I believe in commuting to work by bicycle. Sometimes I think of a great lesson plan as I bike the 12 miles to school. Sometimes I obsess over a difficult interaction with a student. But mostly my mind wanders and watches the world for that glorious hour and a half where I am completely unplugged from modern life but plugged into the natural rhythms of the world. I’ve never missed the first robins of spring or the pungent almond blossoms bursting open. For a good part of winter, the morning commute is pitch black except for my headlight and the stars. At 6:30 a.m. the country road is empty, so I often turn off the light. It’s a slice of the sublime to bike under Orion’s watchful gaze.
Bicycle commuting is not always joyful. Sometimes it’s cold, or wet, or I’m too tired. But when I don’t ride, I get the anxious feeling that something isn’t right, like when you brush your teeth but forgot to floss.
Like most of my friends, colleagues, and students, I live a frenetic life. The only thing bigger than my “to do” list is the pile of ungraded essays. I rush to finish one thing in order to rush to the next. But by its nature, the pace of life changes when you are traveling at 16 miles per hour versus 60. In Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury writes that people are always in a hurry, that they have no time to enjoy anything. My students always nod when we read this. When they learn that the book was published in 1953, before computers, iPods, and cell phones, their jaws drop; for they know that life moves exponentially faster today.
I believe in cycling to work because it’s a built-in daily workout. Its carbon footprint is minuscule. I don’t fret over the price of gas. On the other hand, transporting a ton or two of steel to carry me and a few papers 12 miles makes as much sense as using a clothes dryer instead of a clothesline on a summer day when the ambient temperature is above 90 degrees. Sure, I can use the dryer, and sure, I can drive the car, but given the state of the atmosphere and the thickness of my wallet, better options exist.
Students are always fascinated by the bike. I suppose that if someone were to take a poll five years after graduation and ask students what they remembered from Mr. Biers-Ariel’s class, some might say, “He showed us the dirty jokes in Romeo and Juliet,” others, “He always screeched about where to put the stupid commas,” but I bet there would be a larger contingent who would answer, “He rode his bike from Davis.” And if that were the case, I wouldn’t be sad.
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