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Tuesday, September 7, 2010

My Life Before the Bicycle versus My Life After the Bicycle

I haven't been feeling well today, as if I have some sort of stomach bug.  I notice I don't feel comfortable at night and have trouble sleeping.  Still, this morning I rode my bicycle commute to work - National City to Kearny Mesa - and this evening I rode back.  15 miles each way, stomach bug or no stomach bug.  And that includes a couple of pretty steep hills.

If I had been driving a car - which is how I used to get to work - I would have debated long and hard this morning whether to go into work when not feeling well or just stay home.  One significant difference I've noticed since I began bike commuting one year ago is that I don't let feeling a little under the weather stop me from riding.  I'm not sure why that is.

At any rate I don't exaggerate when I say that commuting by bicycle has changed my life in significant ways.  There was the stellar physical exam where the doc told me, "The bicycle riding is really paying dividends."  Then there's the money saved not spent on gas.  That money of course is likely to be spent on goo-gads for the bike, but at least these accessories offer a more enduring benefit.  A bike bag or cool handlebars or a new gear cassette can used over and over again.  Whereas the gas can only be burned once, and then into the atmosphere it goes.

My actual purpose is commuting by bike - other than the health benefit and the smug satisfaction in doing something to reduce air pollution - was to slow my life down so I could enjoy it more.  Reflect more.  Spend more time doing things like posting to a journal no one reads. 

But something else happened that I didn't expect: I enjoy my commuting route and I enjoy the physical activity and discipline in riding a bicycle.  The last time I rode a bike as intensively was well over 30 years ago and - it pains me to say it - I got bored with it.  But not today.  These days when I ride I engage my mind in thoughts of gear combinations and when to shift.  When to slow down from a rapid descent.  When to push a little harder during a long climb.  Or I become otherwise lost in thought.  Such that I reach the apex of a steep hill before realizing it, the pain of the climb lost in contemplative distraction.  Sometimes I spontaneously solve a vexing problem, or feel inspired to try something new.  All while unconsciously pedaling and maintaining my balance. 

I also enjoy learning more about San Diego by riding to unfamiliar places.  It is amazing that after 53 years in this city, there is still new territory for exploration.  And what territory!  What a beautiful town!

San Diego is seldom mentioned in the national news.  Odd, because so much happens here.  I've never read an homage to San Diego.  Historical novels can only seem to see it's military origins or its seamier side.  Even Raymond Chandler (who once lived in the Bird Rock area) remarked that other than a beautiful harbor San Diego has nothing to offer.  Or words to that effect.  Who could live in 1950s-era San Diego and feel that way?

Personally, I find it amazing that more people aren't fascinated by this place.  I admit we're sort of our own worse enemy in that regard in that we promote this image of being a beach community, populated by suntanned beach people, drinking too much and listening to loud music and constantly partying.  To most thinking people that image becomes a bit monotonous, a bit shallow and uninteresting.  What could such a town offer, say, a professional couple from out of town?  Folks who enjoy good wine and music.  A quiet walk on the beach?  A contemplative afternoon in the low mountains?  Certainly not while San Diegans are consumed in a non-stop version of Beach Blanket Bingo!!!

I want to assure such people that there's so much more to San Diego than just the beaches or constant parties.  There's the east county hominess and country music, the South Bay straddling the international border, the North County ambitiousness, the northern beach communities reeking of money, the cloistered enclaves of the rich hidden from view, but also a problematic inner city and the uninspiring suburbs, the military bases, the business districts.  There is hill country.  There are mountains.  And there are glimpses of the desert.  There are reservoirs and wetlands.  And there is the predominant brown dustiness characteristic of a semi-arid region without enough water and too damn many people.

That is to say: San Diego is a wholesome city, a very complete city.  Everything that large cities offer anywhere in the U.S. ... in the world, for that matter ... can be found in San Diego.  Fine food.  Culture.  Wonderful people.

And San Diego offers a spectacular skyline.  It really is one of the most beautiful cities in the world.  And best of all...

It's a fantastic place to ride a bicycle.

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