First Bicycle Commuting Experience (Try not to laugh)

Moving to Portland, I knew it was going to be a wet, cold transition from sunny Florida. Brad & I had our sites set for quite some time before moving, so we read books and did a ton of research on what to expect. With that said, there is no amount of reading or preparation that could have prepared me for my first bike ride into work.


Let me start by saying that I was as prepared as I ever could have been. Brad & I bought a sick new road bike for me to ride complete with fenders, lights, a rack on the back with a basket to store things in, a waterproof backpack, rain jacket, rain pants, waterproof boots (which are actually super cute & professional, if you're in the market check them out), gloves, and a helmet, of course! He even snagged me a pair of safety glasses to wear, which I have yet to muster up the courage to put them on for fear of looking like a total dweeb . . . Needless to say, I had everything available to make it the best experience it could be.

Prior to my first day, I did a couple practice runs to and from work - learning my route and just acquainting myself with Portland's network of bikeways. Before you start thinking I'm totally insane, you must know that the city was planned and developed to be bike friendly, with designated biking paths/highways and special routes just for bikers. Once you start to learn the network of bike ways, it immediately becomes a more accessible venture. Portland drivers are also familiar with the extensive biking community and are therefore more aware, making it a safer environment and a little less vulnerable of a feeling.

My ride in to downtown from where we live in the Belmont/Laurelhurst area is almost completely downhill, and a straight shot for me from our neighborhood to my workplace (which is awesome because it wasn't even foreplanned.) It's the bike ride home that is a bit of a climb, but definitely could serve as a replacement for my typical evening exercise routine of getting home from work and going for a run. It's about 3 miles each way, so a great source of cardio, and I am actually going places!!

The Portland biking community is so significant, my office offers a bike storage room, bathrooms and locker rooms with showers, and perks for those that choose to bike to work (like little gift giveaways, etc.) So all of these things combined made it an easy decision to decide to be a bicycling commuter, oh and the fact that I've always imagined being a part of Amsterdam's bicycling community and this lifestyle makes me feel that much closer to this far away dream of mine!

With all of that said, nothing could have prepared me for my first morning biking in to work. We arrived to Portland mid-August, and enjoyed some seriously beautiful, sunny, cool morning and warm afternoon summer weather. Then, like the rain gods saw me getting overly excited and confident in this new undertaking and wanted to test my skills, a massive rainy cold front swept into the area Sunday evening, the eve of my first bike ride to work.

It started as a drizzle, and eventually turned into a seeping cold wetness that permeated EVERY SINGLE THING. I took comfort knowing I had all the right gear, but I had not yet experienced a rainy Portland day, nor had I experienced riding my bike on a rainy Portland day. Why, rain gods, whyyyyyy!?!?!?

My morning started well, had a nice warm shower, turned my heat lamp on in my bathroom, and drank some coffee on my walk with the Buffalo. There was a slight drizzle but nothing too crazy, which left me feeling very pleasantly surprised. Brad waited around that morning to see me off on my first day, and helped me as I geared up, strapped myself in, and sent me off with a kiss and well wishes. 

It was literally, 10 seconds later, not even out of our driveway, that the drizzle turned to a straight DOWNPOUR. I'm not kidding, it was the hardest rain we've seen since leaving Florida. Just my luck, right! My face instantly became saturated and slightly battered with the falling rain, and THANK GOD for my rain gear, as it totally staved off the rain and kept me nice and dry. (Goretex is a life saver). From there, the rain just got progressively harder, and as I cruised downhill I had a moment where I asked myself what the f*ck I was doing with my life. My hands were sans the gloves I had because they were buried in my backpack & inaccessible in the moment (wise move, I know . . .) which meant they were freezing and slippery and making me feel tense and frozen.

As I rode the 30 blocks to the bridge, I told myself that I was okay, it's just a little water, all my belongings are protected, and if I take it slow I know I will make it just fine. Well, that was when I was cruising through the quiet peaceful neighborhoods along Ankeny. It was when I pulled out onto Couch Street that I had my first real "Oh, shit!" moment . . . A mother-f*cking truck with a big-ass trailer parked in the biking lane that I had to navigate around, with other bike commuters passing me left and right, two buses back to back that flew past me and then stopped right next to me and exhausted right on to me, these were just a few things that happened in the 2 minutes I was riding along Couch Street. Then, came the bridge . . .

As soon as I hit the Burnside bridge, a huge gust of wind off the river made me wobble and cringe, followed by those damn buses whooshing past me again and making me wobble in the opposite direction. Rain flying into my face, fellow bicyclists passing me up like I was a failure, and here I am just doing my best wanting to tell everyone, "It's my first day!"

I could have had a breakdown, I definitely felt one lurking underneath, but then I looked up and saw the Portland sign standing strong up ahead, a beacon leading me to the other side, into Downtown, with the beautiful mountains surrounding and all of downtown Portland's glory. I glanced side to side to catch a quick panoramic, and saw the city I dreamed of for so long, waking up to a rainy cold morning, but waking up nonetheless. The bridges were buzzing and glimmering with headlights, boats were motoring underneath on their way, and I cruised over the famous Burnside bridge on my way to the first day of my new life, my new city, and a new career. 

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And damn, there isn't a better feeling. Once over the bridge, I turned off Burnside onto 2nd and cruised a few blocks up Davis to my new work home. And in that moment, all my fears and reservations about this new life were washed away (along with my makeup). It was exactly the way it was supposed to be. I felt like a downright BAD-ASS, especially when I was introduced to co-workers as the Florida girl that rode her bike in when even the most weathered Portland bicyclists called in sick or took the train.

Tomorrow is supposed to be rainy, again, but I feel a little more prepared as far as what to expect and know every day I will be stronger because of it. Just another reason why new experiences are so CRUCIAL to our existence, and such an integral part of the human experience. It wouldn't be the beautiful Portland I love without the rain, so I'm embracing every drop.


TravelKarlene Baskind