Commute Challenge

The bicycle commute challenge, hosted each September by the Bicycle Transportation Alliance (BTA), offers interesting incentives to be kind to our city.

I commute eight miles each way every day. The challenge asks that I log these miles online and encourages competition within and among employers. The numbers place me near the top even as a non-competitive guy.

Cyclists ride the freight elevator in my office tower. I chat with our BTA empowered team captain while we share a ride. Two weeks in I have not logged any miles. Am I not riding this year?

The Trip Log web interface where one enters their miles day by day during the Commute Challenge.

I am riding. I tried to log my first week but had some trouble with the site. My second week was riding on vacation but this wasn't commuting. On my third week I get on the new site and click up to 100% participation for eligible compute days.

I'm in the top third by miles for our company already. I'll drift up more as the days go by since I have a longer commute than many above me. But above them I see serious riders. I need more miles.

I check google's bicycle maps. My commute home start to finish is 8.1 miles but where can I drag the middle of route to double or triple that?

I check Portland doppler radar. If I go south I can ride the better part of an hour without rain. I settle for five extra miles and a 45 minute commute.

With small extensions I advance to fourteenth place in the team ranking. I need more miles.

I check the long term forecast. Broken clouds by Friday.

I check the time of sunset. 7:20 pm. I'll ride in the dark.

I'll head north on Friday. Vancouver is just over the river, over the state border, over three bridges each way. I've ridden this before to meet Mike for beer at the Low Bar Tavern. I check if he is available. Yes. More miles.

I'm worried that I'll get lost in the maze of twisty bike paths that wind among the clover leafs and frontage roads around each bridge. Lost in a dark rain. No fun.

I commute home Thursday via detour north to the Columbia Slew bike trail, a key shortcut I will have to find traveling both directions on Friday.

Friday is sunny. Beautiful. Lots of bikes in the office and everyone is talking about riding. I'm on my bike by 4:30. Roads are clear. Lights are green.

The Team Ranking shows that I am in a close fourth place by miles even with fewer commute days.

I'm at the Slew in no time. The fall sun is warm and friendly. Water, mud and trees to my left. Industrial Portland to my right.

I turn north again and start spotting bike route signs. These have four or five possible destinations each with travel times and directional arrows. Three minutes to Marine Drive east. Two minutes to Marine Drive west. Turn left for either. Straight for Delta Park. Yes, I go through Delta Park. I start scanning these signs more carefully.

The first time I rode through the labyrinth was when I daringly hopped out of my wife's car while stuck at a bridge lift. I'll peddle from here I said. I followed three other bikes south across the Columbia River on the aging bridge's narrow walks. On the other side they went their own way and I continued south only to find that I was on an island, Hayden Island, looking at water with the thundering I-5 highway overhead.

The second time over the bridge I followed an experienced commuter north. He had adopted me after I explained my fear of getting lost. He would yell back tips. Watch for traffic here, bad bumps here, keep left over here. He showed me the Slew cutoff. That's why I knew it was there. The second time was mid summer, the first time I rode up to see Mike. I couldn't remember all the advice I'd been given and got lost again on my return trip going south.

So now I'm on my third trip, past the Slew, reading route signs more carefully. Delta Park, yes, Marine Drive, no, Vancouver, yes, yes, that's where I'm going.

The paths fork and join repeatedly. At each intersection there are more signs, one for each direction of travel. They are all long. But they are there and they are correct.

I start to enjoy the twists and turns. The signs send me half a block away when I can clearly see the path just across the road. But the road isn't safe to cross there. It is a freeway exit ramp and drivers won't expect bikes crossing. So half a block detour here, two blocks extra to loop under the freeway there. It's a good route. It's like an amusement park ride.

I arrive at the Low Bar fifteen minutes early. I'm one beer ahead of Mike when he shows up on time. We talk about federated wiki for an hour. We run into friends of his, join them for dinner, and then tell them about federated wiki for another hour.

The ride home is quiet and pleasant. Only once did I almost miss a route sign. I back up, shine my bike light to read it, and then bear right instead of left as I had been proceeding.

At home I enter my 34.3 mile commute. Fourth place.

Today I'm thinking, someone bothered to put up all those signs. Thank you. Someone carved out space in our city for bikes even when routes weren't easy. Thank you. And someone cooked up this crazy competition that got me riding outside of familiar territory. Thank you.