I hit some major biking milestones today. I biked in Brooklyn and on Staten Island for the first time. I bike commuted for work for the first time in New York City (or anywhere). I bike commuted in the rain ( I felt super hardcore!). I biked across the Brooklyn Bridge for the first time, a ride that, perhaps because of the weather, did not consist of dodging oblivious tourists every two seconds, as I was expecting. And I biked around 36 miles in all, probably the most I have biked in a day since buying my bike two years ago. If there was a biking scout program, I would have just earned all the badges. More than that though, in bike commuting, I found freedom.
Bike commuting is amazing. It felt liberating. I felt very empowered knowing that I could get myself from point to point. I do not have to be dependent on anyone else for my freedom of movement, which is an incredible feeling. If a crisis ever hits resulting in gas shortages or public transit shutdowns, I am confident I would be able to get where I need to go.
Moreover, I was overjoyed to be able to incorporate movement throughout my whole day. I did not need to exercise at the end of the day; just getting around throughout the day was my exercise. That is the way life should be. Movement should be integrated into daily life, not thrown in at the end of the day like an afterthought. So even though, my riding speed is not super fast, commuting was still pretty efficient because I had extra time when I got home that would otherwise have been spent exercising.
Of course, bike commuting is probably the second most environmentally friendly transportation method after walking. But what I had not fully anticipated was how good it feels to be outside the whole day. Even with the light but constant rain and the dreariness of the day, it was rejuvenating. I have spent the whole day doing field work for work before, but never by bike.
Doing field work by public transit is refreshing, but you are still subject to the same stagnant air and cramped interior of the subways or buses for much of the day. By biking, I felt invigorated by the fresh air, and the changing scenery and terrain stimulated my mind endlessly. I never felt stagnant the way I do after hours of sitting in the office, even when the work is challenging and interesting.
I think we tend to lose sight of what is lost spending each day cooped up in the same small cubicle or office in which everything looks and feels the same each day. Not only does the scenery not change, but the farthest thing to look at is only a few feet away from you no matter where you are in the office, and most of the work day is spent staring a screen a mere foot or two in front of you. Undoubtedly this is bad for the health of the eyes, but what of the mind and body? In a non-industrialized state, say as in a nomadic tribe, the environment would be constantly changing, providing endless fodder for the individual to interact with. Even in a settled, agricultural community, the plants, animals, and seasons would be always changing; nothing would be the same day to day.
And yet we expect individuals today to stay sequestered in a small office that rarely changes, where the only physical environment to interact with is safe and uninteresting ergonomic furniture. The office presents little tactile, visual, olfactory, or audible differences from day to day, let alone hour to hour. This type of monotony is completely antithetical to our existence and the needs of our bodies and minds. Considering the potential for human locomotion in a day relative to the size of nearly all offices, Katy Bowman’s comparison to the orca in a swimming pool in her book Move Your DNA is apt. Like the swimming pools that the orcas perform their labor in, offices are restrictive spaces that limit human potential for growth and movement.
Bike commuting (or walking, skating, scooting, skateboarding, etc.) is a way to break out of the human zoo, at least before and after work, and take a huge step towards undomesticating your life.