When I started this series, I knew my biggest challenge was going to be getting the courage to ride my bike on city streets. I was nervous about it — understandably so. So when I talked to Kyle Shelton, one of my co-workers and the one person I knew who rode their bike on a regular basis, about riding my bike to work, he said “go for it.”
“But only if you feel comfortable enough to do it,” he added. “I don’t want you to do anything you don’t want to.”
I took those words to heart, but the dread of possibly getting hit by a car still filled my stomach. Still, I’m committed to trying everything at least once, so I decided to ride to work one morning — after running out of excuses to continue to put this particular challenge off.
I wasn’t brave enough to attempt it from my own apartment, though. I live right outside Loop 610 in an area with no easily accessible bike trails. And there was no way you’d see me biking the streets battling rush hour traffic amongst 18-wheelers headed toward NRG Stadium. It was a no-go. So I chose to spend the night with a friend who lives right off of Brays Bayou, a short trip from the bike trail that would get me to my building at Rice University. I woke up at 7 a.m. and packed an extra change of clothes into my backpack and strapped on my helmet. Off I went, nerves intact.
I ride along an empty Southmore Boulevard toward Scott Street. The street is bustling with everyone headed off to work, so — in a move not endorsed by city policy — I hop on a sidewalk to make my way safely one street over to North MacGregor, the closest entrance to the bike path. I’m met with a cracked sidewalk, one I can only ride about halfway down before getting off and picking up my bike to avoid the holes in the concrete. I cross MacGregor and find the entrance to the bike path. So far, so good.
I’m not sure what Google Maps bases its bike arrival times off of but they weren’t accurate for me. Maybe I ride slower than the average cyclist. Maybe I was just enjoying the view of the bayou. Twenty minutes into my ride, I was due to exit the Brays Bayou bike path and cross the street near Cambridge and Morsund when I hit a dug-up trail and a sign that read “SIDEWALK CLOSED.” Just my luck. I grabbed my bike and — probably somewhat illegally? — climbed over the wood panels laid over the dirt to the other side of the path. I got back on and headed toward Morsund’s busy intersection.
I’m still standing on the corner of Morsund and South MacGregor after pressing the crosswalk button three times, trying to wait patiently to cross. From my understanding, bikes are allowed on the road but have to use the pedestrian light crosswalks. How do I know when I should act like a car or a pedestrian?
I decide to act like a car, following behind an Impala. Sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic in the middle of the Medical Center, I know I’m close to work and get slowly more irritated (and sweaty) when traffic doesn’t move in a timely manner.
I pull up to the BioScience Research Collaborative, the building where the Kinder Institute is housed. I trek to the back entrance of the building and swipe in before heading to a locker room space on the first floor. I change clothes — thank goodness I brought extras — freshen up and head upstairs. I sit at my desk and feel the weight of the five miles I just biked in my legs.
Houston decides this is the perfect time for a torrential downpour.
Torrential downpour ends.
The roads are slick with puddles lining the edges of the streets. I leave work a bit early thinking I’ll avoid heavy traffic. Not so. At all. Google Maps decides the best route for me to go home would be down Main and Kirby, meaning I’d ride down Main on the right side of the street and then have to cross four lanes of traffic to take a left on Kirby — something that is nearly impossible to do, even in a car. I don’t know the streets well enough to find a bike-friendly plan B. I freak out and call an Uber XL. Clearly, getting comfortable will take more than just a week of challenges.