Twelve months, two wheels
Student-housing administrator shares the joys of her carless year

By Fernando Quintero


Student-family housing staffer Pepper Black is a bicyclist, climber and mountaineer.
Peg Skorpinski photo

16 January 2002 | It’s been one year this month since Pepper Black swore off the automobile in favor of her “ecology of transportation,” the bicycle.

The director of the campus’s student-family housing programs, Black decided last January — after her four-wheel drive Subaru died — to give up the car and let bicycling become “an engrained habit.”

“I was riding my bike to look at new cars, and something just hit me. I began to realize all the benefits that came with being out of my car and on a bike,” Black recalls.

First and foremost was the quality time spent on her 45-minute commute from her home near Wildcat Canyon, in Contra Costa County, to her office in Albany.

By car, the trip took less than 15 minutes, but had afforded little time, she realized, for “focus and contemplation.”

“That is not good for the kind of work I do,” says Black, who directs programs and services for residents of student-family housing at University Village in Albany and Smyth-Fernwald at Clark Kerr campus — more than 3,400 people from 68 different countries in all.

“I regain my strength by being alone and spending quiet time in nature. Bicycling built this into my daily commute,” Black says. “Bringing back some simplicity to my life was important.”

Her 45-minute one-way commute, and her trips from the supermarket hauling groceries behind her bike in a child carrier, also made her feel strong physically and mentally.

“I enjoy the weather — the sun, the rain, the cool air. I like being exposed to the elements. It keeps your instincts alive,” says Black, a soft-spoken woman with a hint of Texas twang, who adopted her unusual first name when she was seven. “I experience the change of the seasons. I see raccoons. I hear the birds in song. I see the clouds and the changing of the light.”

Getting in shape for a bicycling lifestyle was no issue. An avid rock climber and mountaineer, Black has years of experience hiking and climbing in the wilderness and teaching others how to scale rock cliffs. This year, her goal is to climb in the Himalayan kingdom of Sikkim in northern India.

“I find living a more rigorous life keeps me in touch with myself,” said Black, who provided counseling at UCLA and student services at Berkeley before assuming her administrative position at University Village.

Somewhat messianic about bicycling, she often tells others about its pleasures in hopes that they, too, will be inspired to forgo their cars. According to University Village office manager Gerlind Ahlbrecht, at least one other Village staff member has taken the cue and now commutes to work by bike.

Black has also discovered, too, an ever-growing community of bicycle riders.

“I discovered what others before me had found: bicycling is very convenient. I can take BART into San Francisco and not have to worry about rush-hour traffic, and most of all, parking.”

As for the future? “I’m still trying my best to live by bicycle,” she says.


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