Extreme commuter: UCLA staffer bikes 22 miles to campus from Valley
Not many people can say they cross a mountain range on their way to work — not on their own steam, anyway. But Annelie Rugg gets to campus from the West San Fernando Valley most days by bicycle.
Rugg, who is director and humanities CIO for the Center for Digital Humanities, is one of thousands of commuters helping to relieve UCLA's high traffic density by using alternative forms of transportation. UCLA's 53 percent drive-alone rate is much better than the 72 percent countywide average. Four percent of UCLA's commuting students, faculty and staff bike to campus. Thanks to UCLA Events and Transportation’s efforts, the campus offers plenty of resources for Bruin cyclists, including Bike to Campus Week May 13–17. UCLA has earned distinction as a “bicycle friendly university” from the League of American Bicyclists. One of the many perks: free campus showers for bicycle commuters.
Rugg started her career at UCLA as a graduate student in 1994 and has been on staff since 2011. Not once in all these years has she had a UCLA parking pass. Cycling the 22 miles from her home in the West Valley near Topanga Canyon Boulevard and the 101 takes Rugg about two and a half hours. She got off her bike long enough to talk with Christelle Nahas for UCLA Today:
What's your commute like?
My typical commute is to ride all the way in by bicycle. Going home, I combine bicycling with the LADOT Commuter Express bus. I bus to Encino and then get off and ride my bicycle back home, about 10 miles.
Annelie Rugg, who has been on campus since 1994, has never had a UCLA parking permit.
You’ve always biked? You never had a parking permit?
Never had a parking permit. And I am a cyclist, so this made sense. Initially, I was a graduate student and lived in West L.A. I would take the bus when it rained. When I moved to the Valley in 1999, I was bike racing, and on training rides I cultivated the routes I now use to campus.
Do you feel safe out there with the car commuters?
For the most part, drivers are really great. They hang back until it’s clear to go and give me room so I don’t feel impinged upon. There’s the occasional person who’s obviously not having a good morning — it seems to always be in the morning (laughs) — and they’ll honk. I don’t think drivers realize how loud horns are when you’re outside the car. It’s startling. There's never been an occasion where someone’s been overly aggressive. On occasion, someone comes really close, but I think it’s just that they don’t judge right, and/or they figured that I was comfortable with inches of distance rather than feet.
Is it ever hard? Are some days better than others?
Oh yeah, gosh. Some days my legs feel like logs; I feel like they don’t even belong on my body. January and February, there are some mornings where I really have to talk myself into it. Once I’m out there and I’m committed, I’m okay. It’s just the half hour before I get on the bike. It’s pitch-dark, and I know how cold it’s going to feel. I’m pretty disciplined in general. I think anybody who knows me would agree, so that definitely helps. By the time I’m climbing the hill, my body warms up, and it’s just nice to have gotten in that way rather than succumbing to the car. With the benefits I gain from it psychologically, I overcome whatever else I might be feeling.
You were a serious cyclist.
I got into cycling a few years after college … to the point where I was going to national team training camps. I tried out for the ’92 Olympic trials. I was actually an alternate because I placed in the top 10 in those trials. I got chronic fatigue not long after that and had to get off the bike to recover. In those six months I began to think about going to grad school. UCLA accepted me with a scholarship. Then I really wasn’t cycling that much, not even by commuting.
Then I met a guy, who became a boyfriend, who talked me into going to a race. I didn’t have a license [certification for competitive bicycling], so here was this unlicensed person nobody knew, and I won the race … I raced all the way until spring of 2000, and I started feeling really draggy. And it turned out I was pregnant! I had been racing for probably 12 years or so, and I’d had enough of it. Racing affects everything – your sleep, diet, your social life, your time. And with a child and a husband, it just didn’t feel right anymore. I seem to have gotten my competitive needs out of my system. Now I watch my daughter do competitive things instead.
Rugg's bike route to campus.
What's your bike setup, and what do you pack?
It’s just a converted racing bike, actually. It’s a LiteSpeed, titanium-framed — overkill for commuting, for sure. The tires are narrow-width racing tires. For flat prevention, I may move to wider tires. And I’ve added a seat rack, so I can put a pack on the back to take some of the weight off my shoulders. And then I’ve got a headlight, a tail light, water bottle cage. In my pack, I have two or three tubes, a patch kit and tire irons so I can change the flats. I’ve got my house keys, my office keys, my bus pass and my BruinCard. A few tools in the bottom, which I hardly ever need, thankfully. Some reflective ankle bands if I need to be seen better. And extra clothing: a jacket, some leg warmers, shoe covers, maybe an extra pair of warmer gloves in the wintertime. My main dress clothing, I keep at work. When I drive in on occasion I swap things out or take things to the dry cleaner down in Westwood.
Ever gotten a flat on your way into work?
I have. I was always able to get in, but I think one day I had two flats in a row on the way in and one on the way home. That was the worst. They were all thorns. On one occasion, I called in and said I was going to be late for a meeting, but for the most part I leave myself enough of a buffer.
How has your office responded?
Everybody thinks it’s great – I think. They’ve never voiced that they think it’s crazy, but they’re impressed. It lends a sense of youthfulness and vitality to the office, right? If your leader is doing that kind of thing ... I would go so far as to say it actually influenced some people to stop driving to work and ride their bike instead. One of my employees has been riding to the bus and taking the bus [to campus]. He hasn’t given up his [parking] pass yet, but I think he’s about to. Two other guys who live around Culver City bicycle to and from campus and used to drive.
Do you see yourself continuing to do this indefinitely?
I have thoughts of “Am I going to be 60 and still doing this? Do 60-year-olds do this?”
They do! And sometimes I think maybe there’ll be one or two days that I ride all the way in, and the rest of the time I connect with the bus — because that’s certainly an option every day. You know, lightening it up a little. But I don’t see going [altogether] to the car — barring unforeseen demands that require me to get home quicker or something like that.
Has anything about your commute evolved over the years?
The only evolution really has been in my attitude. When I first started I was a bike racer, so I was in that mentality: “Get there as fast as I can.” So stoplights and traffic would kind of frustrate me. Now I’m in commute mode; I just build in the traffic and the stoplights, it’s part of the experience. I do sometimes try to race the buses a little bit to get a little workout, but I don’t allow myself to get as frustrated.
Is alternative commuting part of a larger value system for you?
I feel it’s important, just generally, to take care of our environment. I’m an avid recycler. I’m on everybody in my house about water use. I’ll pick up trash when I’m walking around — why not? [Cycling] is actually a healthy and good-for-the-environment kind of way to get from place to place. It fits well with my kind of world view. I don’t have to have arguments with myself about why I cycle. If I were driving every day, that would be the case (laughs).
Join Bike to Campus Week, starting Monday, May 13, and meet fellow cyclists, refresh at pit stops and get a free light bike tune-up from the UCLA Bike Shop. On Friday, May 17, 7-11 p.m., head to Bike Night at the Hammer, a free event that will feature bicycle portraits, a screening of the 1983 Australian action movie "BMX Bandits" (starring a young, not-yet-famous Nicole Kidman), bike-centric crafts and art. The Hammer’s Lindbrook Drive entrance will be wide open to bicyclists who want to park at guarded racks, but bring a lock anyway.