Braking Bad (April 17, 2012)


“That’s impossible.” Thus the notion was summarily dismissed by the Vice-President of the company which employs me full-time.

My good friend and direct report, a kid who’s gotten to know me rather well in recent months, turned to me and asked, “The theoretical just became a must, didn’t it?”

You know it.

Ever since I began work as the Head Writer for a housewares company last fall, the thrice-weekly commute I undertake has become the stuff of legend. I do not own a car and have no plans to acquire one anytime soon. Gas prices aside, I am a single woman who lives in the middle of the City of Chicago. That means annual City stickers, registration, high insurance premiums and yes, the cost of gasoline. I have plenty of other options at my disposal, however archaic the Windy City’s public transportation infrastructure might be. And of course, there’s always my bike – the much-adored L’il Red.

However my company is headquartered in Libertyville, IL, close to the border of Wisconsin, roughly 30 miles from my studio. Without access to an automobile, the journey requires me to rise at 4:30 AM to depart at 6, taking the first of two commuter trains that get me to the suburbs at 8:09 AM. Once the work day is finished, I am treated to the whole thing in reverse, arriving home at 6:45 PM if I’m lucky, and 7:15 PM if I’m not. I am very fortunate that I love my work.

I am an avid cyclist, typically logging 30 miles or so per week as part of my exercise routine. As the weather started to warm in March, I toyed with the idea of taking a day’s break from five plus hours on the train to spend the same amount of time on L’il Red. Don’t get me wrong: I love my nap and reading time on the rails, but just this once, I figured I could experience a different challenge, a new adventure.

Folks in Libertyville, at least the ones with whom I work, don’t spend a lot of time on their feet. People have been known to drive to the grocery store situated right across the road from the office. In more ways than one, I am an oddball in this crowd. Still, though I knew the plan to try a 64-mile round trip on my bicycle bookending a full work day was a little outside the box, I wasn’t ready for the lack of confidence in my commitment and ability. I’ve done a pretty thorough job of demonstrating that I’ll try anything.

And so with the refrain “it’s impossible” rolling around my noggin’ as a motivator, I found myself last Friday morning at 6 AM on the road to Libertyville, armed with three full printed pages of Google’s beta bicycle-friendly travel directions. This is the first, perhaps the last time, I ever wished for an iPhone.

There was, I will admit, a wrong turn on the return trip home that resulted in a four-mile detour. There was the sudden awareness that L’il Red has the bike seat from hell, a factory original that pounded my poor keister for nearly 70 miles before the day was out. There was occasional whimpering in the attempt to ride standing up as I neared home. Ample thirstiness and sweating were somewhat a plague. But dammit it all, there was a lot of satisfaction and pride too. This City Girl, often the subject of confusion and good natured kidding, proved a point, to herself as well as her colleagues.

I am mentally and physically stronger than I have ever been. This almost 34 year-old finds nothing impossible anymore. And the round of applause I received when I arrived at the office, shaking and drinking a G2 with the voracity of someone wandering the desert for weeks, was deserved. So was the free lunch I scored from that VP.


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