Olalla resident rides bike to work and for pleasure

By MICHELLE BEAHM | Staff Writer

Every weekday between 5:30 and 6 a.m., the scene always is more or less the same in Gig Harbor. A woman will be walking along the road picking up trash. A girl will be jogging with her dog. Volunteers are watering plants. And Doug Lewis,an Olalla resident, will be on his bicycle heading to work.

Lewis, 64, works for MultiCare Health Systems in Gig Harbor, and from February to around the end of November, he’ll bike the 10 miles to and from work every day.

“I ride the same time every day, and the same commuters pass me in the day, every day, and they always are aware I’m there,” Lewis said. “My day is kind of like Groundhog Day, when I ride to work. In a good way.”

Lewis started bicycling about nine years ago, when a then co-worker at Tacoma’s Allenmore Hospital suggested Lewis try out his bike. His co-worker rode in marathons, was a triathlete and was an inspiration for Lewis.

“He guided me, he encouraged me, he was my mentor, in a way,” Lewis said.

After buying his own bicycle for $600, “which was very inexpensive for that kind of a bike” according to him, Lewis decided to set a goal for himself.

“I said, I’m 55 years old. I’m going to go over the bridge. I’m going to ride from Olalla, see if I can go over to Tacoma over the Narrows Bridge, see if I can navigate my way on that ridiculous route, and I did,” he said.

Since then, Lewis has become engrossed in his hobby, and now commutes to work almost every day. He is a member of a cycling club called Cascade, and often participates in organized bike rides across the state.

One such bike ride, called the Seattle to Portland (STP), includes two days of riding 100 miles each day. Lewis, who easily bikes at least 100 miles in a week, says he never has trouble getting ready for 100 miles a day, or a “century,” as it’s called in the biking world. But according to him, the length of the bike ride is not the most difficult part of the ride.

“The biggest factor about the STP that is not emphasized enough is that it is a dangerous ride, in that you have 10,000 to 12,000 riders on the road with you, in front of you, passing you, beside you, and it’s pretty tricky,” he said. “It’s not really a relaxing ride, as you might hear.”

However, on that, and other organized rides he’s been on, there is always a lot of support for the participants. Volunteers go along with the ride to provide emergency bike repairs, such as changing a flat tire, there are scheduled food stops and there are safety people who act as “umpires” to keep all the bicyclists in line.

“These would be the people who pass when they shouldn’t be jumping out in front of cars,” Lewis said. “That can endanger everyone. They won’t slow down for safety, they’ll keep pushing through with their desire to go fast.”

This year, Lewis did not participate in the STP. His grandchildren were visiting the weekend of the STP, and he prioritizes family over organized rides.

“Bicycling doesn’t dominate my life like it does for some,” he said. “I have to yield to a lot of other forces. As much as I like to ride every Saturday and maybe Sunday mornings, there is a real life I have to take care of.”

Lewis says that his need and desire to bike is luckily taken care of during his commute to and from work, and therefore the hobby doesn’t “need to occupy the weekends.”

But commuting on a bicycle can be dangerous, a fact that Lewis knows all too well. On a sunny June afternoon, Lewis was hit by a car.

As he was approaching an intersection, the driver of a car that was intending to turn right apparently only looked to his left, and therefore did not see Lewis approaching on his bike.

“He sat there long enough that I thought, ‘Oh, he sees me,’ ” Lewis said. Because of this, he kept advancing to cross the intersection himself, when the car suddenly moved forward and hit him. “Between my forward motion and him hitting me, it was a pretty good launch.”

With no broken bones, Lewis’ trip to the hospital after that was merely precautionary, and Lewis said he survived that accident with just a lot of scratches and a “shoulder tweak.”

Since then, Lewis has been more cautious in his bike riding.

“It taught me don’t ever trust anybody,” he said. “Even if they look at you, don’t trust them.”

Now, when he’s crossing intersections, he’ll try to time it with the traffic light so that there aren’t any cars he has to pass in front of, or else he just goes around behind them or waits for them to pass.

Despite this, and other dangers inherent in riding bicycles along the roads in a county without a lot of bike lanes or signs promoting awareness, Lewis has no intention of stopping any time soon.

“It’s fun riding a bike,” he said. “I love feeling independent on a bicycle, especially if I ride it across the ferry boat into Seattle. It is a blast to ride it in the city, because you don’t have to worry about a car.”

Occasionally, his wife, Sandy, will join him on bike rides. She has always supported his biking, according to Lewis, but she sometimes worries, and because of health reasons, she does not participate in the hobby that often.

“When she does, I have to be really considerate and make sure she is not overdoing it,” Lewis said. “I want to encourage her riding to the best of her ability. If she ever says, ‘Let’s take a bike and do that,’ I drop everything and we’re riding, because that’s what I love to do.”

For people just starting out with the hobby, Lewis has a lot of advice to them.

“Baby step it,” he said, and suggested starting with some protected trails. “At these protected trails, you’re allowed to learn how to run your bike up and down a hill, go across intersections safely, but you’re not out in the traffic.”

Lewis said that after you get comfortable with that, to take your bike out on quieter streets where there isn’t as much traffic.

“Learn how to deal with the cars going by, because a lot of people cannot handle it really early on,” Lewis said.

He also said that it’s a good idea to team up with an experienced biker, at least to begin with, to be encouraged and to learn the short cuts and “little tricks” to road biking.

Another suggestion was to join a cycle club. There are plenty of them in the area, such as the West Sound Cycle Club, Tacoma Wheelmen Bicycle Club and more.

One benefit to the clubs, according to Lewis, is that they have a lot of organized rides. Weekly rides that are easier, and some larger organized rides, such as the STP or the Peninsula Metric.

Another large, organized ride is the RSVP, or Ride from Seattle to Vancouver and Party. There are two of those this year, one on Aug. 16-17, and one on Aug. 17-18.

“I have a slight interest in that one, only because I’d like to know their particular route to Bellingham,” Lewis said. One of his sons, who lives in Bellingham, borrowed his van awhile ago, and Lewis decided to bike up there to get it back. “I knew I did not know the route, so I had to come up with one on my own. It turns out, it sort of follows that RSVP.

“It’s not like a car, where you can just hop on an interstate and follow the easiest, fastest way. Bicycle routes, you’re considering, what are the road conditions, what are the safety problems, and on and on like that.”

It can be challenging at times, and dangerous at others, according to Lewis, but he says it’s always fun, and it’s good exercise.

“I feel like I’m still fully capable of riding in total comfort,” said the 64-year-old Lewis. “I’ll take it a year at a time. Until I feel like I shouldn’t be, I’ll keep riding. I happen to really enjoy it.”


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