As we all adapt to the time change, the snow visibly recedes from the edges of our world and the breeze hints of milder times to come, and I rummage in the garage. Hidden behind the snow blower, the standby generator, and a haystack of ski poles is my mild-tempered friend. She’s neither light, nor fast, nor particularly racy. She’s high-visibility-orange, awkwardly heavy, and reassuringly sturdy. After a season of scraping icy windshields and heaving Sierra cement off driveways, the time has come to throw it all to the wind.
As she stands now, The Wagon probably weighs over 80 pounds, including a hefty battery, passenger roll cage, and running boards. So, I’m not heading off for a grand adventure. I’m not steeling for a grueling day beating last year’s PR. I’m just heading three miles across town to meet my son at the eye doctor. Yet even this mundane errand is touched with a hint of joy as I zip up my light windbreaker and hop on for the year’s first glide down the driveway.
My husband and son have sturdier vessels — wide, toothy tires studded with flashes of silver that hum and buzz in action. They have braved the winter commute with ski goggles and thick gloves. The Wagon and I have a lighter relationship, an easier rapport. Her slim tires aren’t for those tricky days and treacherous roads. She coasts smoothly down the hill, quiet despite her mass. I can smell the rich, brown soil, just peeking through in most yards, and the damp road, clean from a winter’s-worth of washing. A delicate chorus of twittering filters through the trees; I’m not the only one noticing the abrupt change in season.
I turn at the stop sign and start the gradual climb. Thumbing the pedal-assist button to keep a smooth cadence, I pedal steady and breathe even. I give my bell a little ding, nodding at the dog walker and her charge — smiles and wags all around. I coast down to the light, hoping that the sensor detects me or that a car will join me and understand when I motion for the driver to pull up closer. The signal trips, and we are off, the cars to their lane and The Wagon and I into our sandy, faintly marked shoulder lane. Both types of vehicles reach the same speed down the hill while I check for an opening and merge in to prepare for my left-hand turn.
Here’s the tricky bit: There’s no lane for me here, and despite the 25-mph speed limit, I have been on the receiving end of bluster and brash in this location. Fortunately, today the traffic is light, and the burgeoning season seems to have brought a fresh calm. I pedal into the light yet persistent headwind and catch a whiff of the swollen river off to the left, still bracingly cold and hurried. A turn to the right, a twist of the power boost grip, and The Wagon and I are “taking our half down the middle” of the roundabout. This is when I’m glad my bike is day-glow orange and weighs almost as much as I do. I cast a withering stare at the vehicle creeping in from the right, ready to make some noise. But then the driver and I lock eyes, and instead of confrontation, we exchange embarrassed smiles, steering-wheel hands raised in apology. We are all trying to do our best and will try even harder now.
I jiggety-jog into the doctor’s parking lot, and across a bit of sidewalk. Now awkwardly unseated, I maneuver The Wagon between the picnic tables and the bushes, trying to line up her bulk with the sturdy, but partially blocked, bike rack. Locked and propped, I’m five minutes early and steps from the office entrance.
Why do I ride my e-bike around town? Because I want to live in a human-scaled town where we wave and smile. Because I agonize daily about greenhouse gas emissions. Because I love to be outdoors and want to break my addiction to cars. And finally, I ride because of the sights and sounds of our little slice of heaven, right here at home.
~ Suzie Tarnay is a Truckee Planning Commissioner, alternative transportation activist, and mom, with a master’s degree in civil engineering. She searches out science-based solutions to sustainability and equity issues, and delights in the outdoor resources of the wildland-urban interface. Other passions include Telemark skiing, youth fiction, mountain biking, ice hockey, and adopting pets from the local humane society.