One thing I always wanted to do during my graduate student and postdoc periods was to ride a bike for commute and for fun. I could achieve this dream when I started to work in Port Aransas, TX. I bought a relatively cheap mountain bike (but not too crude, knowing that maintenance might be an issue in the coastal town). I installed a front headlight and bought a helmet right away. I was ready to roll out. Actually maintenance was more demanding than I had originally thought. I think I replaced more than two dozen spokes, one wheel, and couple head lights during the next several years due to the notorious salty air in coastal town (i.e. corroded away).
There are many merits to ride a bike to work. First, it is good for my health to do a regular exercise, second, I can save money for gas, third, I can enjoy the local scenes while biking which I often miss out if driving, and fourth, I can think while riding. It took me about 15 minutes to work in Port Aransas so it was an easy distance to try out. Even better, Port Aransas, being on a barrier island, is nearly flat so I didn’t have to worry about hills and slopes.
There were few things I had not thought of until I began to ride a bike to work. First thing I noticed was most bike riders in town didn’t wear helmets. One of my colleague professors, who is biker himself, told me that I could immediately tell who is a college professor in town by seeing who wears a helmet… Over the next seven years, I actually saw that only professors (my colleagues) and senior citizens (winter Texans) wear helmets indeed. One other thing was heat. It becomes fairly hot in South Texas so most people resort into a A/C controlled space. If I brave into the road during daytime, I would be soaked in sweat within ten minutes or so. I learned to bring an extra shirt to work to change when I get to my office. The other unexpected thing to affect my rides was the winds. I only thought about the flat ground for easy ride at first, and was surprised by strong breeze in coastal town. If I can ride the tail winds that would be a pleasant ride, but it would quickly become like an uphill struggle when I take head winds. On unlucky days, I could take head winds at both morning and evening rides as the wind direction changes day and night along the coast. One last unexpected challenge was the ‘evil’ sticky burrs growing everywhere. When I first bought the bike a clerk strongly recommend me to fill green slime inside my tires. I was suspicious but did it anyway and later I was always thankful for that tip. Oh, how I can forget another nuisance: mosquitoes. During the hot and damp summer days, the swarm of mosquitoes would rise like clouds. Unless I carefully spray the repellent before I rode the bike, I could become a live bait for them. Despite the regular sprays by the city, it was almost norm to encounter million strong mosquitoes every summer, especially wet years.
One of the joys I had was the experiences I had while biking back home in the late night in town. Port Aransas is a small town (ca. 3000 residents) and I usually rode along small streets. I loved the breeze I could feel on my face, various smells from the houses (from cooking or from shower somewhere or even rotting fish in a dumpster), all different kinds of sound from surf zone to kitchens to birds to bugs, and finally all the stars in the dark sky. Those were precious and almost poetic. Now I am in hill country area of Austin, it is more challenging to enjoy such a rural and remote experience. I miss that time.