For Erika Longino, Cycling is Her Foundation

Women  bicycling industry
Erika at work at the Salt Lake Bicycle Collective where she manages the shop on Saturdays. Photo by Kenneth Evans

By Kenneth Evans

For just a moment, Erika Longino wished she was driving a car rather than riding a bike up the steep 1300 South incline between 1100 and 1300 East. As rain pounded the pavement, thunder rolled overhead, and cars swooshed by, she felt vulnerable, wet, and miserable. She envied passing motorists sitting snug in warm comfortable automobiles who probably thought she was crazy to ride a bike up a steep hill in stormy weather.

But the gloomy moment passed after she crested the hill and turned north toward the University of Utah. Cruising along 1300 East the rain abated, rays of sunshine glistened off spring foliage, easy breathing returned, and she settled into the rolling ambiance of the Salt Lake City foothills.

Immersing herself to the wrath and delights of nature and experiencing the exhilaration of self-propulsion are the primary reasons Erika rarely harbors doubt about her choice to ride a bike rather than drive a car.

“When I cycle, I feel like I’m winning the transportation game. I feel connected rather than isolated, active rather than sedentary, and environmentally stimulated rather than dulled. Riding up hills in all types of weather is challenging but difficult moments form how you are. Cycling blurs the line between being a pedestrian and driver, and offers freedom to explore. And, if I listen to my favorite soundtrack behind the rain and steep hills, I’m easily convinced that it’s a great adventure instead of a miserable endeavor.

As a native of Olympia Washington, Erika is no stranger to rain, hills or adventure the lush environs of the Pacific Northwest affords. Although she didn’t start riding till the age of thirteen, she instantly fell in love with the bike and by high school she was riding every day, including a 26 mile round trip commute to school and back.

“I spent many misty mornings riding alone down winding country roads, green coastlines, and cozy (and not so cozy) neighborhoods through the outskirts of Olympia. 15 miles one way takes you through a lot of interesting territory! Biking was my foundation when other things couldn’t offer solid inspiration, education, or nourishment.”

After graduating from high school, Erika enjoyed a backpacking excursion in South America and later pursued Environmental Studies in Washington State. Serendipity then intervened after her parents moved to Salt Lake City. When visiting one summer she became intrigued by the close proximity to wilderness and surprised by the discovery of a thriving counterculture existing in the middle of a state well known for social conservatism. She was also welcomed by new acquaintances involved in developing community gardens throughout the city and in August 2014 decided to relocate to Salt Lake. She enrolled in Urban Conservation at the University of Utah and now resides in the Glendale area of Salt Lake and true to her love of cycling; she rides almost every day to class. From Glendale she rides California Avenue and 800 South including cycling across the Amtrak line and through the I-15 interchange before cranking up the monstrous hill on 1300 South.

“My route now is much more urban than the one I rode in high school. Now I commute more with the Metropolitan ecosystem rather than the biological one, but that’s not a bad thing. The streets in Salt Lake are so wide that I rarely feel unsafe riding on the shoulder. People are friendly; I can stop and drop off library books or grab a cup of tea. Random meetings with friends and acquaintances are not unusual on my route, which I have never experienced in any other city.”

Although commuting to the U accounts for most of her mileage, Erika also cycles to the Bicycle Collective twice a week where she manages the shop on Saturdays and shares her knowledge of bike mechanics by hosting a workshop for women on Wednesday evenings. Working for the Collective has provided Erika with a comprehensive perspective on the importance and validity of alternative transportation needs along the Wasatch Front and introduced her to a subset of citizens who rely on the bike as their sole means of transportation.

“The Salt Lake Bicycle Collective is an incredible resource; chaotic, multifaceted, and certainly unlike any other bike shop. We strive to make the bike culture as non-exclusionary, empowering, and accessible as possible. It’s an enriching experience to introduce low income kids to the bicycle and assist people who don’t want to be a slave to car payments. ”

Part of the mission of the Bicycle Collective is building sustainable communities, a concept Erika embraces in all aspects of her life. Since moving to Salt Lake she solidified relationships initiated during her initial Salt Lake visit with members of the community gardening network. Helping to transform vacant lots into flourishing plots of nutritious vegetables for residents’ wary traditional grocery store produce satisfies her ambition to contribute in a meaningful way.

“There is something so incredibly disheartening about going into a warehouse store to buy goods shipped from hundreds of miles away when you can grow such abundance in your own backyard-appropriate to your bioregion no less! I love watching seeds germinate, grow, and leaf into beautiful fresh food. My hands are never clean because they are either embedded with bike grease or soil from a garden.”

Whether embedded in soil or smeared with bike grease, Erika is part of a generation cultivating fresh ideas leaning away from a car culture and into more livable communities, and bike commuters have reason to be optimistic. It has been said that demographics are destiny, and if current millennial ideals are carried forward, maybe pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists will one day share the road in true parity. And sometime in the near future when Erika is laboring up a steep hill in the pouring rain, instead of passing her in a car others will be riding alongside her instead of thinking she’s crazy to be cycling in such condition.

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