This week, for the first time in nearly three years, I rode my bike to work. Back in May of 2001 when our offices were in the North End of Boston, I met a co-worker at his house in Dorchester and did the ride. The weather was miserable – steady rain and wind – and I was overweight and out of shape (no excuse, considering all the free time I remember having before becoming a dad). The distance was close to 15 miles one way, which is not a trivial ride. Fast forward to last Monday: my opportunities to commute by bike have shrunk to one day a week, when I don’t have to shuttle Andrew to day care. Our offices are now a couple miles closer to the house and my body is in much better condition. The weather, however, wasn’t so different. No good reason not to give it another shot.
After asking for route advice on the massbike mailing list, I decided to follow the Neponset River Trail to its end, then pick up Morrissey Avenue and follow it as it becomes Columbia and then Old Colony, which puts me pretty close to the Fort Point neighborhood where our offices are. I rode the route on Sunday morning so I could get all of my wrong turns out of the way when I didn’t have to contend with traffic. This turned out to be wise, as I made a couple of mistakes that added miles and precious minutes to the trip.
This time around I also had a different mount. Instead of my racing bike, I rode the single-speed bike I built up on a early-80s Trek road frame back in 2002. I had the foresight to flop-flop the rear wheel from fixed-gear to single-speed freewheel mode before I made the commute, rightly figuring that since my fixed-gear bike handling skills aren’t the best in the world, I probably didn’t need to fight the fixed gear and traffic at the same time. This bike is set up with flat, relatively high handlebars that make it pretty comfortable around town. Its major flaw is a short front-center exacerbated by the fat tires I’ve mounted, meaning that I have a generous amount of toe overlap. The front wheel hits my foot when I turn sharply.
The morning ride was mostly enjoyable – I left the house around 6:45am to avoid the worst of morning traffic. By the time I reached the trail intersection with Granite Avenue in Milton, the traffic was heavy enough that I had to detour a block up Granite to get to an intersection with a crosswalk. Traffic control at the trail intersection would be very nice, but it’s just a dozen yards or so from the drawbridge light, and the aforementioned intersection is maybe 100 yards away. Morrissey Ave was much better than I thought it would be. Car traffic was fast but not very heavy. I missed the roundabout and turned the wrong way on Columbia, but since I had made the same mistake on Sunday I caught it much earlier and got myself re-oriented. I arrived at the office about 45 minutes after I left home, having covered a shade less than 10 miles. If I hadn’t been stuck behind a big crane driving up A Street, I would have arrived a couple of minutes sooner.
The ride home was something else. I set off after 5:45pm and encountered heavier traffic and a light but persistent rain that had been falling for most of the afternoon. The rain slowed things down considerably, at least until I got back to Morrissey. After clearning the JFK/UMass T stop, the road opens up a bit and I found myself facing fast traffic headed toward the drawbridge. I elected not to ride the sidewalk over the bridge, and regretted it once I reached the 10-20 feet of steel expansion grate in the deck of the bridge. I didn’t have much trouble in the dry, but that grate certainly meets the criteria for “slippery when wet.” I felt my breathing and pulse quicken as I approached, and tried to relax my hands and arms and float over the grate. I managed to float rubber-side down, but just barely – I felt the front wheel nudge to the right as it dropped into a groove between two of the longitudinal steel beams. Next time, I’ll take the sidewalk, or maybe even Dorchester Avenue.
Once I made it over the bridge, things calmed down considerably. I turned back onto Freeport Street and caught up with another bike commuter. We rode together past Tenean Beach and on into Pope John Paul II park, back onto the Neponset River Trail. I arrived home soaked, salty from road and sea spray, and with a nice mud stripe up my back.
Can’t wait to do it again next week.