Biking to the store(s) and elsewhere

Today was an absolutely amazing day to ride.  Temperatures in the mid-70s, clear skies, a nice stiff breeze (the occasional brutal headwind aside), and a long list of errands to run.

I’ve long believed that the best biking is the kind that takes you out of your car and puts you on a bike. Obviously, not all trips are equally easy to be done on a bike.  Visits to the bulk-buyers mecca known as Sam’s Wholesale Club are just going to be more difficult on a bike, unless you have a cargo trailer, which even the most dedicated cyclist often doesn’t own.  But many trips are completely feasible on a bike, including a sizable weekly trip to the grocery store, which I accomplished today.  Given that something like 75% of trips under two miles in length are made in a car, I think we all have a little room for improvement.  And that was my goal today.

I left my house around 2:30 PM with a long list of groceries to buy and places to visit.  First up was my office, about three miles from home, where I needed to drop off some papers and get a few things done. My ride to work was great: an average speed of around 12 MPH and a total trip length of just over 15 minutes.  I was pleased.

I then left the office to bike to Whole Foods, about 2.5 miles east.  It is fortunate for cyclists that Whole Foods, while located on Poplar Ave., one of the most bike-hostile roads in Memphis, is quite easily accessible from the much more bike-friendly Southern Ave., presently the only road in Memphis with striped bike lanes.  Given the fact that Southern runs right by my house AND right by campus, my trip to Whole Foods was made quite a bit easier.  Also much appreciated: Whole Foods has a bike rack outside, making secure parking so much easier.  Kudos to them for that.

After dropping off a large bag of #5 plastics into the recycling bin in Whole Foods, I set out to do some shopping. Whole Foods on a Sunday afternoon can be rather crowded, so after endless “excuse me”s and “pardon me”s, I made my way to the check-out line, coming in just under the 15-item limit for the express lane (score!).  The charming young lady behind the cash register saw my helmet and oversized Ikea shopping bag and asked, with a noticeable hint of incredulity in her voice, if I was going to fit all of this stuff on my bike.  I told her briefly about my expansive panniers but that I would soon be headed to Target for even more stuff.  Even then, I wasn’t sure if I would have enough room in my bags to fit all the stuff on my list.

Target is just a short jog from Whole Foods and I made the trip in about 10 minutes.  After locking up my bike outside – thanks also to Target for bike racks – I sauntered inside for more consumer gorging.  Just near the checkout lanes I ran into a former student of mine and we chatted on about music and biking and so on for a few minutes before saying our goodbyes and continuing on our respective ways.  I was disappointed to find that Target didn’t have washing soda, a crucial ingredient in the homemade dishwasher detergent my wife and I make (because we’re hippies like that).  In fact, Whole Foods also let me down: they were out of fake chicken bouillon cubes that we like (because we’re vegetarian hippies like that).  So after finishing my trip to Target, I decided to make an unplanned stop at Kroger to pick the items I couldn’t find elsewhere.

Sadly, Kroger is nowhere near a bike lane, but it is remarkably easy for cyclists to access, at least from the south.  From Southern I turned north on one of the lovely, tree-lined streets in the East Buntyn neighborhood, crossed Central, then continued north on Reese to Poplar.  Then I cut through the Walgreens’ parking lot and biked up to Poplar Plaza on Prescott.  I then locked up my bike for the third (and final) time today and entered Kroger.  Because I had a few items in my messenger bag from Target and Whole Foods I elected to check my bag at the Customer Service desk and then went on to find my stuff.  Fortunately, both of the items I couldn’t find earlier were available at Kroger, so after checking out and getting back my bag, I left the store.

By this point my panniers were positively groaning under the weight and volume of the goods I had bought, but I managed to find enough room for my final two items and then set out home.

My road home was really amazing.  I had more energy than I’ve had in a long time, pedaling uphill at speeds I would have blanched at when I first starting biking.  The ride down Southern was made a bit more difficult by a stout headwind, but that just gave me more motivation to push even harder.  So after a quick stop at the local quickie mart for a $1 lottery ticket – what can I say, I was feeling lucky – I finally arrived home.

The total trip time was around three hours, about 1:15 of which was spent on my bike.  I logged around 16 miles altogether with an average speed of just over 12 MPH, a pretty decent clip considering all the weight I was dragging around (and the headwinds).  Upon arriving at home, I enlisted my wife in arranging the goods I had purchased on our kitchen table and took this picture.

As you see, I’m kind of proud of my loot.  Here’s a complete list of everything I bought today.

  • 1 quart of yogurt
  • 1 Clif bar (devoured in the Whole Foods parking lot)
  • 1 1/2 gallon of OJ
  • 1 1/2 gallon of soymilk
  • 1 baguette
  • 3 boxes of cereal
  • 1 bag of granola
  • 1 pound of coffee beans
  • I jar of peanut butter
  • 1 tub of shredded asiago cheese
  • 2 boxes of bouillon cubes
  • 2 boxes of Alka Seltzer
  • 1 large box of Borax
  • 1 large box of washing soda
  • 1 storage container (for the aforementioned homemade dishwasher detergent)
  • 1 three-pack of Puffs

Not bad for an afternoon’s biking, right?

Here’s a picture of my route today.

You can see an interactive map of my route here.  Just a few comments on the image.  The dark blue line on the bottom is Southern Ave., where I logged most of my miles.  The longer route north from Southern is from my trip to Kroger. The shorter one is my stop at the office.

Also, notice how direct most of my ride was.  The vast majority of the 16 miles I logged today was on Southern, and as I’ve said before, those bike lanes make so much of a difference in getting around town it isn’t even funny.  I practically hop up and down on my bike when I ride those lanes.

But my larger point is this: what we have here is proof positive that almost anyone can be a bike commuter in Memphis.  Yes, there are start-up costs: buying a bike, some safety gear, bike bags, and other fun biking toys.  And there is the barrier-to-entry of concerns over safety and fear of biking on car-infested streets.  But I’m living proof that it can be done and, I believe, should be done.

The feeling of accomplishment I have over my ride today is great, but it pales in comparison to the excitement over what I will attempt in the future.  I can’t wait to try something even more ridiculous than what I did today … well, actually, we do need to get more dog food for our lovely and sweet St. Bernard mix.  To Petco … on my bike!

P.S.  Below is the full set of pictures I took on my ride today.  Enjoy.

[slickr-flickr id="57760946@N03" tag="Biking to the store" type="gallery"]

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