By Peter Koch
The Active Times
While most of us loathe our daily commutes to work and school -- enduring white-knuckle, traffic-choked drives into downtown office buildings or waiting forever for some crowded mode of public transportation to deliver us like cattle -- there are others among us who look forward to the journey.
These are extreme commuters, men and women who use mostly human-powered alternative modes of transit -- be it a stand up paddleboard, a unicycle or a zipline -- and harness the forces of nature, like wind, currents and gravity, to make their way into work. We're talking extreme commuters -- people who ski through the dark Alaskan winter, put in thousands of miles climbing over and over up the same mountain and sail over a 1,200-foot gorge tethered to a cable.
They put your grandpa (who, we know, walked uphill both ways to work, barefoot in the freezing cold and carrying a 100-pound bag) to shame. On top of that, they stay functionally fit, save money on gas and, as a bonus, save the environment by not burning fossil fuels. And, most importantly, they get a taste of nature and take a measure of themselves two times a day, a claim few of us can make.
Here, we present you with extremely active commutes, 11 instances where outdoorsy people have figured out how to get to work without, you know, feeling like they're going to work. Give one a try, and your commute might actually put a smile on your face.
Cyril Burguiere is usually on the Willamette River at 7 a.m. for his stand up paddle commute in Portland, Oregon. From his home in SW Portland, the accomplished SUP racer walks his board to the river and paddles 2.5 miles to the Downtown River Place Marina, where he stores it for the day before showering, changing into work clothes and walking a few short blocks to the office. Sometimes Burguiere, who makes the commute rain or shine and describes himself as "the crazy guy with the long surfboard thing," finds the time to explore other parts of the river. Either way, he always arrives at the office stoked from his daily exercise.
For nearly 20 years, Alaska Magistrate Ron Wielkopolski cross-country skied to his job at the state courthouse during the winter months. Despite the bitter cold, he took on the 20.5-mile each way journey -- from the high (2,250 feet of elevation) Glen Alps trailhead in Chugach State Park downhill to central Anchorage -- in the darkness for the adventure of it. By the time he retired in 2011, Wielkopolski figures he knew every turn and hazard—including bedded-down moose—so well he could ski the whole distance blindfolded.
While it probably sounds like some kind of Neverland dream adventure, for kids in the tiny jungle village of Los Piños, Colombia, their daily trip to school involves flying… sort of, anyway. Separated from the school and neighboring communities by a steep, 1,200-foot-deep gorge that otherwise requires an arduous, two-hour hike to traverse, the kids cross it using twin 1,300-foot ziplines. It brings the crossing down to a quick, if hair-raising, one-minute trip. Students bring their own pulleys and ropes and—most importantly—a piece of wood to slow themselves (they zip across at up to 40 mph) before they reach the tire bumpers at the end of the line. For safety (which, yes, is a concern) the smallest kids are bundled into sacks that are attached to big kids.
James Peters rides his longboard—a longer-than-average skateboard designed for riding distances—12.5 miles each way between his home in Lake Forest Park, Washington and his software engineering job in Seattle. He's been making the commute three times a week since 2000, and discovered along the way (to his child-like delight) that if his timing is just right, and he hits the traffic lights when they're green, he can make the entire morning commute with a single push-off from his driveway. Peters isn't your average longboarder (if there is such a thing)—known to longboarders around the world as "Paved Wave," he is one of the sport's top authorities, having set several previous world records for miles skated in a 24-hour period (his best is 221 miles).
Biking to work is certainly the most common kind of active commute, but not all bike commutes are created equal. One super impressive one we've heard of is that of Christian Edstrom, who twice a week rides 20 miles each way from his home in Chappaqua, a bucolic New York suburb, to his job at JPMorgan in downtown Manhattan. He does the ride year-round—in bitter winter cold and sweltering summer heat—leaving his home before 5am and averaging around 17 mph the whole way, for a total of nearly 600 miles each month. Edstrom is part of a growing trend of workers biking into the Big Apple, as evidenced by the Ridgewood Commuter Group, a gang of 30-odd mostly amateur racers who ride in daily from New Jersey at a blistering 22 miles per hour.
There's a small but growing tribe of run commuters out there, as evidenced by the upcoming (April 26) first-ever Run to Work Day. One of the most extreme we've heard of is Bay Area ultramarathoner Alan Geraldi, 48, who runs seven to 10 miles each way from his Daly City, California home to his job as an attorney in South San Francisco. Geraldi really puts the "work" in workout, sending texts and typing emails on his Blackberry mid-run without even looking at the keyboard. He started in 2009 as a way to save gas money and to train for 100-mile-plus ultramarathons like the Tahoe Rim Trail Race and Vol State Road Race. Compared to when he started, Geraldi's current commute is a breeze; before his office moved, he used to run 25 miles each way (only twice a week, mind you, but still).
Sure, we've all heard of the two-wheeled commute, but how about the one-wheel way? Bob Clark of Eagan, Minnesota, unicycles 18 miles roundtrip each day from a bicycle trailhead in nearby Mendota Heights, where he parks his car, to his office in downtown St. Paul. What's more impressive is that the 51-year-old software programmer makes the ride year-round, employing unicycles with different wheel sizes depending on conditions -- a 24-inch knobby tire for off-road and winter riding, a 29-inch road warrior for everyday commuting and a huge 36-inch beast for summer cruising. In winter, he averages 10 mph, but speeds up to 12 mph on his biggest wheel.
Two Hoboken, New Jersey, coworkers beat traffic and toll hikes by paddling kayaks across the Hudson River to the Hell's Kitchen offices of digital media company Newlio. Zach Schwitzky and Erik David Barber, 30, began the one-mile commute last year to escape the hassle of conforming to public transportation schedules. Setting out from Jersey, their paddle takes about half an hour, dodging ferries and other river traffic on their way to the sun-splashed city. Once they arrive, the two dock their kayaks at 37th Street, sometimes lugging them two big blocks across town to their office and drawing puzzled looks from New Yorkers.
For a complete slideshow of the Most Outrageous Ways To Get To Work, go to The Active Times.
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