Chippewa Herald * August 13, 2005

Summer commute gets longer but better

by Tom Arneberg, Community Columnist

As soon as school is out in June, my daily commute time increases dramatically. Getting to work takes me fifteen minutes to an hour in the summer.

It may surprise you that both my home and work are within the city limits of Chippewa Falls!

No, it's not the road construction that slows me down that much (although there is plenty of that this summer). Rather, it's my travel speed that plummets.

When nice weather finally arrives, I try to use my car as seldom as possible. In fact, when I went to fill up "Mighty Whitey" (my '85 Nova) a couple weeks ago, it was the first time I added gas since April 28! I like to see how long I can go with only one midsummer fill-up -- this year I'm on track to stretch from April to at least September.

If you know me well, you know that I am definitely NOT an exercise nut. But I do enjoy getting out in the fresh air and commuting by foot or bicycle when possible.

Fortunately, my entire commute is contained in the Chippewa Falls city limits. It's three and a half miles from our home near Irvine Park to my work on Industrial Boulevard, and sidewalks or bike paths span nearly the entire route.

Bicycling is my favorite way to get to work. I would ride in spring and fall, too, except that I drive three of my kids to school to save them the 45-minute morning bus ride. As soon as school is out, though, I'm pushing the pedals.

My commute got even better this summer with the opening of the new bike path behind Leinie's Lodge. The new segment may be short, but that minute or two along the east side of Duncan Creek lifts my spirits every morning. There's nothing like hearing the rushing water and smelling the pungent brewery odors while whizzing along through the woods on smooth blacktop.

After I ride over the big bridge and take the path along Highway J to Industrial Boulevard, I catch one more cool bike path through the woods along the Chippewa River that leads right to my building. You can't ask for a better commute than that!

Luckily for my office mates, we have a shower at work where I can freshen up and change clothes. My wife lectures me when I leave home that I "can't go to work looking like that," but I assure her that I enter the basement door and change before going up to my office. (Actually, it probably wouldn't matter much anyway, since I work in an engineering group. Engineers are not exactly known for their keen fashion sense.)

I also enjoy walking to work on occasion. That's a bigger deal, as it takes almost an hour each way. I normally can't afford the time for TWO hours of commuting every day, so I usually walk opposite directions on consecutive days: For example, I will walk home from work Monday night, leaving my car or bike there, and walk back to work Tuesday morning.

Despite taking longer, walking has some advantages over biking. Your senses take in more of your surroundings, and you have more time to think. It's also easier to make impromptu stops to take a photo or look over the fresh produce at the farmers' market downtown.

In my case, extra walking is also good training for backpack trips. Now that several boys in our Scout troop are getting up to high school age, let's just say that I no longer have to wait for THEM to catch up to ME on the trail.

My own kids have caught on, and asked if they could walk to school during their last week of classes. My three middle kids -- grades 3, 5, and 7 -- were up and ready to walk by 6 a.m. on May 24. We had a great walk and I took a lot of photos along the way, which you can see on the web. (I had told them that I'd buy them anything they want for breakfast at McDonald's if they made it all the way. No, I did not realize that you could buy "McFlurry" shakes before 8 a.m.!)

If you've lived here for a while but always travel in your car, I'd encourage you to try seeing Chippewa Falls from bicycle or foot for a while. It will give you a whole new appreciation for the beauty and rhythm of our river town.


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