For the most part, everything has been running pretty smoothly for me during this Car-free Challenge. I have been able to go everywhere that I needed or wanted to go and do everything that I would normally do, from getting to work to catching a movie to grocery shopping and more. I did have an unexpected $50 bike repair expense due to failing brakes, but my last unexpected car repair expense totaled just under $700, so I still consider myself to be coming out way ahead. With the exception of those cold, rainy mornings when I walked to the bus stop, I can’t say that I have missed my car. I certainly haven’t missed rush-hour traffic or having to stop for gas a couple of times each week. In fact, I rather enjoy not having to deal with the latter at all. I like keeping that money in my pocket and having one less tedious chore to deal with (I’m as picky about gas stations and I am about grocery stores and have been known to go out of my way to get to one that meets my standards).<
All told, the car-free lifestyle has been an interesting mix of pleasant surprises, everyday adventures, and the occasional incident-that-wasn’t-funny-at-the-time-but-now-makes-a-good-story-with-which-to-entertain-my-coworkers. The elements that contribute to determining which one a given outing is can be sorted into three categories:
- Little kids – Little kids love to see grown-ups on bicycles. There are three little girls who always wave and call to me every evening when I pass their house. Their house is located on the slope of my last hill of the commute, so I have just enough breath left to greet them back before slowly inching along.
- MATA – My morning bus is usually exactly on time. I use the ride to catch up on my reading or my sleep, and I still get to work 10 to 15 minutes early, which is better than I ever do when I commute by car.
- New acquaintances – I’ve come to know many of the regulars on my bus route. We exchange pleasantries, comments on current events, and other small talk along the way. It’s a nice way to start off the work day – even for a misanthropic, reclusive introvert curmudgeon like me.
- Southern gardens in bloom – I trust that this one is self-explanatory.
- Improvements in health and fitness – I feel stronger every day, and I have a lot more stamina and energy. Plus, heaving my 40+ pound bike onto the bus bike rack each morning gives me a great upper body workout. While I will never be a speed demon, I’ve noticed that I can sustain a faster cycling pace for longer periods of time, and certain areas of my bike commute are no longer the challenge they once were. I still suck at climbing hills, though.
- Cheerleaders – When you are on a bike, people talk to you. A lot. I have had numerous positive conversations with people in cars or on the sidewalk while I’m stopped at a light, and not too many days go by without me hearing some variation of “You go, girl!” from random passerby. These little sprinkles on the cupcake of life are a nice boost in the day, and they restore my goodwill toward my fellow human beings (see “misanthropic, reclusive introvert curmudgeon” reference above).
- Road Debris – Having to navigate around grit, glass, lawn clippings, fallen branches, and rocks the size of golf balls (seriously, the eastbound Southern Avenue bike lane – what’s up with that?) completely detracts from the zen groove I’m trying to create on my ride home.
- Dogs – I love dogs. I have yet to meet one that I didn’t like. However, I walk and ride through a lot of residential areas, and loose dogs are the bane of my car-free existence. I am fortunate in that I rarely encounter any that are outright hostile; I’ve never been attacked and have only been growled at once (I pretended to ignore him until he got bored and moved on). On the contrary, I’ve been chased more times than I can count – by every type and breed, from stray mongrels to spoiled Chihuahuas wearing rhinestone collars. My usual solution is to immediately stop and wait, but some dogs just think that’s part of the game. They start right back up when I do, not understanding that their fun is creating a major safety hazard for me.
- Bike Basket Jenga – I have too much stuff. Trying to arrange all of that stuff into a manageable, accessible, and safely secured tower in my front bicycle basket takes up much more time that I am willing to admit. I’ve analyzed the situation rationally, but I honestly cannot pare down any more than I already have. I’m down to only one pencil case, and I’ve resorted to carrying paperback books; how much more can I be expected to sacrifice?
- The Peanut Gallery – I’m always alert to my surroundings whether I’m walking or bicycling, and I’ve never feared for my personal safety, but sometimes the unclever and unoriginal comments from what I euphemistically call “the peanut gallery” make an otherwise pleasant activity feel somewhat like running the gauntlet. “Can I riiiide wit’ choo?” Oh, if I only had a nickel for every time I’ve heard this “compliment”. Fun fact: It doesn’t make me want to stop and get the speaker’s phone number; it makes me want to get off my bike and practice my roundhouse kicks.
- My bicycle route includes a one-mile stretch on Mt. Moriah – seven lanes of traffic, interstate on-/off-ramps, numerous commercial entrances, lots of traffic, and sidewalks so raggedy, uneven, and full of debris that they are nearly impassable. This section of road has been the scene of both my only flat tire (ruined my day) and my worst bike crash (required a cortisone shot). I. hate. it. If I could be granted one wish, I wouldn’t waste it on something frivolous like world peace; I would ask for an alternative to this daily bike/ped nightmare.
And so, with one more week to go in the Challenge, I expect that combinations of the above-listed variables will continue to be the source of daily adventures and water cooler stories.