UMPQUA, Ore. (AP) — Postmaster Mike Halstead hands out packages, helps customers select stamps and wishes folks "a dry day."
The valediction is more than a casual quip at the late spring rains. Halstead, 50, watches the incoming weather intently because at 4:30 p.m. he suits up to pedal his bicycle 15 miles home to Roseburg.
And that means taking whatever weather the sky dishes out.
"The dark, gloomy, dreary wet, it just wears on you," he said.
Driven by rising gas prices cutting into his finances, Halstead started commuting by bike a year ago.
That means heading to work an hour earlier in the morning and getting home an hour later in the evening. He drives once a week to bring lunches, bike repair gear and clothes to the post office. On the days he bikes, he calculates he saves $5 on gas. The savings add up.
"I'm on a pretty tight budget. If it wasn't a big deal to me, I'd drive, too," he said.
Halstead's most consumed fuel now is food. For his height and weight, Halstead figures he burns about 800 to 1,000 calories per ride.
"It's groceries instead of gasoline. Some days I just don't eat enough, and I can feel myself dragging," he said.
Halstead is one of a growing number of Americans hitting the road on two wheels.
The Census Bureau recorded a 44 percent jump in adults biking to work between 2000 and 2009.
While Portland, where 6.4 percent of the population pedals to work, has long touted its bike-friendly status and claims to be the No. 1 bike-commuter city, pedal pushers like Halstead are pioneers in a rural landscape.
Roseburg artist Dave MacFarlane, 47, can relate.
"There's a lot of ignorance that needs to be overcome about commuting by bike. It's not for the thin-skinned," he said. MacFarlane is the president of the Umpqua Velo Club, a local bike group, and a News-Review carrier who covers his 200-paper route with a bike and trailer.
He said bicycle commuters, who often trend upward during petroleum price spikes, face three major obstacles when they start: the physical strain, weather and motorists.
"The toughest thing is dealing with the traffic," MacFarlane said, noting the many times drivers have buzzed past him, honked rudely or stopped to confront him for riding his bike. "It's only a small percentage of people, but it's that small percentage that can ruin it for (new bike commuters). It can be intimidating riding with traffic."
In addition to safety education and mechanical skills, the most important tool a cyclist needs is tenacity, MacFarlane said.
"Be persistent with it. There's some tough things to overcome," he said.
Halstead is no rookie to cycling. He's a longtime cyclist who was an Umpqua Velo Club officer and used to ride the Seattle to Portland Bicycle Classic, a one-day ride that crosses more than 200 miles.
Still, the daily commutes hold new challenges for him.
"The commuting is definitely a whole different beast," he said.
Adding to the weather are the roadblocks, large and small.
Most of Halstead's route between Garden Valley and Umpqua sports a wide bike lane, but that doesn't make his 30-mile round-trip trek easy. During his rides, he's encountered branches, trash and road kill. He's had near misses with deer.
There's also the flat tires. Nails, staples, screws have all found their way into his tires. One day, he patched three flats.
In the past year, he has broken the frame on a bike and built a new bike from spare parts and bargains found online.
"So it's a Heinz 57, but it's an excellent commuter bike," he said, pointing out a mud flap he fashioned from a cut Mountain Dew bottle and a shot tire.
So that his bike can withstand the daily wear and tear, he removed the gears to limit the small moving parts that could be gummed up by gravel.
Halstead said kvetching isn't the sum total of his commuting experience. He enjoys the exercise, the savings and time to think.
"I do enjoy it, don't get me wrong, but there's a lot of necessity to it, too," he said. "It's a constant state of improvising."
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.