Unfolding the Map
Four wheels, two wheels, or even three wheels? Which is best? As a person who utilizes two wheels of the human powered variety for transportation, I envy motorists sometimes. But, as William Least Heat-Moon (LHM) stops in Fredericksburg for some gas, I look at the the pros and cons of each, at least in my life. To see where Fredericksburg sits, pedal or accelerate over to the map.
"Vern, in his antique ways, believed that anyone who got behind a steering wheel could rightly be expected to operate the car rather than just steer it; that's why you wee issued an Operator's Permit. He believed the more work a driver did, the less the car had to do; the less it had to do, the simpler and more reliable and cheaper to repair it would be. He cursed the increasing complexity of automobile mechanics. But, as I say, he was a man of the old ways. He even believed in narrow tires (cheaper and less friction), spoked wheels (less weight), and the streamlined 'Airflow' designs of Chrysler Corporation cars of the mid-thirties - designs Chrysler almost immediately gave up on before proceeding to build the biggest finned hogs of all. We boys of the fifties loved their brontosaurean bulk.
"Another of Vernon's themes we laughed at was his advocacy of the comparable economy of and safety of three wheels (he drove a motorcycle with a sidecar) for city driving. He would say to us, 'Two wheels ain't enough, and four's too many. So where does that leave you, boys?' 'Three wheels!' we'd shout back, mocking him. 'No sir, it leaves money in your jeans.'"
Blue Highways: Chapter 10, Part 1
At the time I am writing this post, it is a winter morning in Albuquerque. We've had no snow yet, but we've finally gotten to the point where the mornings are very cold, around 17 degrees in the morning just when the sun comes up.
For a person who rides his bike to work, such as myself, it isn't the greatest experience, especially when the wind blows. On those days I bundle up in layers, but not too many, so that I can be warm enough on the ride. I put on a hat, or a snood, and after the new year my new balaclava, under my helmet and gloves on my hands to keep my hands from freezing. No matter what kind of gloves I get, they never seem to keep my hands warm enough and I usually end up with biting cold fingers by the end of the ride.
The ride is only about three miles, and I do it as fast as possible. While mostly downhill, it is a strenuous workout because I have to do a couple of nice rises in there. Those mornings, however, when the wind is pushing against me so that exposed areas of my face are frozen and after a few minutes certain parts of my body are retreating rapidly like rabbits into a hole, I really wish I had a car.
The reason I don't have a car are various. Mostly it has to do with money. Two cars in our family would increase our costs. We would pay more for gas, though my wife does most of the driving. Repairs would double, especially since neither one of us has had great luck with cars so there is usually some huge thing that needs to be fixed every three years or so. I would also have to pay $450 or so a year for the privilege of having a parking space about a half-mile away from my office, or much more if I wanted to park closer.
I am mostly fine with the arrangement, except, as I wrote, on cold winter mornings and the occasional day when I find myself having to ride to work or home in rain or, even worse, slushy snow. Another advantage is that I get exercise, especially coming back home where my downhill turns to a steep uphill climb, and by the time I get home my heart is pumping hard.
But there are some disadvantages. If I'm late, I'm usually really late because I can only go so fast on my bike. I usually have to leave earlier for things that I need to get to. Also, my freedom of movement is limited to where I can get on my bike. I envy my wife's ability to go where she wants, even up to Santa Fe, down to Socorro or over to Gallup if she needs to. Bike racks on the bus could make my radius a little larger, but one is limited to the bus schedule and places they go. And the safety factor is also a disadvantage. While Albuquerque is a relatively bike-friendly city, some drivers here see bikers as a hindrance. This has not been helped by serious bikers, that train in Albuquerque because of the altitude, who sometimes seem to go out of their way to annoy drivers by riding in packs in the middle of the road. The clash of bike culture and car culture, and people on both sides who don't understand the rules of the road, means that there are far too many "ghost bikes" along the sides of highways. There is one at an intersection right next to the university where I work.
My wife and I often joke about getting a motorcycle with a side car. The joke goes that I could drive the motorcycle, and we could outfit our dog in goggles and she could ride in the sidecar. But that will never happen because my wife really doesn't want me on a motorcycle. "Donorcycles" she calls them. I've thought of getting a scooter at times, but they face the same disadvantages that a motorcycle does, though I think that my wife is worried about me on a motorized two-wheeler on the open road rather than in a city, which I think is probably more dangerous than the open road.
So when it comes to keeping money in my jeans, as LHM quotes from old story of his youth, I'll probably remain on two wheels, ride defensively and hope that I remain safe. And I'll just suck it up with those cold winter mornings - they give me a reason to look forward to the warmer temperatures of spring when I can shed my layers and ride in shorts and a polo shirt. And, as we look for a house, we'll just have to look for one within biking distance of my work, which is where we want to be anyway.
I debated putting this video on. Queen's Bicycle Race was the first song that came to mind when I wrote this post. The video, featuring naked women in a bicycle race at Wimbledon, has been linked with the song so that one can't think of the song without the images. So, if you are sensitive to mild images of naked women riding bikes, don't watch the video. And be assured, I'm not advocating naked bike riding nor have I ever ridden a bike naked. Nobody wants to see that!
If you want to know more about Fredericksburg
City of Fredericksburg
Fredericksburg.com (news site of the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star)
Greater Fredericksburg Tourism Partnership
University of Mary Washington
Virginia Tourism: Fredericksburg
Next up: Spotsylvania, Virginia