EVERETT — His commute to work is two hours each way.
He doesn’t listen to podcasts or use cruise control.
He is the cruise control. The voices he hears are in his head.
What’s up with that?
Phillip Buffington pedals his single-speed bicycle between Capitol Hill in Seattle and Everett Public Library three or four times a week. His ride is an $1,100 Surly Cross-Check steel-frame road bike. There’s nothing electric about it.
It’s about 60 miles, round trip.
“I have to convince people this is totally rational behavior,” he said.
May is Bike Month to support, encourage and celebrate all things bicycling. Friday is Bike Everywhere Day, an inclusive take of what was Bike to Work Day. The library will be among groups at a biking promotional event from 8 a.m. to noon Friday at Everett Station, so you can meet the buff biker in person.
On Friday, ironically, he won’t be riding his bike to work, due to the early event timing.
Buffington, 54, has a car. He could drive every day, but then he’d sit in traffic.
“I get my exercise in,” he said. “Commuting by car, I really don’t like it. I’m not anti-car.”
He changes clothes and showers at the library.
(There’s a shower at the library? Who knew.)
“I usually leave home around 7 in the morning, then get here hopefully right about 9 to be on the desk at 9:30,” he said.
An advocate of public transit, he has taken the bus and train. Biking takes about the same time door-to-door.
Pedaling is the easy part.
“The logistics of it are hard to keep in control,” he said.
It goes something like this: “I put on my bike clothes. Then I ride to work and get out of my bike clothes. I take a shower and put on my work clothes. Then at the end of the work day I put on my bike clothes. I go home and take off my bike clothes, not my pajamas because it’s still too early to go to bed so I put on other clothes,” he said.
“If you have a car you don’t think about those things. You just go in your car and get out of your car, you don’t have to change your clothes.”
The cycle continues in the wash.
“Unless you have many bike clothes you have to do laundry,” he said.
At work, he hangs his bike clothes on a folding laundry rack, blown by a box fan to dry for the trek home.
Christy Cowley, Sharing Wheels Community Bike Shop director, said Buffington’s commute is longer than most.
“Sixty is a lot. That’s impressive, admirable and serious miles to put in,” she said.
Sharing Wheels, a nonprofit shop in Everett, does free workshops and bike repair sessions at the library and other venues.
Buffington and bikes go way back.
“I’ve liked it since I was a kid,” he said.
In 2014 he did a bike tour from Copenhagen to Berlin and back. He competes in races such as this weekend’s Vicious Cycle Gravel Gran Fondo in Leavenworth, an 80-mile ride with over 7,000 feet of elevation.
Biking became his primary mode to work 20 years ago for a job in Bellevue.
“That was only about 12 miles each way,” he said.
He has been at the Everett Library for six years.
“I’m lucky there is a shower here,” he said.
He rides year-round in snow and heat, light and dark.
“The bike lights they have now are good,” he said.
The ride is decompressing.
“It’s a solo endeavor. You’re by yourself out there, alone with your thoughts,” he said. “I unwind from any sort of stress from the day. Or sometimes I’ll chew on something or ideas. All sorts of daydreaming, actually.”
Every day is a little bit different, even on the same asphalt.
“Sometimes that familiarity with the route is nice for commuting, because you know what the lights are going to do and the trouble spots,” he said.
He follows a Google Maps bicycle-friendly route on surface streets, not the Interurban Trail, to and from the Hoyt Avenue library.
I-5 isn’t an option.
“I kind of wish there was a bike lane. It would be very fast,” he said. “I don’t know how many traffic lights I have. Every time I go to count it, I always get frustrated.”
The commute is a sensory experience.
“You can see, hear, sometimes taste stuff,” he said. “Places have their own smells. You get a lot of olfactory knowledge, for better or worse. In the springtime when the different flowers are coming up. The opposite of that is some days it’s stinky diesel engine and you get a lung full of diesel exhaust.”
He sees a lot of bad driving. People looking down to text.
He also sees the carnage.
“I’ve come upon some of the worst car wrecks I’ve ever seen bicycling, not witnessed them but arrived just after the first responders,” he said. “ … The debris from car accidents, piles of plastic, broken glass, every day a new pile. Significant accidents not to mention the ones I’ve come upon where the car is upside down and someone is still in it and they’re extracting them. And these are surface streets.”
He’s had a few brushes with animals.
“Dogs aren’t too bad,” he said. “I did hit a cat. It was panicked by a leaf blower and it ran right in the street between my wheels and knocked me down. That was one of the last animals I thought I’d ever hit. Squirrels are the worst. Right now, it’s rabbits.”
The cat collision gashed his knee. He’s had a few other scrapes during commutes.
“I got hard-doored once in 2016,” he said. “I’ve had some mirrors hit me a couple times but they were pretty minor things. I took some spills because of ice on the road.”
Why doesn’t he have an electric bike?
“I just haven’t gotten around to it yet,” he said. “I’ll probably get one as I get older.”
Is there a person, place or thing making you wonder “What’s Up With That?” Contact reporter Andrea Brown: 425-339-3443; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @reporterbrown.
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