Bikey boundaries and things

I’ve been thinking about life choices ever since a few days ago when an email came through on one of my various urban ecology listserves that mentioned a job. It is a job that I think I would be really, really good at and would also, on paper anyway, be a super cool restoration-and-volunteer-focused opportunity plus kind of a step up in the work world. But, it is far away from my house, like 20+ miles one-way, and there’s no way I’m going to bike that far for a job.

So that makes it a full-stop no-go.

I realize that 20+ miles is not so super far for maybe an average American commute which is done by car. In fact, I just went down a huge internet rabbit hole about average American and average Portland-area commutes, and it seems like a 27ish minute one-way commute by car is about average for America, depending on what you read. So this job actually falls squarely within the realm of a “normal” car commute. And gosh do I not want that to be part of my life!

And that’s what’s made me think about this more. In one sense, not wanting to drive and thus not even considering employment beyond 15ish miles from my house is limiting. I have closed off options by having this boundary.

On the other hand, that boundary is, I think, one of the big reasons I live a life I love so much, where I feel rooted in and connected to my community and engaged with the folks around me, where I notice the seasons and get to move my body, where I feel present more frequently than I don’t — because my commute, something I do all the time, is actually something I want to do anyway. In fact, it is something that usually makes me happier when I’m doing it. It’s not a thing I have to endure to get to somewhere I need to be. My boundary, though limiting in one way, has made possible a whole lifestyle that helps me be the person I want to be in this world.


(oh my gosh I was SO PSYCHED the other day leaving work when it was this nice out!!:)


That being said, I am not willing to do it for four hours a day. Ha, biking is great, but I have my limits of what I will do because of capitalism — err, being gainfully employed — and my job right now and my last job out in Gresham, each about an hour and ten minutes one-way, is probably close to my upper limit.

Which brings me back to boundaries. I guess I’ve learned for myself that I am unwilling to sacrifice bikeability and the joy of traveling through the world by human power for a job that might actually be really cool but comes with a lot of external context that isn’t great for me (i.e. driving to get there, or spending 4 hours biking there and back). And I am very, very clear about that boundary for myself, like it’s not even tempting to apply for this job that looked so great otherwise, nor do I lament the fact that I will not have it. (Though yes, it probably does help that I really like my current job anyway:) If it came up closer to home, I would definitely apply for it, but until then it’s not even on the table.

(Though, side note: having a Very Important Job, making a ton of money, or even being defined by my work are also much less important to me than my self-defined quality of life, which is another value of mine that factors in here.)


(a photo from work the other week, Lithophragma flowering on the Dog Mountain trail)


Whenever I drive my work truck between my house and my office for whatever logistical reason, it takes between 25 and 35 minutes, depending on traffic, which is fully in that “average commute” zone. And I hate it so much. I am never, ever glad to be driving the work truck to work or home, even in the most miserable of weather. In fact, I feel downright cheated when I have to do so, like what the heck, what about my bike ride?! I wonder sometimes, say if I’d never moved away from California where driving everywhere is just the thing you do, if I wouldn’t even know how awesome it is to bike all the time and how soul-filling it is, and if I’d just be stuck like all the other suckers behind a wheel all the time and not even know how much happier I could be.

Anyway. Point being, I am so very grateful for past me who firmly held this work/commute boundary, and present me who continues to uphold it for the sake of future me. And yes, obviously there are tons of other factors I’m not talking about here, like would I ever relocate for a job? Is there something that’s so great or so soul-fulfilling or so aligned with what I want to do with my work life that I would apply for it despite it being far away and then entertain moving or maybe a carpool commute or something? But that’s why I’m grateful that every so often something like this job comes up to make me wonder if I’ve set my boundaries right and I think about it all over again. What good are boundaries or really any life choices, after all, if you don’t periodically revisit them to see if they’re still working for you?

I think this one is still working for me.


  1. I hear ya. When I moved to Portland 20+ years ago, it was because it was a city, with some degree of density and transit. I wasn’t interested in living somewhere and then driving 30 miles to work. I did that in CT because that state is so suburbanized and decentralized that it’s near impossible to live in the same town your job is in.

    But I have done at least one long commute here living in Portland. Back in 2005 when I was desperate I took a holiday gig at the Norm Thompson call center in Hillsboro. I didn’t want to ride 40 miles round-trip, so I did some bike/MAX combination. It was still about 1 1/2 hours of transit each way. The worst bit was the hours were 10-7. Now I’m not an early bird, but because of the long transit time, I still needed to get up by 7:30 to catch transit by 8:30. And then I wouldn’t get home until 8:30pm. At that point most places were closed or closing, and I was too mentally drained to want to do anything. So I’d putz around for a couple hours until I went to bed. And that was my work day for seven days a week. It royally sucked. Thankfully it was only for a few weeks, and the silver lining of a long MAX commute is I got a lot of reading done, something you can’t do bike or car commuting (unless I guess you do Books On Tape or something.)

    I’ve done some distant jobs for event planning, but those are one-offs, not daily commutes. And I understand why the job you were looking at was distant, as habitat resto has to happen where it is, not where you’d hope it would be. Maybe something will pop up closer…

    • Yes, exactly; it is great to live AND work somewhere. Though also nice that Portland is big enough that you wouldn’t necessarily have to work exactly where you live (when I was teaching I was very glad for some separation between my home life and my students, heh). Though funny, I didn’t really move to Portland for that reason, I think I was I was kinda too young to really know yet what I would like in a place other than still on the west coast but not California (that was my decision-making locus then;). And now, who knows how much living here has shaped what I want since I’ve in many ways grown up with it. But what you mention is definitely one of the reasons I’ve stayed:)

      Also, that Hillsboro job sounds miserable. Glad that was short-lived for your past self;)

      • Yeah, I am really happy that the Norm Thompson gig was so short. I think it was supposed to be 2 1/2 months, but they cut me after about six weeks. I think I wasn’t hitting “sales targets” (they want you to upsell, which I didn’t) nor doing enough volume (during the busy season you were supposed to take an incoming call immediately after your last one, and I’d often give myself a 5-10 minute break in between them). Plus, I skipped at least one day of work. Yeah, I didn’t have a good work ethic, but it was one of those shit jobs where you said “Fuck this job” every single day.

        I’m amazed on how some people put up with such long sloggy commutes. It doesn’t have to be in a car, either. My people were too working class, but I knew of plenty of other folks in Southern Connecticut that would commute via Metro North into Manhattan daily, and that’s like 4-5 hours A DAY of train trips! don’t get me wrong, I love trains, but not like that. And I knew at least one person who, after being priced out of the Bay Area, moved to Sacramento and then took Amtrak twice daily to work. That also sounds brutal. Thankfully they got a job in Sacto instead.

  2. Pingback: Do you have a commuting boundary? – Urban Adventure League

  3. Love this realization and honesty about knowing your boundary. I have moved to a car-centric place and I realize not having the ability to walk or bike anywhere I’d like makes me kinda miserable. I took that for granted in Pdx I think because I didn’t realize how important that was for me. Moving forward once time in this place is done, access by human powered means is on the top of the list for next place we live. <3

    • Kim!!!! Aww, hi! I’m sad that your place now is so very car-centric, especially now that you know it’s not what you like. Ha, though I guess there’s something to be said for things that show you what’s important to you, even if it’s in their absence. Come back here! :)

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