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Posts Tagged ‘transperth’

When I started this blog, I was just about to leave a job in the city (about 6km from home) to move to a better job out in the ‘burbs. That meant I had to give up my four-times-a-week commute by bike and everything that went with it – the refreshed feeling I had when I got to my desk, the slightly more toned thighs, the smugness created by not polluting the atmosphere with petrol fumes and the right to talk to men in tight lycra about panniers and head winds.

Or so I thought.

It turns out my new commute, while considerably longer, can be done on two wheels.

Heartened by surviving – even enjoying – a couple of longish leisure cycles round the city, I decided to try riding to my office one Sunday, just to see if it would kill me or not. The plan was to train it back, but Transperth’s rules and regulations on where you can take a bike and where you can’t were just too complicated. So my husband and I set off on the trip, not at all sure if I’d manage to ride the whole way there and back.

We pootled from our apartment to the cycle path, had lunch on the green outside my office, and pootled back. I’ll not pretend it was the fastest trip ever, but I DIDN’T DIE. Although I did almost keel over when I discovered afterwards, thanks to the wonder of Google Maps, that a journey I thought was around 14km each way was actually 20. I’d just done 40km and DIDN’T DIE.

The following week I carted clothes into work, cleared out a drawer to use as a locker, got the security code for the bike storage cage, bought some sexy padded shorts and – here’s the clever bit – told everyone I was going to start cycling in. I’ve never been one to back out of something if there’s the slightest chance that I’ll be ridiculed for doing so, so I had no choice. I was getting on my bike.

Still not entirely convinced that the fact I DIDN’T DIE on the Sunday try-out was a fluke, I’ve started gently. Evening engagements meant I needed the car or to get back home quickly for most of the first three weeks, which was probably a good thing. So I have been riding in one day, leaving my bike at work overnight, training it back and in the next morning, and cycling back on day two.

On the days I ride in, I do feel more awake. My thighs are benefiting and the smug feeling is definitely back. The opportunity to chat to the lycra brigade hasn’t arisen yet but I have had a couple of cheery ‘good mornings’ from fellow riders, which is more than I ever get driving down the freeway in a country where it’s rare to even raise a hand to thank a fellow driver for letting you merge. The benefits are obvious.

A pleasant spin-off has been that even this paltry effort by most cyclists’ standards has resulted in a weird admiration among colleagues. While they might snigger at my padded shorts, they seem genuinely impressed that I’m doing it (although there is a chance that they’re just surprised I haven’t died yet). One is even talking about cleaning up his own rusting racer and giving the cycle commute a go.

But two one-way trips a week isn’t enough. So from next week, I’ll be stepping it up to four one-way trips. After that, I might even manage to do a return trip in the same day. I don’t think I’ll ever lose the feeling that I’ve accidentally meandered onto the Tour de France route as I pootle along while ‘proper’ cyclists whizz past at twice the speed, but I can cope with that.

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Australia is a pretty big place. There aren’t many people in it. And I know hardly any of them.

So why has claustrophobia been such an issue for me?

It started in the medical sense. Not long after moving here, I took a tour of the submarine HMAS Ovens at the Maritime Museum in Fremantle. Only a few months before, I’d visited exactly the same kind of sub in Sydney.

While I knew I was not cut out for life hundreds of metres below the surface, I found the tour fascinating – not least the tales of the submariner guides, who I admired for their even-tempered nature and ability to cope with a complete lack of privacy for months on end.

But it had been a temperate day in Sydney. In Freo, the thermometer was reaching 40C and still unused to the scorching weather, I hadn’t drunk enough before entering the metal tube.

I was fine most of the way through, but near what would have been the end, I found myself pressed into the curvature of the sub to make sure everyone on the tour could fit into the space. Without any warning, my vision blurred and my legs gave way. Fortunately my husband caught me before I hit my head on anything.

A few weeks later I found myself at the caves at Yanchep National Park. It was another hot day, but I had water and wasn’t going to collapse again, surely? But as I stood with the other tourists in the large ‘entry hall’ of the cave, I felt panic rising in me. I didn’t faint this time, but it was close. I took the tour, but made sure I always stood in the most open space I could.

Worried I might have developed another ailment to add to the tinnitus that joined me on my arrival in Perth, I forced myself to visit Calgardup Cave near Margaret River a few months later. I felt apprehensive as I descended into the dark, but seemed to cope better as it was a self-guided tour. I knew if things got really bad I could take my torch and head for the exit, no questions asked. I was fine.

But back in the city last week, a packed train ride home – the result of industrial action by Transperth drivers – brought on the by-now familiar feeling as my train pulled into Esplanade station, where many of the CBD’s office workers board for their commute home to the northern suburbs. Fortunately I only had to breathe deeply for a few minutes until the train reached Perth, where I got off, leaving a single person-sized gap for dozens of waiting commuters to try to squeeze into.

It makes sense to me that I might feel a bit anxious in confined spaces. Being trapped is a pretty rational fear, as far as fears go. But I have been surprised to find I’ve had similar feelings when space is not in short supply. I felt it when we rented a flat in North Fremantle for a couple of weeks. We hadn’t yet bought a car, our bikes were still in transit and there was nothing of interest within walking distance – just more and more houses and busy roads. Not even being able to pop out for a pint of milk left me feeling horribly trapped.

And recently the feeling has returned. Unable to get a straight answer from the Department of Transport on whether my current driver’s licence – which states that I need visual aids to drive – is still legal now that I can see perfectly, I’ve been using public transport to get to work, and relying on my husband to drive me around at weekends, with my bike on standby for emergencies. But Perth is a sprawling place where often cycling is just not practical, Transperth is less-than-perfect outside of rush hour, and my husband is not always available, so I have not always been able to get where I wanted to go. The ‘problems’ not being able to drive caused me were trivial: a sudden urge to buy fabric to make a dress had to be ignored; a search for new summer sandals delayed. But it did prove to me why West Australians are so attached to their cars. You might be in one of the most sparsely-populated places on the planet, but without your own transport, it can feel as claustrophobic as a submarine.

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