Wednesday, 13 Feb 2002

UPPER PENINSULA, Mich.

I’m sitting at my computer in cozy slippers and my favorite sweatshirt, getting ready for another work-at-home day. Outside my window a few snowflakes drift down between bare gray maple branches and deep green spruce boughs, a calm contrast to yesterday’s Arctic blast.

Despite that snowstorm, cycling yesterday was great. A 30-40 mph tailwind pushed me into town as it swirled snow along the icy roadway; mercifully, by the time I returned home, the winds had weakened. My snow tires gripped nicely, warm clothes and exercise kept me toasty, and storm reports had scared enough traffic off the roads that for a while I had them to myself. Who knew biking in near-blizzard conditions could be so pleasant?

There’s none of that gallivanting on today’s calendar, although I am booking some future long-distance trips this morning. I just hope Amtrak will still be there when I need it, since I travel cross-country by train. Right now Amtrak is under political siege and may cut some long-distance routes later this year if Congress doesn’t provide more funding. I’m also writing letters to Congress today, urging support of trains.

When New Society Publishers released Divorce Your Car! and I ventured out on car-free book tours, I used Amtrak to cover the longest distances and would have been stuck without it. To reach the train, I traveled by bus and folding bicycle. I own a Bike Friday that folds into a suitcase; that suitcase doubles as a bicycle trailer when the bike’s not in it. I can cycle from home to a local Greyhound station, take my bags out of the suitcase trailer, fold my bike into it, and take everything along as regular luggage. A nine-hour bus ride to Milwaukee (prime reading and writing time) gets me to our nearest Amtrak station. At the other end of my train trip, I pull the bike out of its suitcase, unfold it in about 20 minutes, hook up the suitcase trailer, and cycle away.

I used this combination of folding bike, bus, and train for over 4,000 miles of book tour. Although bicycling did help me deal with the stress, book tours can be grueling. Once, while on tour in Seattle, I started feeling sick at a book signing (food poisoning, probably). I decided to cycle back to my hotel (if you’re squeamish stop here), hoping I’d get there before I had to throw up. I felt a bit better while on my bike, but this happened to be during Seattle’s commute hour; the streets got so clogged I had to get off my bike and use the sidewalk.

When I finally reached the corner across from my hotel, the crosswalk was blocked by an SUV so close to the car in front of it that Twiggy couldn’t have squeezed between them. My stomach gurgled fiercely. I felt frantic. I signaled the driver that I wanted to get through. He shrugged. I knocked on his window, thinking if he rolled it down I’d politely explain that if he didn’t back up (he had room), I’d throw up all over the big shiny hood of his vehicle. He ignored me.

Then some Seattle street life came to my rescue. Some muscular-looking longshoremen had been lounging in front of a store on that corner. A couple of them charged forward, yelling, “Hey, A——! Let the lady through!” The SUV driver backed right up. I admit this incident did make me nervous (at the signing I’d read some excerpts from Divorce Your Car! about road rage, and now I hoped the driver wasn’t armed; the caffeinated-to-the-gills state of many Seattle motorists is bad enough) but I charged through the gap and made it to my hotel just in time to throw up in the seclusion of a restroom. I am eternally grateful to those guys on the corner. I hope they read Grist and are reading this now, because I was too desperately ill to thank them that afternoon.

Seattle wasn’t all bad. Like many other places in North America, Seattle has buses with bike racks — another way to combine cycling and transit. Since we don’t have such racks here in the U.P. (we barely have buses), owning a folding bike enables me to combine bikes and transit. As long as Congress doesn’t force Amtrak to cut long-distance routes, I’ll continue using the bike-bus-train combination to take long trips out of the U.P. without driving.

I’ll write those support-trains letters to Congress next. But first, break time. Yesterday’s 22-mile bike ride kicked up my appetite, and a snack sounds appealing. Happily, the kitchen’s just 10 slippered steps away.