The Case for Commuting

by Clara Nipper

First published in Hit and Miss Magazine and Five on Five magazine



You don’t want to be part of the problem, I know that. And you’re a derby girl, so you probably don’t get enough time on your skates, so consider this: commute to and from your day job.

            To all of you who just inundated me with shouts of protest and reasons why that’s impossible, telling me that it would never work because you have to skate uphill both ways through snow with kids strapped to your legs, just relax. It’s only an idea. Take a breath and just think about it.

            I am fortunate enough to work and live close to a trail, so I take advantage of it. Pre-derby, I used to commute by bicycle. Biking is so much easier than skating! No worries about sticks, rocks, cracks, sweet gum balls, gravel pits and dust wallows or shallow ponds that shouldn’t be but are there due to poor drainage. But after five record-setting flat tires in two weeks, I decided to leave cycling to those who like to walk.

            After derby, I appreciate all the extra time with my trusty Riedells and Radar Pure wheels. As a confirmed multi-tasker, I love that I can work on my speed and stride while getting to and from work.

            On a typical morning, because my trail is on a river, I am gifted with experiencing all the wildlife I could want. We have blue herons, brilliant white egrets, brown pelicans, hawks, eagles and the terminally cute Canada geese with peeping flocks of plump, green, fuzzy goslings. These geese are almost as tall as I am and they hiss at me as I whiz by. I see turtles trundling along the asphalt and scores of bunnies conferring in the shade. I’ve seen mockers, robins, doves, orioles and killdeer. Depending on the time of year, I am surrounded by either Eastern black swallowtails or migrating monarchs. In spring, the wind is fragrant with elderberry and honeysuckle and in autumn, it is the earthy smell of leaves and wood smoke. The clattering of cottonwood leaves as I skate under their canopy is just like a good rainstorm. So a better way to bookend my day, I cannot imagine. This may not be your experience if you try commuting, but you could experience your own interesting surprises. I recommend trying it at least once just to see what those might be. Once out of an insulated and isolating car and feeling the strength in your legs and the momentum you’ve created as it vibrates up your skates to your legs and you smell the fresh wind in your face, it’s a completely different world.

            To get started, I bought the biggest backpack I could find (thank you, Swiss Army!) and put everything in it I would need once I arrived at work, such as my office clothing and shoes, accessories, hair products, deodorant, powder, cologne and extra socks and sunscreen for the skate home. Because I’m also weird and fiercely independent and self-sufficient, I packed my manuscript, my breakfast, lunch and an addict’s amount of Mountain Dew. I put this pack on the scale and it weighed in at a whopping forty pounds but I didn’t mind. It just makes me stronger and reminds me to stay low and steady.

            Then once I was ready to try this crazy thing, I strapped on my pads, turned on my IPod and skated to the office on a Saturday so I could see how long it took. My commute is only about five miles each way so with road construction and rush hour traffic, it is actually faster for me to skate than to drive. Then Sunday, I set my alarm and on Monday, I sprang out of bed and haven’t looked back.

            I think it’s important to consider commuting for several reasons. 1. environmental, 2. personal health and well-being and 3. raising visibility and awareness of derby girls. Because unless you live on a coast, which I most certainly don’t (considering the politics of my home state, I barely live in the modern age), derby is still unfortunately stuck just outside the mainstream in either total invisibility (there’s roller derby here?) or in television from the 1970s. And I believe in my own small way, I can influence people and help derby just by commuting and talking about it to civilians.

            Plus, after a hard skate to work, I’m in a great mood and the rest of the day is easy. And after a hard skate home straight into the wind (it’s always into the wind!), I’m ready for that Krispy Kreme. And I’ve earned it.