I have to work constantly and, when I pedal uphill, I have to wonder if my will is signed, dated and in an easy-to-find place, just in case my heart, which feels like it's going to explode, explodes.

Sure, I feel great once I'm at work and feel better all day long, but I pretty much hate every moment on the bike.

Maybe that's not entirely true. There are some great moments, like the downhill moments and the being-stopped-at-a-red-light-so-I-can-catch-my-breath moments.

But there's another reason I have trouble biking to work. It scares me. Cars become my enemy and I'm sure that some parked car is going to door me.

Apparently, I'm invisible to drivers with cell phones. Hang up, I urge them telepathically, stop fighting with your girlfriend and look where you're going! Every time some idiot driver nearly kills me I swear like a drunken sailor, shaking my fist in the air, ready to kick dents in their car. Without my shell of steel it's scary and I'm surrounded by SUVs with drivers applying mascara and drinking coffee.

So I only earned two gold stars last month for the Bike Commute Challenge.

Worse than that, I discovered something I don't like about myself: I'm not very athletic. I enjoy the stupid little conveniences provided by driving, those same conveniences the love of which damns our entire planet to extinction.

I'm not giving up, though. I'm going to get some gloves and something to wrap around my ears so they don't get so achingly cold. Today I saw a bike with a holder for a coffee cup. Maybe with those accessories I can give it another shot.

Meanwhile, I think I'll log back on to the Bike Commute Challenge Web site and add a few more gold stars next to my name. It helps to be positive about these things.

Find more from Rachel in our archives.

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