When I started commuting to work on my bike, I focused on finding a route that avoided busy arterials and provided a reasonably enjoyable and safe ride. I don’t recall how long it took, but after settling into a routine my commute grew boring. It wasn’t enough to get some exercise, save money, and be environmentally responsible. Something was missing, and I wanted more.

So I began exploring other routes. I randomly turned down residential streets I’d never been on before. I included trails, some I stumbled upon and some I found while peering at Spokane from online satellite maps. I would happen upon stairs, dirt roads, pathways, and dead ends. There were always new sights to see. I call this adventure commuting.

Most bike commuters can make this work whether the commute is one or 10 miles. For many years my commute to work was at least nine miles from downtown. Last year we sold our house and moved into an apartment while we looked for a new house. I was half a mile from work. We found a house, and now I’m barely four miles away. When my commute was nine miles, I could easily branch off on other residential roads. Sometimes it lengthened the ride, but I always planned for extra time just in case. Sometimes I’d leave early and purposely take a different but longer route just for the fun of it. I came up with a 26-mile route where I didn’t hit a traffic light until I got to the intersection right next to my work.

Photo of bike by Hank Greer.

Photo: Hank Greer

During my six months living close to downtown, I got to venture out on roads and trails on Spokane’s south side, a part of town I had rarely biked. I had a blast discovering new, to me, places to ride. The south side of town has an incredible number and variety of roads and trails to make your commute more interesting. At first I was surprised to find as many unpaved roads as I did. Even better, I’m thrilled whenever I find small trails connecting neighborhoods.

Another benefit of taking the road rarely traveled is it helps you become more in touch with the city you live in. There are houses whose creative occupants have placed clever, fun, and impressive works of art outside. Parks and ponds beckon you to stop and linger. Lonely steps leading onto an empty lot make you wonder about the house that is no longer there. Also, there’s a segment of humanity you’re probably not that familiar with, such as people sleeping in their cars or encampments in out-of-the-way places. There are murals painted on garage doors, and rundown streets with sparks of revitalization in the middle of the block.

The greatest source of enrichment, I discovered, is the people you meet. There’s the elderly woman who doesn’t know me from Adam yet greets me like an old friend each time I ride by her. I often exchange greetings with people waiting at bus stops, and many times they are the ones initiating the contact. There’s an elderly man with profound hearing loss that basks in the sun in front of his house. Now he smiles and waves at me because I took a moment to say, “Hello.”

Map of bike route.

Daily maps make a great reward.

There are children on bikes who challenge you to race them. Shy children often smile and say “hi” because you’re on a bike, too. A driver whose car is stuck in the snow is grateful for the push you can give them. Sometimes it’s a driver or another cyclist sidelined by a flat tire who thank you for the roadside assistance. My favorite interaction is with children selling lemonade or ice cream on the sidewalk hoping to make a few dollars. I like to make it more fun for them by paying for a couple more and telling them to treat whomever they like.

Whether it’s meeting new people or enjoying the variety of taking a different route, I found that adventure commuting always brings something new. One morning I ran into a friend on the High Drive trails and she asked me where I was going. I told her I was headed to work. She knew I worked downtown and pointed behind me and said, “Downtown is that way.”

“Yes,” I replied and I pointed behind her, “But it’s more fun to go this way.” And that is what adventure commuting is all about. //