I thoroughly enjoy riding my bicycle. As an adult, I’ve ridden many recreational miles. From cruising along during the Midnight Bike Classic to biting off entirely more than I could chew on the bike trail at Shelby Forest, my 14-year-old Huffy has been a trusty means of entertainment and low-stress exercise. Around five or six years ago, it occurred to me that I could actually use my bike for transportation as well. I began exploring this idea, starting with neighborhood destinations like the library and the movie theatre. Slowly but surely, I mapped out more routes and practiced riding to more locations, each new success feeding the desire to do more, until I was finally ready to take the next step: bike commuting to work. I live in Hickory Hill and work in Downtown. I figured that if I could get to work without using my car, I could do darn near anything. I made it my goal to participate in our first Bike-to-Work Day event back in 2010. Long story short: I survived, and I’ve been getting around on two wheels ever since.
Since I was already a fair-weather bike commuter/car-light cyclist, I felt well prepared to take on the 30-Day Car-free Challenge. For me, it would be a simple matter of consistently applying everything I’ve learned over these past few years and adding some new non-car backup plans into the equation. Many of my favorite destinations are within 3 – 10 miles of my house, so those would be no problem. Several essential errands like going to the bank or to the post office could be taken care of on my lunch break with a quick walk down Main Street – one of the many benefits of working Downtown. As far as I could see, my only two Challenge challenges would be 1) getting to work when I couldn’t use my bike and 2) getting to that most sacred of all destinations, the beauty shop. My standing 6 am hair appointment is, under normal circumstances, an inviolable component of my mental health regimen, but it presents an interesting set of obstacles to a car-free lifestyle.
Getting to Work
My normal car-free routine for getting to work is pretty straightforward. In my area, bus service is relatively limited so, for all intents and purposes, I only have one choice (let me pause here and give a shout-out to all the excellent drivers of the #36 route – woot! woot!). In the mornings, I ride my bicycle three miles to the bus stop, take the bus the rest of the way in to work, then bike the last three blocks to my office. I leave the house early enough that I have plenty of time to coast along while wearing my usual work clothes and shoes – much to the amusement of apparently just about everyone that I pass. In the afternoons, I skip the bus in favor of sunshine, fresh air, and blissful solitude while riding my bike all the way home. Depending on what I’ve worn to work, I often do this in my regular clothes as well – with modifications. This year, however, I’ve been experimenting with bringing a change of clothes to work with me in a lightweight, drawstring backpack and wearing those for the ride home.
This routine works well for me except when it is raining. I do not have special rain gear or fenders and, even if I did, I’m just not ready to try riding my bike on wet streets while in traffic. I already have a fascinatingly gruesome collection of scars, scrapes, and stories from wiping out and crashing on perfectly dry streets; I don’t need any more. Pre-Challenge, if it was raining in the morning, I would drive my car to work instead. For the Challenge, my only non-car alternative is to hoof it. Now, I enjoy a leisurely stroll as much as the next person, but walking for transportation – to try to actually get somewhere on foot by a specific time – ranks about as high as getting a root canal on my list of Fun Things to Do. But, a Challenge is a Challenge and, for the couple of rainy days that we have had so far, I have dutifully donned my clunky and aesthetically unappealing walking shoes and trudged the three miles to the bus stop – a delicate balancing act of walking slowly enough to not sweat (ha!) but fast enough to get there some time this decade. I can’t say that I’ve enjoyed it much but life’s not always rainbows and puppy dogs, right?
Getting to the Beauty Shop
The shop is located at the Poplar/I-240 intersection in a commercial enclave bordered by major streets and railroad tracks. Even if there were a bus that would take me there from my house (there’s not), it likely wouldn’t run early enough to get me there on time. Technically, I could change my appointment time to later in the day, but that would just shift the logistical problems from getting there to trying to get back home. Bicycling is my only car-free option (and only if it’s not raining), but there aren’t really any quiet streets or true back roads to this particular destination, so traveling early in the morning while traffic is light would be my best bet. As I contemplated my options, I seriously considered canceling this month’s appointment, but that felt too much like giving up. I haven’t missed a hair appointment since I was 13 years old, and I didn’t intend to start now – especially after two consecutive Spectacularly Bad Hair Days. No, I would just have to buck up, put my big girl pants on, and “git [my hair] done”.
I carefully packed my bag and laid out everything I’d need the night before, so when the alarm went off at 4:30 am, I flung myself out of bed and used the resultant momentum to propel myself through an abbreviated morning routine. I was in my riding clothes and out the door by 5:07. The ride to the shop was refreshingly pleasant and relaxed. There was a nice chill in the air, and there was so little traffic that I felt completely comfortable riding at a leisurely pace in the middle of the lane. I rolled up to my destination right on time, parked my bike in a little alcove under the building’s interior stairs, and settled in for some much-needed TLC on my hair. Success!
My plan for getting to work afterward was to get up to Poplar and catch the #50 into Downtown. Unfortunately, I miscalculated how far away the closest bus stop was, and the bus I that was trying to catch zoomed past me while I was still halfway to the stop. [Unladylike expletive.] I waited about 15 minutes for the next one, then proceeded Downtown as planned. I ended up getting to work late, but it was my own fault. I did, however, greatly enjoy the bus ride in. The bus driver, having noted my extreme color coordination when I got on the bus, helpfully pointed out all of the purple trees, purple flowers, and even a purple bus along the way. Bus drivers rock.
Thus concludes my first nine days of the Challenge. I am looking forward to another splendid ride home this evening.