Commuting with Hugh
I woke just before midnight to crackling thunder, flashes of lightning and teeming rain. The air freshened and filled with that earthy scent of organic matter – leaves, timber, grass, soil – enlivened by heavy rain and electrical charge. I drifted back to sleep but not before hoping the rain would ease by our 6am start. I was meeting another bike commuter to shadow his ride to work.
Hugh’s been reading ‘A Bike for All Seasons’ since early this year. After reading my post about Commuting to Work, Hugh invited me to join him on his regular work commute. I was thrilled with the opportunity. It turns out he lives in the next suburb and so after a couple of emails to agree a day, time and place, my next shadow commute was organised.
When I rode out at 5.30am, the rain had cleared, a few clouds lingered and the path was littered with debris. The most direct way to Hugh’s suburb from my place is via a forest path around Currumbin Hill. Last summer after a storm, a fallen gum tree blocked the trail and I had to carry my bicycle over its thick grey trunk. After the night’s storm, I wondered if I might meet something similar. And I did! It was only a small wattle tree but I had to half-wheel, half-carry my bike around it through long thick grass. Relieved there were no snakes hiding in the grass, I walked back to take a photo.
* * *
Hugh was waiting quietly by a gum tree on the corner, face to the early morning sunlight, ready for his regular commute. His Avanti hybrid bike with flat handlebars stood nearby looking in good condition considering it’s weathered 40,000 kms. Hugh, now 65, has been a bicycle commuter for seven years. He used to be a runner, a marathon runner, a soft sand specialist in fact. But as knees have a way of wearing, Hugh retired from running and began cycling. His daily commute between Tugun and South Tweed is 13.6 kms each way. So, during a week he rides about 130kms getting to and from work.
Through his daily commute by bicycle Hugh gets his quotient of regular exercise… and some. Not only does he achieve what is considered higher than the average person’s daily exercise, he also seems pleasantly relaxed. When I asked him about what challenges he faces as a regular bike commuter, he really had to think about it and replied:
“There are the usual problems with cars, punctures, winter cold and rain, but these days I see them more as the world passing, rather than problems.”
Hugh travels lightly both in mind and bike. On a rear rack, his bike carries a compact “trunk” packed with lunch, phone, wallet and clothes for the day as well as a spare tube and spanner for fixing a punctured tyre.
Most of Hugh’s commute can be ridden on pathways shared by pedestrians and cyclists. The exception is a busy stretch of road between Tugun and Bilinga where the completion of a 1.7km beachfront path would provide a popular and safer option.
As we ride along, we enjoy a pleasant chat, some splendid ocean views and mostly flat terrain. Occasionally Hugh exchanges a cheery good morning to regular runners and walkers who he’s met over the years. When we arrive at Hugh’s practice where he works as a GP, he wheels his bike through the reception area (not a popular choice on rainy days he says), down the hallway and parks it in a small room that doubles as a shower and change room. Morning commute complete.
I enjoy riding home along an alternative route recommended by Hugh. I pedal along in sparkling sunlight under skies cleared of dust and salt by the previous night’s storm and reflect on the ease that comes with regular bicycle commuting. Something that lingers in my mind from commuting with Hugh is the simplicity with which he designs each day: a bit of work, a bit of play (his commuting exercise fits in here) and a bit of rest.
Now that’s my sort of day!