A bit of Kwajalein trivia that surprises, delights and sometimes confuses people who first learn about the island is that everyone rides a bicycle. In fact, I probably won’t drive a motorized vehicle on Kwaj, ever. But I’m pretty excited about my two-wheeled transportation. Bicycles are the superior mode of getting from point A to point B, and here’s why:
1. Catch the view
Sure, you can see through a car window, but the view from a bicycle is a 360 degree panorama all the time, no huge sunroof needed. Riding in the morning? Sunrise off your right shoulder. Riding at night? Stars spread across a black sky. Riding midday? Well, you’ll be a little sweaty, but the breeze will cool you off.
The kids and I took a ride around the north point of the island yesterday, and we saw waves breaking on a reef between Kwaj and the next tiny island. Since we were on our bikes, we could slow down to observe the waves and talk about why they were breaking on the shallow reef, like a linebacker cut off at the knees.
On a bike, you can stop on the side of the road to take in the view, and no one honks at you.
On their bikes, the kids could move around on the road to see everything. We could even stop, without annoying our fellow drivers, to enjoy the view a little more and stick our feet in the water.
In a car, only the kid on the right side of the car would have been able to see, and maybe they would have been straining to see up over the window. They may have missed the waves or the reef or the tiny island, because a car only gives you that little window of time to see something, then you’re buzzing on to the next view. Unless there’s a stop light, but that’s a different problem.
2. What’s a stop light?
Kwajalein has 0 stop lights. I haven’t counted the stop signs, but I haven’t stopped at one yet either. When we were riding to the store on Sunday, we were nearing a four-way intersection, and we saw a van approaching from the west and bicycles approaching on the three other streets.
“Uh-oh, a traffic jam,” Jake said.
But the van stopped (vehicles have to yield to bicycles), and the bicycles timed their entrance to the crossroad so that no one even paused in their pedaling. No traffic jams. No waiting at intersections. No accidents adding 25 minutes to your commute. No crawl around the beltway. Just a breeze in your hair and a burn in your thighs as you pedal on.
3. A little exercise never hurt
In the transition of our move, I gave up most forms of exercise. Now, every time I leave the house, I get in a mini workout. Quick trip to the store: one mile on the bike. Getting groceries: half a mile. Wandering aimlessly trying to figure out my way around the island: who knows? I was gone an hour, though. At one point, I accidentally rode through the waste water treatment plant. So I guess I know where that is now.
With the mostly flat terrain – we’re talking an elevation change of about six feet total on the whole island – a ride across Kwajalein feels pretty easy, too. Easy enough to carry on a conversation.
4. Chat it up
Speaking of conversation, on a bicycle you can ride next to someone and talk with them. I know you might have a passenger in your car that you can yak at, but on a bike, you can pull up next to someone and talk with them for a minute, then drop back. Or you might find yourself riding next to a complete stranger on her way to work (as I did two days ago).
We introduced ourselves (she’s Tawnya), we talked about our kids and her job, nice chit-chat. She showed me where the local human resources office is, in case I want to find a side gig to support my blogging habit. Then we were at her office, so she pulled over while I pedaled on, sucking in the fresh air as I rode.
5. Clean air, clean lungs
Three days ago, I was riding around the island early in the morning, before rush hour, and I met a Humvee with a driver and someone in the passenger seat. I smiled and waved (as you do here), and then coughed in the diesel fumes. It hit me: no car fumes. We’ve relied on bikes as transportation in two other places: Rock Island, Ill., and Reston, Va. Especially in the snarl of DC-area traffic, the exhaust in Reston would hit us in the face when we were on a bike path near the road. But these Humvee fumes made me viscerally angry. Is it road rage if I want to jump off my bike and yell at someone for burning diesel into my pristine air? Probably. Granted, these guys are doing their job, and I suspect they wouldn’t be driving a Humvee if it weren’t necessary. But still, when the next truck passed me, I held my breath.
That incident made me think about the air quality on the island. With the ocean filtering air pollutants and a constant gentle breeze whooshing through the palms, I must be breathing some of the best air that’s ever been in my lungs.
So that’s it. Bikes are best. Unless it’s a tropical downpour. Then staying in our house is better. Too bad we won’t have that option when school starts. Does anyone have a parka?