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[whitespace] Bicyclist The Wheel Deal: Jonathan Hunt pedals his way to work over a route that would make most commuters quail.


Summit Session

Bike to work over the hill to Silicon Valley? Local lecturer does the near impossible and says he loves it.

By Mary Spicuzza

JONATHAN HUNT, English lecturer at Santa Clara University, pretends to pass out upon sliding into a cushiony chair inside downtown San Jose's Cafe de Matisse. It's a hazy Monday morning, and while many in here are complaining of post-weekend drowsiness, Hunt is probably the only one who actually got a workout while getting to work.

Specifically, he just spent two and a half hours pedaling from his home near downtown Santa Cruz to this spot, from which he will ride to work at the Santa Clara University campus. That's somewhere between 35 and 40 miles without benefit of an internal combustion machine. Over a ridge that everyone calls "The Hill." Which pretty much makes him a poster boy--or maybe saint--for Bike to Work Week (May 12-19, see sidebar).

"Guess how many cars passed me today?" Hunt asks, tearing into his massive cinnamon-swirl doughnut. "One. I was listening to birds chirp and water gurgle. and all of a sudden there it was. One car."

Besides the peaceful birds and bubbling brooks, Hunt says "one of the most gratifying things is hearing traffic on Highway 17," he says of his ride, "and knowing you're not on it."

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Bike to Work Week: A guide to pedal-powered events for the week of May 12-19.

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Plenty of people believe bicycling from Santa Cruz to San Jose is impossible. Hunt admits he didn't think he could do it for a long time, until he rode over on Bike to Work Day last May using some of the parallel backroads in the mountains.

Watching him sip black coffee in full cyclist gear, it's hard to imagine him as anything but a seasoned bike commuter. He flips through his three top layers down to his Lyra-wear bib shorts--complete with shoulder straps, which he bought from the Santa Clara University cycling team. "I resisted them for a long time," he says, "but they stay up."

I glance at his shoulder bag expecting to find an arsenal of essential bike supplies for such a long commute. Hunt, however, says that packing for the trip is relatively simple.

"I bring water, food--energy bars, doughnuts, whatever--and the tools to fix a flat," he explains. Except today, when he's packing about 500 pages of student papers. Hunt is also sporting official mountain-biking shoes--nifty, sleek models that clamp into the pedal to make for a smoother, easier ride.

He is willing to share details of his gear, from his thick cycling gloves to the outer shell packed in his bag for extra warmth, if needed. But when talk of his ride turns to his bicycling routes, Hunt is less forthcoming.

"I can't tell you my routes. Then people will start driving on them, and they won't be quiet mountain roads any more," he says. "But if cyclists want to know them, tell them to ask other cyclists or to ask at the bike shops. Those people know."

Considering the Rambo drivers I encounter on the highway each day, I quickly realize careening SUVs could easily turn twisting roads into deathtraps for cyclists. Hunt says that drivers scare him more than the steep inclines and rocky roads, making the most treacherous part of his journey the streets of Santa Cruz and San Jose.

"The most perilous part of the journey is dealing with road rage on The Alameda," he says. "There are lots of high-speed, aggressive drivers."

"People yell and get mad, but I haven't had anybody throw things at me for a while," he says happily.

Last November, Hunt had a close call near the summit that kept him off his bike for a month. But now he's back on the bike, sometimes as often as two days a week, and he hopes to get groups together for future Bike to Work Days.

As the sunlight lasts later in the day, he plans on riding back to Santa Cruz as well. During the winter months he had pedaled to Diridon Station, where he and his bike caught a bus back to Santa Cruz.

OCCASIONALLY, the arduous task gets to Hunt, who says that he can't imagine doing the ride every day. "The other day, I got all suited up, went to the bank downtown, passed the house, got up to Scotts Valley, then turned around and came back," he admits. "I'd say I fail to ride about 30 percent of the time."

Hunt may sometimes feel lonely on the road, but he also says that he is bolstered by the cycling community. "In an important way, my commute is made possible by a whole community of support. ... Pealing over the hill may be strenuous, but it doesn't compare to the effort involved in changing the law and changing public consciousness."

When asked if he gets a rush of energy after the ride, Hunt says his choice to bike was more out of necessity.

"I get pretty tired, but I think overall I have more energy," he says. "But I had to start doing this. I was dying a slow death. Highway 17 was killing me."

Hunt and a couple of colleagues plan to cycle to work on Thursday May 17 to celebrate Bike to Work day--and the anniversary of Hunt's decision to first commute on Highway 17 by bike. Full Disclosure Department: When Hunt isn't commuting, he's married to Metro Santa Cruz Calendar Editor Hiya Swanhuyser.

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From the May 9-16, 2001 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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