Thursday, May 6, 2010

My Daily Commute in Kansas City

Qian recently got her driver's license. She's truly becoming an American now. She's not thrilled that she had to learn how to drive, but being in the midwest United States she has to learn how. The suburbs of Kansas City where we live do not have anything resembling useful public transportation.

We recently bought a car from my parents. It's an exceptionally normal, champagne-colored 1997 Toyota Camry. It's a decent enough car. It runs well and gets good gas mileage. Seeing that Qian and I both are drivers now though, we needed to get a new set of wheels. So a couple of weeks ago, we did:

That's my new, 2010 24-speed Gary Fisher Wahoo mountain bike. I splurged quite a bit of money on it. I figured that if I could ride it in place of driving a significant amount of times over this coming summer, then it would at least partially pay itself off in saved gas money (and insurance, and car payments, and repairs, etc.). Basically, this is my attempt at us staying a "one car family."

I bought the bike with the idea that I would ride the bike to my work most days that it's not raining. During my first week of bike ownership, I rode it three times to work and back. During my second, two times. And this week, four times.

One of the great things about where we live is that we have access to wonderful bike trails. Johnson County, Kansas just has a plethora of biking options. I'm really not interested in biking on sidewalks or on major roads where cars are flying by. I don't want to die.

If I jumped on a main street near my apartment and just took streets, I could get to work in seven miles. But I've chosen to ride trails at nine and a half miles (each way).

Here is a map, from this very useful Google Maps Pedometer site, of my route to work:

As you can see, it is not exactly a linear path. But my meandering has some benefits though.

Here are photos I took both this morning and yesterday morning on my rides into work:

A golf course, just before I get on the Tomahawk Creek Trail

The sun trying to peek through some trees. I cross over a half-dozen of these bridges on the trail.

A more natural bridge here

Another downed tree over the creek

Some swampiness

This hill is a bastard. It is the most difficult part of my ride every morning.

For every hill you climb though, you do have a hill to go down

A very Kansas landscape

This is one of the only bike lanes in the Kansas City metropolitan area. I'm really lucky that for the part of my commute that is not on bike trails, I have a bike lane upon which to ride.

I'm really enjoying riding my bike to work. Apart from the beautiful scenery, I already feel healthier and am not minding at all getting up earlier to compensate for the extra time biking requires. I can feel my endurance getting better already. I'm digging down deeper and am finding energy that I just didn't have even a couple weeks ago.

The times aren't exact, but my first few rides took me about 55 minutes. My rides today were about 45 minutes. I don't expect that kind of huge jump in improvement again, but such can be expected seeing that I went from being completely-out-of-shape to getting-in-to-shape.

No matter how fast I ride, I'm loving riding my bike to work. It's positive for me both physically and spiritually.


Jim V said...

I love that you are doing this. So cool. Back in the day when I first moved to KC, my room mate and I used to ride the trails by College BLVD. Sad to say I hardly ever ride anymore. Maybe you've inspired me.

Mark said...

Those trails over by College Blvd. are awesome. I'm pretty sure that's an extension of the Indian Creek Trail. Both it and the trail that these photos are of start down at Leawood Park. Following trails next to creeks like these do are so nice and scenic.

If you go to this site, you can get a free Johnson County trail map sent to you in the mail. It is what I used to map out my route.

If you still have a bike kicking around in your garage, we should try to get a ride in some time. I'd love to go to Shawnee Mission Park and ride out there.

LEB said... the pictures and the fact that you ride to work everyday. First time to your blog and I am a fan already. A lot of us stay close to beautiful trails but never push to do what you are doing. Kudos.

Anonymous said...

@LEB, Mark runs a really great blog on China from an American perspective, glad you found it.

Geesh Mark, you manage to come back from halfway around the world, into the deepest recession of our lifetimes, and not only do you land a job in fast fashion, but that is what your commute looks like! Must be all that clean livin'. At first I was like, 9 miles, pffft, this will last a week. Then looking at those pictures, what a great ride!

I was really into mountain biking at one time in my life, and man, that is a sweeeet ride you got there. Gary makes top notch rides. I'm assuming that fender is an aftermarket add on though.

Mark said...

@LEB - Thanks a lot for the kind words. If you ever want to chime in with anything, go for it and leave some comments.

@Hopfrog - I know what you mean on actually sustaining this commute. I'll be disappointed if, in a couple months, my bike is sitting unused on my balcony. I've been enjoying it so far though and I figure these first few weeks are going to be the really tough rides. The summer weather will surely be a test though. I'm already going to concede that I have no plans on doing this during the winter. There's no way I'm going to freeze in the snow and slush in a KC winter.

Thanks for the props on the bike. I got into biking my last few months living in China. I wrote about having this bike last year. It was a decent, relatively cheap bike. I really got used to the disc brakes on it. I didn't want to go back to a non-disc brake bike here in the States.

I was looking at some Trek bikes, but then this Gary Fisher Wahoo was only $20 more than a decent Trek. I really couldn't justify not spending $20 more on a bike with a lot better components.

You're right, the back fender is an add on. It's very nice. I'd like to get one for the front too.

I assume you don't ride any more? I'm finding bike riding as something of a fountain of youth. Riding bikes reminds me of being a kid. We all need that sometimes. Especially when we're engaged in the daily grind of being an adult!

Anonymous said...

No I don't bike anymore. I remember when I decided to splurge on that first mountain bike about 15 years ago. It was between, wouldn't ya know it, a Gary Fisher Wahoo and a GT Avalanche. I took both out for a test ride and the Gary Fisher was definitely the smoother ride. However, being young and superficial, I went with the GT cause it looked cool. A good bike never the less.

Yeah if you can stay with it, being in shape really does wonders for you both physically and spiritually. I am always amazed that I find myself falling out of good habits when I know damn well how great they make me feel. I guess its because it requires effort and sometimes, its easy to forego effort. I'll be revisiting this issue in a few months to see if you are still at it.

Ramesh said...

Very cool. And what lovely places to ride through.

One of my biggest disappointments in China has been cycling. Before I came here, we had always heard how big cycling was and it would be so nice to cycle to work or to the market. But of course, you have to be insane to try to cycle, at least in Guangzhou. Its amazing how few cycle here. Real real pity. When they invested such huge sums in infrastructure, couldn't they create bicycle lanes a la Holland. They didn't; so the accepted mode of cycling is on the sidewalk and now darting cycles have become something to look out for all the time while walking.

Anonymous said...

Since I have been riding my bike to work I feel healthier and happier, and I am saving lots of dollars in gas!