Jody Overstreet: The Accidental Commuter
Jody Overstreet grew up riding a bike to school, to after-school jobs and to friends’ houses in Juneau and later Anchorage, but her transition to full-time commuting started with a crash.
Really. A crash. As in having her car totaled by an unlicensed, uninsured driver in 2009.
“My insurance carrier paid for the loss of the car, but it was just enough to pay off the note,” Jody said. “I decided to commute for the summer to save money for another car, but when autumn came I still didn’t have enough funds, and found I really wanted to keep riding anyway.”
She kept riding her bike for the four-mile round-trip from the Fireweed/A Street area to her job on 4th Avenue, sometimes riding from downtown to the University of Alaska Anchorage for evening classes.
Later, she moved to Sand Lake and temporarily increased her daily distance to 14 miles until she bought a house less than a mile from where she works. Although she eventually bought a used Subaru for trips that aren’t practical by bicycle, she still walks or pedals to work, and she still rides her bike to shop and to visit friends, as well as for recreation such as bike touring both in the United States and abroad.
Her commuting bike is a Scott Aspect, using studded tires in winter and slicks during summer, and equipped with panniers for hauling groceries and other loads.
“I also have a Townie Euro that I only ride on spring or summer days, if I want to imagine I’m in Amsterdam,” she said. “I am very happy with my setup, except for when I have to ride in deep snow. I’d love to have a fat-tire bike, but can’t afford it. The best I can do for now is follow in the tracks set by those who can.”
Why not drive everywhere, like so many Americans?. For one thing, Jody said, riding a bike gives her peace of mind.
“It feels good. I love the exercise and fresh air. I love to experience the change of weather and seasons, not just see it happen through car windows. And I love that something so simple and good for me does not harm the world.”
And riding a bike exposes her to experiences she wouldn’t have driving a car on busy Anchorage streets.
“The simplest things can be the most sublime,” Jody said.”I was riding Chester Creek Trail on an autumn day when a puff of wind took the leaves from the top of the trees and tossed them in sunshine like golden confetti. I happened to be listening to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons (one earplug, down low) at the time, and thought that the most skilled cinematographer couldn’t have achieved a more perfectly scripted moment.”
Like most year-round bike commuters, though, she encounters friends, co-workers and relatives who haven’t shared such experiences, and don’t understand her commitment to riding.
“A lot of them think I’m a little off kilter,” Jody said. “Most of them worry about my safety while on the trail. Many times though, I’ve had them tell me how impressed they are that I do this.”
Jody advises new bike commuters to “Dress for success. By that I mean consider the weather you’re riding in and dress appropriately, whether it’s a blazing hot summer day or blistering cold winter. Comfort is key to mindful riding. And, speaking of being mindful, it’s imperative to observe bike etiquette and safety. Be a good representative of the bike commuting community!”
But most important of all is to simply ride to work. Because if more people did, Jody said, “The world would be cleaner and quieter, and people would be happier.”
And who could argue with that?
This is the third in a series of I Bike Anchorage stories about the city’s devoted bicycle commuters — riders who see bikes not as toys, but as a viable means of transportation for getting to work and school, shopping, and running errands. These profiles will appear quarterly and be written by Tim Woody, a year-round bike commuter and author of a blog called Bicycles & Icicles. If you would like to nominate a profile subject, drop Tim an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Tell him a little about the person’s commuting habits and why he/she has an interesting story to tell.