Author: Joy Choquette
When Russell “Rusti,” Gregory went in for a doctor’s visit last May, he wasn’t prepared for what he heard. His blood pressure was up as was his weight. His doctor advised medication to control the blood pressure. “It was pretty clear that I didn’t want to go on meds,” Rusti said.
Rusti decided to take his health into his own hands: literally. How? By commuting by bicycle to work a few times a week. That may not seem like such a big deal until learning the specifics of the commute. While Rusti is a technology integrationist at Swanton Elementary School, he and his family live in Franklin. The 13.3 mile commute takes Rusti 48 minutes each morning and about an hour on the return trip home due to the hills.
Rusti said that the idea came to him over the summer while visiting his father in Illinois. There, he borrowed his father’s bicycle and began building up his mileage. “It just kind of set in again. I started going further and further and was doing 20 miles by the time I returned to Vermont.”
The practice of getting around by bike isn’t new to Rusti. For one three-year period he and his wife, living in Scotland at the time, lived car-free. Later, living in Illinois, they shared a single car. Still, getting around by bike in rural Vermont is different and somewhat more challenging, especially when kids were added into the mix. “We were always on the road,” Rusti said of the time when his kids were young. “When you live in Franklin you have to drive everywhere.”
Rusti’s family is very supportive of his bicycle commute. “One of my daughter’s wrote a ‘good job,’ note for my lunchbox last week,” Rusti said with a smile. He appreciates that his wife picks up extra transportation shifts for the kids on the days he’s planning to ride to work on his bike. “It definitely adds another layer of complexity when planning your week,” Rusti said. “But I always manage at least two days.”
Cycling to and from work takes more effort than simply jumping in one’s car. “I do feel like an amateur weatherman now,” he jokes, “because I have to be clued into what I need to wear.” Rusti chooses clothing that will dry quickly and can be worn in any type of weather. He states, “I’m slowly getting more and more equipment. I’m doing it piecemeal. It’s kind of a learning experience.” The greatest teacher to date has been experimentation. “You don’t really know until you’ve done it: is this going to be too warm? Not warm enough?” Small things like the little pocket on the back of his riding jersey make things easier. The pocket is great for holding his gloves for instance, which he needed on a recent ride which started out on a chilly 36-degree morning.
Rusti plans to ride right through the winter months. He’s looking into more clothes and gear, and possibly studded bike tires to help him do that safely. His bike is already equipped with lights, a holder for his cell phone which is loaded with the popular fitness app, Strava, and a pannier to carry his clean clothes, shoes, and wipes to clean up before work begins.
His commute by bicycle has become one of the best parts of his day, Rusti says. “Riding is pretty much the closest thing to therapy I’ve ever experienced. It provides an outlet for energy.” It also allows him to see things in a different and in a more up-close manner. “Little things—sounds, sights—they’re just incredible.” He’s noticed and enjoyed sunrises, ridden through patches of misty fog and watched flocks of wild turkeys on his ride.
While Rusti states that overall road etiquette relating to cyclists is pretty good, there have been incidences where he’s felt uncomfortable. One of these was while riding with a friend. A semi-truck honked at the pair for a full minute before passing by. Brooks Sturtevant is the friend that he was riding with that day. Brooks is a teacher at MVU. The pair rides to work together at least once a week, Rusti said. Brooks was inspired by long-time MVU teacher, Ferdinand Lauffer, who frequently commuted to the school from his home in West Berkshire.
Since beginning his bicycle commuting routine, Rusti has lost 26 pounds without dieting. And he no longer has to worry about taking blood pressure medicine. “The reaction from my coworkers has been overwhelmingly positive,” Rusti said. “Sometimes there’s a little disbelief that I ride in bad conditions,” he says, “but I have a very supportive workplace as far as trying to do something like this.”