You'd think that, after 27 years riding the same route, making the transition back to bike commuting in the early spring would be a simple matter of putting on the clothes, pumping up the tires,and pedaling instead of driving. It's not.
The car is a great enabler. You can throw things into the car on the off chance that you might want them. They can rattle around in there for days and weeks, unless you live in a high crime area. You can slouch out there in whatever you're wearing, flop into the driver's seat, and off you go.
My commute, at around 15 miles each way on rural roads and highways, is more of a journey and a real bike ride than someone would face on a shorter, perhaps more urban route. The transition would be easier at distances and on terrain more suited to riding in street clothes. Even so, the car still functions as a big barge full of junk. That can be seriously habit forming.
When I was more of an athlete than anything else, shifting from one mode of transportation to another was less daunting because I was in habitually better shape. But the time allocated to my obsessive fitness routine was time I did not have for anything else. To be ready to bust out of the snowbank and sprint down the road, I had to maintain the training wave all year. A writing teacher of mine, as he faced his own challenges to physical vitality, said to the class, "a man's only got so much juice. He's got to watch where he squeezes it." As with every enigmatic statement of the wise, it could be interpreted in a few ways. I took it as a metaphor for time and energy.
This winter was particularly difficult. The weather kept shifting radically between snow and thaw. If your schedule fit the changing conditions, you might leap back and forth between dry-land modes and snow-based modes. If not, you would have to resort to indoor machines.
Indoor training is even less convenient than suiting up to go outdoors. You have to get psyched to marinade in your own sweat for as long as you can force yourself to stand it. If you don't go hard enough to get drenched, you did not go hard enough. You might make the case that you want to do some lower-intensity sessions, but then you have to stay on the machine for much longer, because that's how the training wave works. It's really easy to find better ways to spend your time. It's only a day. It's only a couple of days. Hey, it's been a week, but I was in good shape. Holy #%%, how did it get to be April?!
I look out the windows at a landscape still mostly white. It's not frozen, but the slush pile is still more than a foot deep in some places, and much deeper where the snow thrower or the shovel made piles beside areas that I cleared. Outdoor riding conditions were better in late February than they were for all of March. And then we started April with 10 more inches of snow.
To go to work by bike, I have to pare down to the essentials. This means not just the vehicle and its cargo capacity, but the bag I carry, as well. The handy day pack holds impulse items, just as the car does.
Then there's the time in transit. Riding takes just over twice as long as driving. While that's beneficial exercise, it also gets me home half an hour later than when I drive. Evening routines take longer with the addition of a shower. Supper time and bed time move closer together. There's less time for unstructured activity or free-range thought. I want to get back into the routine of self-propulsion, because I know that sitting too much is deadly, but -- after a winter of it -- I'm afraid I might discover that I'm too far gone. Having once had a high standard, how far below it will I find myself?