Good morning, fabulous Ladies! Welcome to our first post in a series we’re calling “The Commuting Chronicles”; stories and issues raised while traversing Lisa Marie’s and Annette’s daily two-wheeled commute.
Planners and city officials often bring attention to the idea of the “last mile problem”, meaning public transportation can get you within the vicinity of your destination, but the last stretch between public transit stop and end-point discourages transit use, leading to more people traveling via personalized steel-coffin. Combining bicycles and public transit? Voila! Problem solved!
In Annette’s case, “the last mile” was the inverse: a portion of her riding that felt unsafe and intimidating (and exhausting!). Read more about her conversion to riding, the anxieties and neuroses invoked by The Tram, and the joys of overcoming perceived road blocks (pun intended!).
I started using my bike for regular transportation as soon as I moved to Portland. Grocery stores, coffee shops, restaurants. But I couldn’t bring myself to ride work, the place I go more often than anywhere else.
My office is on the top of a steep hill. I wanted to ride to work, but to get up this hill I had two options: either ride up the hill next to cars on narrow roads, or park my bike at the bottom and take the Portland Aerial Tram, a beautiful pod-structure dangling frighteningly from a line. To most new commuters, the risks of riding on twisting and heavily trafficked narrow roads would make the tram an easy choice. But I’ve always been afraid of heights. I’d never tried or even thought to change that about myself; avoiding heights was simply a rule I chose to follow, limiting me in a small way. So for too long, I put off deciding between these options and just continued taking the bus.
At some point, though, I realized that this was silly. I knew this fear of heights was less than completely rational. I wanted to ride to work and didn’t want to be my own barrier to doing that. So I chose to give the tram a try.
The first couple weeks I rode the tram, I would get there after a joyful outing on my bike and then immediately switch to a state of fear. As the tram lifted into the air, I clung firmly to one of the interior poles, staring straight ahead but completely focused inward, trying to get a grip on the dizzy spells I’d experience when the tram swung back-and-forth. Based on what I’d seen of desensitization and exposure therapy on a couple disturbing episodes of A&E’s Obsessed, I was proud just to be able to ride it without drawing attention to myself, and grateful to face this fear outside of the gaze and judgment of a national audience (in any case it would have made for boring television).
During my third week of riding the tram, without thinking I scurried onto a crowded tram as the last passenger at the end of my work day. The cabin was stuffed with people, leaving me with the option of panicking and manically explaining my special need to access the pole in a sea of chill people, or just holding my ground. Social anxieties won out, and I decided to go for it. I braced myself as it swung, and felt surprisingly okay, familiar with my surroundings and the whole experience after weeks of riding the tram.
Over the subsequent weeks, I evolved to always standing without support, at times seizing a prime spot towards the front in order to look down at the city in action, or straight ahead to admire the stunning view of Mt. Hood. My awareness has gradually shifted completely from fear to appreciating the experience of riding the tram – even looking forward to the thing I’d once dreaded the most.
What’s been most surprising is how this change has opened my mind to trying new experiences I would have assumed would be too frightening in the past but have found thrilling — aerial silks and trapeze classes, snowboarding, etc. I had no idea how limiting this fear was until I’d tempered it to the level of a satisfying adrenaline rush, allowing me to stay mindful and experience the fun of these new and challenging pursuits. And I indirectly have my love of bicycles to thank for that.
Oh the things a Lady experiences… on and off two-wheels.
Keep riding and letting go, Ladies!