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Story Last modified at 6:39 p.m. on Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The five hardest parts of biking to work
Mountain Echos

By Frank E. Baker

Editor's Note: As part of the annual Bike to Work day on May 19, Frank E. Baker and about 35 other BP employees and contractors took to the streets for a two-wheeled commute. He shares his thoughts this week on that experience.

For me, the hardest part of biking to work was getting out of bed. Several years ago my wife bought the super top-of-the-line mattress, and it's not only a joy to get into at night, but difficult to leave in the morning. It brings to mind a passage from Shakespeare: "Parting is such sweet sorrow."

According to family lore, my German ancestors were all farmers and I should be genetically wired for getting up early. Not so. I think I came from a branch of the family that stayed up late keeping watch over livestock in case of predators, and that we were allowed to sleep a little later in the mornings. I've always had excellent night vision and liked staying up late.

The second hardest thing about biking to work was trying to figure out what to wear. As you know, my credo is to look good instead of feeling good, and despite searching the entire house, I couldn't find any Spandex. Besides looking sleek, I really think Spandex makes you ride faster. So I crawled on my bike wearing my polyester hiking pants from REI. "At least they're black," I reassured myself. My blue Marmot windbreak matched my bike, as well as my helmet, and my Marmot leather gloves were quite smart, if I say so myself. If I pedaled fast, no one would notice that I didn't have special shoes for toe clips.

The third hardest thing about biking to work was connecting on the bike trail through a couple of big intersections. Had I been paying attention I would have spotted the correct route, but I was distracted by the sight of litter and trash that I thought was supposed to have been picked up during the annual spring cleanup campaign. I will say, however, that Anchorage is more bike-friendly than Houston, where I lived for five years. It wasn't difficult to find either sidewalks or bike paths on my 15-mile ride from Eagle River into the heart of Anchorage. All of the street crossings I encountered, even where there weren't bike paths, have graduated curbs, and strategically placed signage was helpful.

The fourth hardest thing about biking to work was fitting my computer into a waterproof bag and placing it on my bike's rear pannier carrier. After a few minutes of wrangling bungee cords, I got the load balanced and secure. It was sure preferable to having the weight on my back. I forgot how heavy my computer is.

The fifth hardest thing about biking to work was finding a place at the bike rack when I got to work. According to Mike DiFilippo, health promotion specialist with Moody, Inc., a BP contractor, about 35 BP Alaska employees and contractors in Anchorage rode to work May 19, and of those, only two rode in from Eagle River. The farthest bicycle commute was more than 30 miles round trip, including some who came from Hillside.

"One employee ran to work from Eagle River" – about 18 miles one way," said DiFilippo.

The easiest thing about biking to work was the ride itself. From Eagle River it was mostly flat. The weather was cloudy and cool, with very little wind. I calculated it would take me about 1-½ hours and it actually took 1 hour, 20 minutes, and that included a couple of lost-trail disorientations. I didn't set a speed record, but it was good enough for me.

Safety checks: I went through the safety checklist at home, making sure my bicycle was in good working order. That part is challenging for me, in that I have about as much mechanical aptitude as my dog. But I recently had the bike tuned up at a local shop and it was running great. I made sure I had my helmet, gloves, windbreak/raincoat, water and a good tire pump. One of the most important things I did from a safety perspective was drive the route in my truck beforehand as closely as possible. I walked my bike across intersections instead of riding, which impedes one's ability to look in all directions.

Most of my route from Eagle River is in a heavy traffic corridor and free of Alaska's wild denizens, for example, moose and bears. DiFilippo encourages riders coming in from south and west Anchorage to be extra watchful for wildlife.

Overall, Bike to Work Day was invigorating and rewarding, saved me about $8 in gasoline and gave me something to brag about in the office. And that night, our bed felt extra good.

Frank E. Baker is a freelance writer who lives in Eagle River.

This article published in The Alaska Star on Wednesday, May 25, 2011.