Stressing My Way to Work

  • Yesterday I drove to work for the first time in weeks. I honestly don’t know why anyone would want to use driving a car as a way to get to work. (I understand that many people have no viable option in the short term.) I was STRESSED OUT!!!!
  • On the way in, the waiting and merging and sudden stopping were an assault on my central nervous system. I played relaxing music (Mark Knopfler and Chet Atkins) and this helped some but not nearly enough. They should have meditation rooms in the parking garages around here. Seriously. So you can come down before you go into the office and start throwing coffee cups around.
  • The ride home had its joys too. Driving in the dark is no fun at all. And the 15 minute back up on I-395 felt like it would never ever end. No wonder this country has a depression and anxiety epidemic. I seriously thought about opening a bottle of wine when I got home. Instead I started my evening with 20 minutes of breathing meditation. I followed this up with my daily physical therapy. Instead of rushing through the exercises (most of which are based on yoga asanas) as I too often do, I slowed them way down. I took care paying attention to each stretch, making sure the muscles relaxed. I monitored my breathing. The whole wind down took about 45 minutes.
  • One thing I notice when I do breathing meditation is that I can get my heart and respiratory rates very low. My doctors are constantly freaked when they take my pulse. The last couple of times it was checked it was 44. “Do you exercise?” A couple of years ago my resting pulse was around 60. That’s considered on the low side for most people.  My low pulse is also a little odd when you consider I drink three cups of coffee every day.
  • This morning I jumped on The Mule with fresh legs (and a disturbingly bigger belly from last week’s Mexican food binge). The cold air felt so refreshing. And riding past the stalled traffic back up on the GW Parkway made me feel liberated. I truly felt sorry for all those people grinding their teeth and white knucking their steering wheels.
  • Of course, I also had the opportunity to stop and admire the early morning sun over the Potomac River. Most drivers don’t get to see this. Sucks for them.

  • If you look closely you can see that my pedals don’t match. This is a hold over from my bike tour this summer when my left pedal disintegrated. What you can’t see is that the chain is stretched beyond hope. So I am getting a new chain and cassette this weekend.
  • I mentioned the cold. As you can see from the picture, the bridges on the Mount Vernon Trail are decked with wood. They frost over. Shaded areas are icy. As I was approaching the beaver bridge (between Old Town and National Airport), an approaching jogger yelled a warning to me, “The bridge is really slippery.” It was slippery on the left hand side (where she had run) but not along the right edge. The left side was still in the shade. Just a couple of degrees makes all the difference. There were fresh gashes in the wood from where bicyclists’ pedals had made a mark during falls.
  • In a few days a cold front comes through with honest to god wintery weather. The battle begins. The holey sweater awaits. The mittens are ready. The chemical foot warmers are beside my shoes. My hair (what little there is) will stand on end as the head coverings draw all the oil out of it. My skin will dry up where the base layers and Buff and wool socks contact it.


And People Say I’m Crazy?

Almost without fail, when the weather is bad, a non-bike commuter will look at me in my bike commuting get up and say, “You’re crazy.’ Just like “Watchin’ the Wheels.” I expect them to “give me all kinds of advice to save me from ruin.”

It’s raining today. I drove to work. My mode choice had to do with an after work social commitment in the city. (Irony alert: it’s the Washington Area Bicyclists Association’s holiday party.)  It was just me an tens of thousands of other worker bees driving to work alone in their cars. On a Sunday, driving the 15 miles to my office takes between 20 and 25 minutes. Today it took an hour. Mostly I spent the time stopped in traffic looking at the tailgate of a humongous Ford pick up truck. When I got bored with that I looked over at the Mount Vernon Trail and watched the bike commuters go zipping along.

No wonder bicyclists generate so much anger from motorists. How dare they actually enjoy their commute. You should have to sit here like the rest of the world and rage at the traffic gods. (It’s not my fault that there is so much traffic. It’s the other drivers’ fault. If only they’d get out of my way!)

Traffic is a sure sign that Americans are dumb as stumps. How else could so many people be sucked in by such BS as “See the USA in a Chevrolet” and “Zoom, Zoom” and “Farfegnugen” and “Fine German Motorcar?”

My bike has “Farfignewton.” It has “Pedal, Pedal.”

The only advantage to driving to work that I can see is I get to listen to music. Today’s car tunes are Le Vent du Nord’s Les Amants du Saint Laurent and The Notting Hillbillies’ Missing… Presumed Having a Good Time. 

To paraphrase the Beatles: “Beep, Beep, Beep, Beep, NO!”




Why Worry Indeed

My drive to work streak is now at 5 days. I have bike commuted once in 2015. The reason is ice. I don’t do ice. Why don’t I get studded tires? They are very expensive for a start. Even if I had them they’d slow me down. I don’t want to be bike commuting for 90 minutes each way in 15 degree temps either.

Driving isn’t half bad when schools are delayed. Today I made it to work in under 25 minutes. That’s like driving to work on a Sunday. I am getting caught up on cartunes. I have listened to Le Vent du Nord, Los Lobos, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, and Dire Straits so far. Quebec, East LA, North Florida, and Scotland. I think I’ve got it all covered.

I had a stressful day today at work. I was interviewed live on the radio. The interview went very well but the interview was at 4 pm so I had to wait all day for the unknown. When I had to give speeches in high school, I’d freak out beforehand. To get rid of my nerves I’d pretend that I was screaming and clench my fists. (Actually, something similar to this technique is in the yoga book I use. Of course, I had no idea I was doing a yoga technique at the time.)  The only downside is you look like you should be taken to a nervous hospital.

After going through some tough times in the last few months, a friend advised me to try meditation. Then I saw Dan Harris, a TV reporter, give an account of how his anxiety attacks almost destroyed his career. The video is really hard to watch.  He turned to meditation and it saved him. Like Harris, I’m not so much interested in the religious/spriritual aspect of mediation. I don’t follow any isms, except, perhaps, cynicism. I have seen too many people use religious clap trap to rationalize boorish behavior for a start.  I had to admit that Harris makes a pretty convincing case, however. So, I did some research online. Then I found some 15-minute YouTube videos with useful dreamy music and sounds and such. And I gave it a go.

I’ll be damned. It really helps. Very much like my fist clenching technique but infinitely more relazing. I’ve done my little meditation thing now 7 days in a row. I hate starting. It’s hard for me to sit still and concentrate on essentially nothing. When the 15 minutes are up, I feel like somebody took away my favorite toy. Wait! I gimme that back!

The last four or five weeks I have been a bundle of worries. Worry is my  natural state. The professed benefits of meditation remind me of a time when I was just starting a bike tour to Indiana. I was about 50 miles from home, cycling west on the C&O Canal towpath, and I was absolutely miserable with “what if this goes wrong” and “what if that goes wrong” thoughts. Then it hit me. You idiot! You are on vacation! Chill! Nothing is wrong now. Enjoy this. I purposefully pushed the worries out of my mind. The rest of the ride was joyful.

Of course, I did have problems. Three days later my back rim failed oustide of Frostburg. I found a not-yet-open bike shop. The owner and his manager agreed to help me out overnight! I missed maybe 2 hours of riding time. Three days after that my brake cables seized. I found the best bike mechanic ever in Little Washington PA. He did an amazing job on my bike.  Why worry? (A pretty decent Dire Straits song, by the way.)

I don’t know whether I will keep practicing meditation. Or if I will try something other than the simple breathing meditation that I learned. For now, it floats my boat.

During the day I learned that smoke had filled the Metro station near my wife’s office. Tonight I found out that one person had died. Yet another reminder (not that I needed another one after three people I know died in the last four months) that you better enjoy life while you have it.

Why worry, indeed.