Traverse City Bike Life: Jennifer Yeatts

Ed. note – This personal narrative was written by Jennifer Yeatts as part of the Traverse City Advocate Academy.

I started commuting on a bike about eleven years ago while attending graduate school in Marquette. The two-mile round trip from my apartment to my TA office in NMU’s Gries Hall presented few challenges—the most direct route took me amidst the traffic of Third Street, which, despite lacking a bike lane, accommodated me along with the fairly-slow-moving cars pretty comfortably. Helmet-less and fancy-free, I cruised back and forth to office hours and class. Look at me, I thought. I’m avoiding carbon emissions. I’m a biker. I bike.

When I met Jordan (who eventually became my husband), I was fairly humbled. Here was a guy who commuted twenty miles round trip to work from his home outside of town. I mentally rescinded my self-congratulatory biker status. He also wore a helmet, something I had not thought seriously about. Safety first, he said. Good point, I thought. You can’t ride your bike if you’re dead.

My riding evolved slowly from there. I added to my school commute by cycling around Marquette for errands and fun, then embarking on a 30-mile trek to a friends’ Fourth of July party off the grid west of Ishpeming, and when Jordan and I moved out west for a few years, I upgraded my hand-me-down junker to a Specialized cycle-cross commuter. We found we could do just fine getting around Moscow, Idaho—another college town—on two wheels. We sold our car. We pedaled everywhere. It was liberating: no car payment, no guzzling gas tank, no circling the block for parking. If we ever needed a motorized vehicle, we borrowed or rented one. We found that for us, life was easier, simpler, and more enjoyable without a vehicle. Why don’t more people do this? I thought. We’re saving money, burning calories, not polluting the environment, and moving around this beautiful world by the power of our own bodies.

Fast forward to our life in Traverse City. While we did move here with a car and kept one for five years, we reverted back to our two-wheeled lifestyle last spring. When I hop on my bike, I feel the weather (whether that means sweat, sun, or sleet), I feel my own body working, and I breathe the actual world. And I am surrounded by motors. Exhaust. Distracted drivers. Crowded streets. And I get grumpy. Why don’t more people do this? I think.

Herein lies my struggle, and the reason I need this class, these lessons in smart advocacy. I’m a self-righteous brat. I’m too proud of my choices. I judge the drivers everywhere, the petite suburban housewives in Hummers, the grumbly F-250s roaring down Division while I not-so-patiently wait to cross. I roll my eyes and sigh. And when they see me carrying my helmet or unlocking my bike on a less-than-perfect Northern Michigan day and ooh and ahh and congratulate me on my fortitude or loudly proclaim how they could never do what I’m doing, I cringe even as I smile politely. Sure you can, I think. Sometimes I even say it out loud, but I know they don’t believe me. I want them to believe me. I want them to see biking not as an insurmountable challenge but as a fun, carefree means of moving around in the world, not just as leisure but also as functional transportation. And I want to get better at sharing how do-able—and how super fun—it actually is.

Jennifer Yeatts is a proud Michigander originally from Champion and now thriving in Traverse City. She can often be found at Higher Grounds Trading Co. where she is the Director of Coffee. Jennifer likes yummy food, poetry, cats, and her husband, Jordan. You can follow her adventures @jjyennifer.