idol survivor | daily-fic challenge, day 12 | 1340 words
If anyone had told me a year ago that I would someday miss biking near my office, I would have thought they were crazy. I had a 27-year history with that whole experience, ranging from danger and discomfort to mere inconvenience, not to mention the simple problem of boredom. But it turns out, boredom can have multiple aspects.
The micro-level boredom was obvious, but the meta-level boredom from losing that office option was not.
Near our house, we have a bike path that runs along the American River for a total of 30 miles. It's amazing—almost entirely shut off from traffic (except for a few access roads), and the main hazards are other cyclists, pedestrians, and randomly suicidal squirrels. It's one of the best features of this area.
Near my office, things are very different. There are regular streets (though many are in a semi-rural setting) and the main hazards are cars, trucks, semis, cars, metal shards, nails, glass, construction-staples, and also, cars.
When I first started working there so many decades ago, more of the surrounding area was rural. There were entire roads (or even just long stretches of them) that had only a couple of stop signs, nothing more. In just ten or fifteen minutes, you could bicycle in one of several directions and reach farming or grazing land. Of course, you had to be alert to the possibility of grazing herds being ON the road, because sometimes they got through the fence.
The main advantage of those more rural areas, in addition to the change of scenery, was the huge reduction in "stops." Stop signs and stoplights can get really aggravating when you're trying to fit 15 to 20 miles of bicycling into your lunch break. You could also take lots of different routes, and do large or small loops, whereas the bike path only lets you go out and back in one of two directions.
But while that scenery looked more quiet and peaceful, the traffic on those roads was not! It was often fast and heavy, which was not always relaxing. There was no bike lane either—there was the shoulder (sometimes very narrow, as little as 4-10 inches wide in some of the worse spots), and the pavement there might be damaged or even missing (i.e., "chuckholed").
I think most regular cyclists have their own personal "rules" about which bicycling conditions are safe and which are not. For me, I either need to be able to be seen (no narrow, windy roads with blind curves) or I need room to get out of the way (more shoulder). All of my routes near the office satisfy one or the other of those conditions, but I still ride less often on the roads with little to no shoulder.
While the bike path near the house has lots of nice shady areas (which are especially important in our brutal summers), the roads near my office do not. Most of them are out in the tree-less open, where they absorb the full scorching effect of Sacramento's heat. They also fall prey to the heavy crosswinds we get here in the late Fall through early-to-mid Spring—the kind where sudden gusts can push you right out into traffic. It's peaceful-looking scenery, but nerve-wracking bicycling in almost every other respect. \o?
Still, I used to do a lot of "adventuring" on those nearby roads, especially in the Spring (after feeling cooped-up for months). I tried new routes from time-to-time, or revisited ones I hadn't been on in ages. This was more common when I biked longer distances—i.e., 24-30 miles instead of just 17-21 miles. There was one in particular that I referred to as my "amnesia route." That one was 26 miles, and could only be done in early Spring (before the winds shifted direction) because there was a long, 8-mile-or-so stretch on questionable pavement that was slightly uphill. It was okay with a slight tailwind, but you wouldn't want to slog through it in a headwind. There was also no place to "opt out" and return early on that loop, and the actual experience was always less fun than I had hoped. Hence, the "amnesia route" label. I only did it every 2-3 years, and only when it had been long enough since the last time that I'd forgotten how not-great it was. My last trip was probably 8-10 years ago, and included the surprise of a large, loose, bicycle-hating German Shepherd and the addition of a casino bus on one of the more narrow, winding legs of the loop. That's the kind of thing you remember. :O
I had mixed success with the exploratory journeys. Some became regular routes, and others… Well, there was the large loop a friend recommended, that went 6-7 miles out on a road that paralleled one I rode regularly, and then cut over to that more familiar road for the return. THAT was interesting—less of a "farm" vibe and more of a "large pickup trucks and guns" vibe. I did that one once, all the while keeping an eye out for an impending Easy Rider catastrophe. I can only think that my friend might have experienced that route differently as a man than I did as a woman.
There was also the winding spur that was shadier than I thought and had very little shoulder, so there just wasn't enough visibility to feel safe. It had a few very un-picturesque spots where people had elected to dump dead sofas and mattresses rather than pay to take them to the dump. Ugh. People are assholes—who pulls up next to someone's fence and decides to just leave their trash there?
Speaking of things that are dead, I sometimes joked that biking near the office was less Tour de France and more Tour de Roadkill. While the bike path features a lot of interesting creatures, the roads near my office mostly offered dead birds (a lot of golden hawks in one particular stretch), dead snakes (why?), and in certain areas… dead frogs lying on their backs with their arms up in the "Praise Jesus!" position. What was up with those frogs? Were they fleeing field-fumigation? Were they mating-season inspired, and had hopped toward potential romantic partners but struck the sides of cars instead?
Were those frogs Raptured?!?
I think the dead mice and shrews on that road were either poisoned or flooded out when the fields were planted with rice crops every year. But frogs can swim, so that was always mystifying.
There were living creatures, too. Once I got away from the more "citified" areas, red-winged blackbirds would show up on powerlines and in trees and bushes. There was the occasional egret flying overhead, random ducks floating in large, post-rainstorm puddles, and once I even saw a goose paddling away in a drainage ditch that it probably thought was a little stream. There were horses from time-to-time, and goats, and the surprise appearance of a couple of donkeys and some little ponies at one property that had never had animals before.
Cattle would come and go, temporarily grazing in fields and then being moved elsewhere weeks or months later. One field would host about 40-head of "random," with five or more breeds represented and every now and then, a Brahma bull.
So, a year later now, I have become a "permanently remote" worker. I may never go back to working at the office, and may never bike near there again.
I don't miss biking in so much traffic, or the road-hazards waiting to destroy my tires. I don't miss the horrific, unshaded heat, or the need to know where various neighborhood drinking fountains are hidden for those days when whatever water I brought along just wasn't enough.
But sometimes, evaluating my choices of riding upriver and back or downriver and back, I do miss the variety of all those possible routes.
And even more, thinking of those little donkeys or that alien-looking Brahma bull, I miss the potential for bizarre surprises.