Friday, January 14, 2011

Commuter Cowboy

This past Monday morning, while the city was besieged by a 48 hour snow storm, I decided to opt out of taking the bus and took it directly to the streets.

I snowshoed into work.

Snowshoeing as a means of commuting has been a work in process that began when I left the car at home and started taking the bus to work six years ago. At the time, I had little idea how much fun I'd have. In fact, I mistakenly thought that hitching myself to public transportation meant giving up a personal freedom. But I quickly discovered otherwise: I could take the bus for one leg and commute by my own power -- running or biking -- for the other. This is what's called being a multi-modal commuter.

Being a multi-modal commuter was initially exciting, like being part of a counter-cultural revolution or something. At first, it meant simply commuting to/from work by public transportation or my own power. Later, I used the bike & bus for errands and such. I never went cold-turkey on my car. But I began trying to find ways to be efficient without it. In my mind's eye, I was like a commuter cowboy and damn proud of it.

Over the years, I've learned the best routes to run and bike. In that time, I have also witnessed the growth of alternative commuting in Omaha, as city streets were transformed overnight into bicycle-friendly roads with newly painted bike lanes.

I have also learned how to dress appropriately for the cowboy commute. I picked up a skiier's backpack to carry a change of clothes. During winter, I discovered: wool, running in yaktrax, and how to outfit my bike with fenders for the slop.

And for a long time, I was satisfied, and it was good.

But inevitably, those paths that were once vibrant became dull and well-trodden to me. Many of the routes I discovered independently had become painted bike lanes, and later faded, and re-painted once more. Some lanes were abandoned, some new lanes were added, and some even became sharrows.

Something was amiss. What was once exciting had become commonplace. The thrill was gone, baby.

So I began seeking new adventures. I've considered: unicycling, street-luge, roller blading and swimming the Missouri river from the North Omaha railroad swing bridge. Adventurous yes, but all impractical.

I had all but given up hope when local weatherman and avid cyclist CT Thongklin posted an early warning forecast on his Facebook page last Friday. A forecast promising a 48 hour snow event culminating in bad roads during Monday morning's commute.
Looks like about 8"-9" for the Omaha metro...forecasting a significant snow event a couple days in advance.

When I read significant snow event a couple days in advance, the idea to commute-by-snowshoe crystallized in my numb skull like water vapor depositing into a snowflake.

As CT predicted, Monday morning was a snowy mess. While others likely fumbled for keys and cursed digging out their car from the snow, I laced up my running shoes and strapped on the snowshoes. Car tires spun in futile attempts for traction while my snowshoes settled into a light clippity-clop rhythm. A little while later, someone shoveling his driveway paused to catch his breath and remarked, "you've got the right idea."

I thought so, too.

I plodded along as the snow fell softly, snowshoeing through neighborhood roads and alleys, a roundabout, two city parks, and one green space downtown. In all, it took about an hour to cover the five or so miles from home to work.

And with that, I can now ink "snowshoeing" to the cowboy commuter list I had sharpied to my cinder block basement wall.

Perhaps swimming the Missouri will join that list one day...


  1. And I'm sure the chics digged it, too.

  2. Brady, news story here about a salesman skiing 2 miles to the light rail to get to his office downtown. My thought: "Telemarking to Telemarketing." I will be looking to such an experience in a future post. Ol' Dad