Warning: to understand the first paragraph may require perusing the first paragraph of Hunter S. Thompson’s Hell’s Angels
Alaska, a May weekend…. very early, light killing fog in the streets, bicyclists wearing helmets, red shades, neon yellow jackets, white bike pants, roll out from damp garages holding Hondas in Midtown, Downtown, Abbott, and Muldoon, heading for the Chester Creek park, north of Off the Chain…Ponderosa Novaras flash along sidewalks as traffic moves slower, nervous at the number of bikes passing like a burst of civilized thunder.
All right, riding a bike as part of Bike to Work Day does not qualify one to be a Hell’s Angel. But those who did ride their bike to work on May 20 rebelled in some sense: some against poor health, some against high gas prices and some against a planet absorbing too many toxins.
For newbies, many of those reasons overlap, though some do stand out. For me, it was the urge to reduce my carbon footprint even more by riding a bike every day to work. For Rebecca Huerta, an agency clerk at the University Center, it was the urge to get involved with her community. Whatever the reason, UAA’s Office of Sustainability has encouraged new people to ride their bikes since Bike to Work existed in Anchorage. They succeed in the 7th annual BTWD, when 189 from UAA participated; 147 people had participated in 2010.
51 riders participated this year, an increase of 75 people, according to municipality records. They came from all over the city. Huerta rode 6 miles from East Anchorage. Kent Spiers and Paula Williams, co-organizers for the Cycling Seawolves, rode nine and eight miles respectively.
Bikers may have passed one of five replenishing stations throughout the city. The most popular was the Bacon Station on Chester Creek, near C Street. Riding under the C street tunnel I overheard a pair of woman say, “Yeah I saw him playing bag pipes earlier. Wasn’t expecting him here.” I peddle toward where they left.
Indeed, there was an older gentleman playing the bagpipes. Along with a moose, a man juggling what resembled wine bottles, and a very slim bear, wearing a sign that read, “Don’t feed the bears.”
Reflectosaurs was the most energetic, waving to everyone that passed, and taking pictures with kids in bicycle trailers.
The coffee was already gone by 7:45, so I settled for a gluten free chocolate chip cookie. A couple apron-clad men from Spenard Roadhouse gave me two strips of bacon. They cooked over 800 strips of bacon this year, setting a new record.
In the first fifteen minutes of my first time with BTWD, I noticed two things: people tend to pant more than smile while passing, and virtually everyone wears helmets.
Of course some people say hey, and some attempt a smile, but I saw many riders use panting as a reason not to acknowledge another cyclist. It was endearing.
I didn’t wear a helmet, and I quickly realized that for BTWD, that is the equivalent of forgetting your pants. Last year, 95 percent of participants in the area I rode this year—A Street and Chester Creek—wore helmets. The looks my naked head received ranged from disgust to concern. I imagine that it’s the same looks smokers often get.
Riding on, I noticed lacking a helmet was not my only style faux pas. Few people wore shorts or left their business socks exposed. I did both, and I only counted four other people in shorts. I also wore a loose-fitting UAA
sweatshirt. Most cyclists wore tight neon jackets, and even those without REI attire chose tight-fitting clothes.
I hadn’t ridden a bike in years, and forgot the great sights one can see only bike riding along Chester Creek. An older gentleman in white Dockers and a World Cup t-shirt walked with two poodles, one on each side. They looked like white pom-poms.
From Valley of the Moon Park you could see bikers haul their way toward downtown. One group wore red reflecting jackets, and at their slow pace, looked more like trolleys pulled from some force atop the hill. The bridges near C street had loose boards that rippled bikes passed. Coupled with the stream below, the sensation was serene.
By the time I reached the student union, I realized that each biker has a personal speed limit. Families often ride slower. Some bikers sit back and let the bike do the work. Others lean forward, Tron-style, and go for it. One man in particular was kicking his knees to his chest, like he was hopping rather than riding.
I plan to ride my bike past May 20. I keep seeing the strangest things….
If you missed BTWD, there are riding events over the summer. The American Institute of Architects and Bicycle Commuters of Anchorage are holding a competition to see which business can get the highest percentage of their employees riding to work. The challenge concludes September 19,