Why I Live a Car-Free Life and What I Get from it

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First, I suppose I should make a disclaimer, I haven’t owned a car in 10 years but I have used and ridden in friends’ cars over that time. And I will again, but not owning a car works for me. So there is another disclaimer, although it is not totally genuine. I’ve been told more than once that it is easier for me, as an avid cyclist, than it is for most, but I still think we can all depend on cars less. Yes, there are compromises but the trade-offs are so worth it. “Live simply” isn’t just a bumper sticker, and oh the irony. Ever since I worked at SmartTrips from 2000 to 2004 promoting alternative transportation, especially bicycles, I have been told that “it’s not as easy for everybody as it is for you.” I’m going to say that it is for a lot of the athletic people out there. How much energy, effort and money do people put into skiing and even learning to ski? But that’s the thing, it’s an attitude, and it offends people. It’s choices. Living close to work may not make for the first choice in jobs or where you live, but to me, being outside more, experiencing the seasons, and so much more, makes it worth it. I don’t mean to sound like I have all of the answers, no where close. I have had two surgeries in the last two years for two different over-use injuries, and have been in and out of work because of that. I don’t like offending people either, but I am a little passionate about this.

The point is, I love it, being Car-free and using a bike to commute. And I just want to spread the good word. There are so many reasons, here are two of my earlier blogs showing a few, So many reasons for Conserving Fossil Fuels other than Climate Change and Cost$ of owning a car v. bike commuting costs.

I heard someone else say this once but I agree, “Whether I’m having a good day or a bad day, if I get on my bike it always gets better.” It’s true, if it’s a bad day at work, or we just lost a soccer game, at least I get to ride my bike after. I love dressing for the weather and being outside, and granted, sometimes it’s hard, but so is being in traffic. I like never being stuck in traffic.

The Why:

I have always ridden a bike and loved it, it just made sense to me. As a kid in Memphis I was way into soccer. Before I had my driver’s license I got onto a travel team but didn’t have a ride to all of the after-school practices. I thought I couldn’t be on the team because I couldn’t get a ride, but I could ride my bike less than two miles each way, so I made the team.

When I moved to Ft. Collins in 1992 the wide streets, ample bike lanes and bike trails made it easier, as well as the culture and attitude. So I loved being able to ride my bike to work on a daily basis, because as a FedEx driver I was stuck inside a vehicle all day. The benefits were more personal as my environmental ethic would develop from here. Bike tour - Glacier

In 1998 I  hitched a ride with some friends to Portland, Oregon. From there I got on my bike and rode north on 101 around the Olympic Peninsula, then east across the country to the coast of Maine, down the east coast and Blue Ridge, eventually to Memphis, Tennessee.

While riding through Glacier National Park in Montana, I camped next to an older (than me at the time) couple that was biking across the country the opposite direction. She was very nice and asked many questions as we were both setting up tents at the same time in the Bike-in campsites. At one point she asked me what I planned to do after my bike tour. I said I was considering applying for the Peace Corp. That’s when her husband spoke up, and he was really rude about it. He put down joining the Peace Corp and suggested I stay here to make a difference. He went on about it, and I was very put off by it. Some my favorite people and greatest mentors were in the Peace Corp, and were very productive in their work. And they were a big part of shaping my environmental ethic.  Like when I told my housemate Jack that I could borrow a rototiller for prepping our garden in 1993. He pulled out and showed me the dobba, his African gardening tool, basically a hand-made club with a horizontal blade, for pulling the soil apart, then breaking the clods up. He says, “No way! The majority of the world doesn’t use fossil fuels to grow their food. Why should we?” 

So, back to the rude guy in Glacier Park. He was very opinionated and almost obnoxious. His wife had to tell him to back off a few times, but some of what he said stuck with me. He said, “teach people here how to fix flats and use their bikes for commuting. Make a difference here. We’re not perfect in the US!” When I got back to Fort Collins shortly after my bike tour I never did apply for the Peace Corp, but was offered an hourly position at SmartTrips, a city program promoting alternative transportation, especially bicycles. Down my path I went.

SoldiasI worked at SmartTrips for four years, and lived on Soldias farm the last two of those. The farm was 12 miles outside of town, but because of my bike tour I was comfortable in the weather, I had all of the gear, and I liked the long rides, so I tried not to drive into town more than once a week.

After working at SmartTrips and moving to town, I started my bike courier service in 2005 hoping to create a business based on conservation and a career in sustainability, also as a positive protest to invading Iraq. Again, it just made sense to me. I was comfortable on a bike year around, I knew the town well being a FedEx courier and doing most of SmartTrips deliveries and errands by bicycle. Since I had been in town for a while and wasn’t using my car, and it had stopped running from not being used and maintained anyway, I was happy to get rid of it when the opportunity presented itself.

Now I’ve been officially Car-Free for 10 years and I embrace it more and more! There are trade-offs but they are so worth it to me. I still have a ways to go figuring it all out, but that’s life.

Here are just a few Benefits:

  • Daily Exercise, it feels good to get the blood pumping on a regular basis.
  • Outside more, experience the seasons.
  • Less stress, never stuck in traffic.
  • Bike commuting is very social. You can ride and chat with someone going your way, or stop and talk much easier than when in a car.
  • Money savings (gas, insurance, maintenance, car note)
  • Not contributing to:
    • Oil company profits
    • Pipelines under Rivers! Destructive Oil Exploration and Transport!
    • Destroying watersheds, ecosystems and indigenous peoples water supplies to get us fuel for our cars.
    • Adding Greenhouse Gases causing Climate Change
  • Learn to appreciate staying closer, and all our town has to offer!
  • It’s more fun!

Thanks for reading another one of my rants!

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Car-Free Knee Rehab!

20160831_102205Well, I got me knee scoped a week and a half a go, and the Doc said that I can ride my bike already. Just have to be careful, build up, and do my exercises. Woot!

So, I did get a ride to surgery from my friend Todd. But as I was coming off the anesthesia his wife was getting off work from the hospital. So  I was able to “carpool” home from my surgery with my friend Jenny.

Then, I rode the bus to and from my first physical therapy/Doctor appointment. And he told me that I can already ride my bike!

Riding the bus took a little 20160831_105640more time that getting a ride, or even riding my bike, but I still saved a car trip and didn’t need to bother anyone else. Now I realize that I could have used the bus last year during my hip rehab and had a car-free hip rehab. Now I know.

Transfort, Fort Collins’ bus system, does service all of town, but many routes only run hourly. If you can’t use your bike or walk the whole way, you can make Transfort work. Here is the route map, http://www.ridetransfort.com/img/site_specific/uploads/ALL_ROUTES_MAP.pdf.

iridetherforeisaveWhen the Downtown Transit Center (DTC) first opened I worked for SmartTrips and had an office there. So I almost enjoy transfers at the DTC. That building definitely has a female ghost from the Old West when it was the train depot.

I’m glad I had my recent bus adventure. Now I’m comfortable using the bus when I can’t get there on my bike. It’s getting easier and easier to live without a car.

I do admit I would rather commute by bicycle, but the bus is a good back-up for saving a car trip!

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So grateful that the doctor said I can ride my bike instead of having to use a stationary bike for rehab!

Both Gas-free Lawn Care and Native Grass Lawns are about Conservation

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I started my bike courier service, my reel mower sharpening shop, my blog and the gas-free lawn care service all to promote conservation, and more specifically, to help use less gas.

I most recently started the Gas-free lawn care service because I have all of the equipment for it, and hod carrying was way too hard on my body. In the middle of May the constant heavy lifting at work hurt my knee. So I had to quit the stone mason job. It was good timing as I was just getting busy in my shop sharpening reel mowers. And I had wanted to offer Gas-free Lawn Care since Enviro Lawn Care left town a couple years ago. It just made sense. So I started :

Rob’s Gas-Free Lawn Care and more

Using Reel Mowers, Hand Tools, and travelling by Bike and Trailer only, to maintain lawns quietly and non-polluting, in North Fort Collins! Human-Powered, Gas-Free Lawn Care;

  • Basic Service – Lawn mowing using a Fiskars Reel Mower (human powered), which cuts the grass quietly, and like a pair of scissors. This is better for the grass plant, opposed to the violent, impact cut from rotary mowers (gas or electric).
    • Trimming grass, bushes, and shrubs with hand clippers or shears
    • Edging the lawn with hand edger, able to create an edge with spade if needed
    • (Quiet) Clean-up using broom and rake, no leaf blowers!
  • Additional Services –
    • Yard waste removal, by bicycle and trailer
    • Fertilize with push spreader using organic fertilizer
    • Hauling by bike and trailer (hourly rates)
    • Garden tilling, by hand, with garden fork or rake (hourly rates)
    • Shrub and Tree (low level) pruning with hand loppers or shears (hourly rates)
    • Compost set-up (hourly rates)
    • Minor Xeriscaping and Native planting help (hourly rates)

No more expensive than traditional lawn care but quiet and non-polluting, without burning any fossil fuels at all! Call Rob for a quote at 970-231-6794.


And other things fell into place too, like finding everything I needed second-hand, at yard sales, thrift stores and on Craigslist. That Fiskars mower I have really does work well, and new it costs $250, but I got it off of Craigslist for $100. Then shortly after that, I sold two mowers without even trying, which paid for the Fiskars. When getting advice from Marty who did this here before, he called that Fiskars mower a “real workhorse”.

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Marty suggested getting an electric/rechargeable line trimmer to make trimming faster. But I can’t do it at this point because first, human power works!, and then there are so many environmental impacts that go with; rechargeable batteries, new plastic products, and products from China.

Plus, I keep finding great lawn and garden equipment really cheap at yard sales and thrift stores.


An example of the “and more” part in the photo below, which includes minor landscaping, xeriscaping, pruning, garden or compost set-up, and native planting.

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Over a thousand pounds of flagstone hauled by bike and path installed with hand tools

Bikes and reel mowers are great, practical tools for saving oil from being extracted, refined, transported and burned. Using both bikes and reel mowers on a regular basis helps keep us fit also.

But greater conservation, especially of water, can be achieved when sustainable concepts like Xeriscaping and planting native grass lawns, are applied first.

We are in a semi-arid, high desert climate with an average of only 12-14 inches of rainfall per year. We also get more than half of our municipal water supply from the Colorado River, on the other side of the Continental Divide. So Kentucky Bluegrass doesn’t really make sense when Buffalo and Blue Grama native grasses grow so well here without nearly as much water. But Kentucky Bluegrass is what’s planted and many folks rent or don’t know how to change their lawns.

Another component of the “and more” part to Rob’s Gas-free Lawn Care and More, is that I offer to help customers take out their non-native grass lawns and plant native grasses. So if you want a turf-like lawn, I think planting Buffalograss and mowing it with a reel mower makes for a very “green” lawn.

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Cody Buffalograss
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This yard is Cody Buffalograss. It is more turf-like, doesn’t need water and can be mowed to look like a lawn.
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Yard with all Blue Grama. It doesn’t need to be watered and the city allows you to let it grow without mowing it. This yard hasn’t been watered, besides rain, all year and the photo was taken in late July.

Bike-In Campsites do so much for the Local Bicycle Community

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Bike Campsite somewhere on the Northern Tier Route

Campgrounds throughout the Pacific Northwest have campsites just for bicyclists. These campsites cost less because they have less impact, use less space and fewer resources than car sites or RV sites.

This is the case with all agencies’ campgrounds, from US Forest Service campgrounds, State and County level campgrounds, to a Corp of Engineers campground near a dam in northern Idaho. That COE campground has a bike-in area with four tent pads, a fire ring, bike rack and a picnic table that was built as an Eagle Scout project.

States like Washington, Idaho and Montana recognize the value in campsites for cyclists. According to the Washington Bikes website, http://wabikes.org/2015/01/08/bicycling-means-business-in-wa/, “Bicycle riders spend over $3.1 billion in the Washington state economy and outdoor recreation contributes significantly to supporting rural economies statewide.”

I was able to camp at many of the sites in the Northwest when riding Adventure Cycling’s Northern Tier route in 1998, https://www.adventurecycling.org/routes-and-maps/adventure-cycling-route-network/northern-tier/.

So living in Fort Collins as a full-time bike commuter and bicycle advocate, I wonder why there are no bicycle campsites at any of the many different agency campgrounds in Larimer County. We are even lucky enough to have a well-funded City Natural Areas program, which owns and protects large swaths of land outside the city, within a days ride or half a days ride from town. Between Soapstone, Bobcat Ridge and Gateway Park, it would be easy for the City of Fort Collins, which works so hard to be a high-level bicycle community, to build at least one bike-in camp area and then use it to help promote bicycle travel. I have mentioned this to both the Director of Natural Resources and the Bike Coordinator for the city several times.

I think that there are two big, indirect benefits from installing bicycle campsites in our regions’ campgrounds. First, if you build it they will come. If maps show a bike-in campsite within less than a days ride from strong bicycle community, people will ride to it. And they’ll buy the gear for it. So if they have gear for bike travel, and are strong enough for it, then they have gear and are strong enough for bike commuting year around.

Second, multiple campgrounds with bicycle campsites within a region will bring in bicycle tourism and generate positive revenue, as shown in the Washington Bikes article above and the following story from Montana Public Radio..  http://mtpr.org/post/four-montana-state-parks-getting-new-bicycle-campsites#stream/0.

Adv Cycling Tour group
Adventure Cycling tour group on the same route in 1998

Working toward Zero Waste

Equinox Zero waste staion
Blocking that garbage can like a hockey goalie blocking the net!
From Wikipedia,
 The internationally recognized definition of ZERO WASTE adopted by the Zero Waste International Alliance (ZWIA) is:

“Zero Waste is a goal that is ethical, economical, efficient and visionary, to guide people in changing their lifestyles and practices to emulate sustainable natural cycles, where all discarded materials are designed to become resources for others to use.”


 

The goal for the Zero Waste stations for Green Events is to recycle everything that is recyclable and compost everything that is compostable, and then send as little waste as possible to the landfill. We measure this by weight, and the six events I’ve worked we have had a 95% or better diversion rate. This means that only 5% of the waste generated at the event, by weight, goes to the landfill. The rest goes to be recycled or composted.

Vendors in this town are pretty good about buying the most eco-friendly products (utensils, cups) they can. Before the event I go around to the vendors and figure what can be recycled and composted. So besides figuring what waste goes where for the waste stations, I sometimes do this at their counters..compost me

Fortunately, most paper products can be composted, including waxy cups and paper plates with food. Paper is a natural carbon source so it actually helps balance out the nitrogen source from food, like adding dead leaves.

Although the fork in the photo is made of plastic, many vendors are getting utensils made from corn, which can be composted. You can tell if a utensil is made from corn if it bends and doesn’t brake, and typically it won’t be white, but beige. Plastic utensils break when you bend them.


 

20150920_101946My favorite part of working these events, besides satisfying my neurosis of conservation, is the way people react to my neurotic behavior. I really do block the garbage can with cardboard and eyeball everything being thrown out. I’ll make people wait in line so that I can make sure everything goes in the correct bin. And most people appreciate it. I get many people telling me “Thank you for doing this”, or they will pull their kids aside to watch me be OCD over trash.

So the international definition tells us that the concept ‘Zero Waste’ is not literal, but a goal, to guide us toward Zero Waste.

For bringing the Zero Waste concept home, besides recycling, I think a home compost system is key. Even if you don’t garden, you you can still use your finished compost to fertilize your lawn, trees, shrubs and flowers, while you avoid throwing food into the landfill. See.. A Home Compost System is the Backbone to a good Garden!

 

Bike Commuting in the Winter, or Urban Mountain Bike Season

winter commuter

If you can dress to ski in it you can dress to bike in it! I’ve often been asked about riding in the cold, and that’s always been my answer. People pay a lot of money to ski in really cold weather, so biking in it is not too different.

Riding in the winter can be tricky, but I think it’s a fun challenge, just like mountain biking. I was not able to mountain bike or do long road rides for a while because of my job and an over-use injury in my hip. So bike commuting in the winter is now my mountain bike season.

There are similar skills required for both:

  1. You have to take your time around corners,
  2. Power through crusty snow and ice like through rocks,
  3. Stay out of icy ruts, or ride straight until you’re out of it.
  4. Use the front brake less and get your weight over the back wheel on slippery hills.
  5. And you get to pull out you’re gear for it! (A good pair of rain pants that fit over jeans will get used a lot in Colorado.)
  6. Be careful and aware of cars! Both mountain biking and biking in snow or ice can be dangerous, but then cars add an additional danger with bike commuting in the winter.

I know that fat bikes are popular and look fun, but you don’t need a fat bike to commute in snowy conditions.

My nineties era 26″ wheel mountain bike works great for me in snow and ice. The geometry of the bike keeps you upright and over the back wheel, instead of forward like a road frame. Also, it’s lower to the ground than a road bike or 29’er, so I feel more stable, and it’s easier to put a foot down.

Like mountain biking, you really have to pay attention to what you’re riding over, and ride appropriately. In the dead of winter when the ground stays below freezing and snow turns to ice, know there are always slippery spots, especially in the mornings and evenings.

The smooth, clear ice is the most dangerous in my opinion. One slight turn, weight shift or brake and the bike goes out from under you.

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Icy, rutty snow
Ice with ruts
Crunchy but grippy ice

 


 

 

 

 


 

Cold, frozen icy snow in January and February (photos above) is much different than soft, wet snow in the spring (below). The cold, icy snow (above) is harder to turn in and get out of the ruts. But you can ride through the wet, soft spring snow easier and turn out of the ruts easier.

Spring wet snow
Soft, wet, spring snow

Tips from Mountain Biking:

  • Lower your seat for better stability and avoiding falls
  • Lower the air pressure in you tires for better grip, but not too much so that you get a flat
  • Use your front brake less, and never on slippery ice
  • Ride straight out of (icy)ruts
  • Power through (pedal hard!) the crunchy stuff like riding through rocks

Some other tips:

  • Ride in the tire tracks from cars, where the snow is already packed down
  • To avoid cars while navigating icy roads use side streets
  • Keep bike inside at night
  • http://barmitts.com/
  • Dry clean chain often and keep lubed. Chains rust faster in winter weather.
  • BE VISIBLE for cars!
  • Wear good boots and waterproof ski/rain pants.
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Spring Storm April 2013

Car-Free Recreation Does NOT Mean Get Rid of your Car

I have a blog post about Car-Free Recreation with a link to the Car-Free Recreation Guide to Northern Colorado that I created in 2008, https://humanpowerworks.wordpress.com/2015/01/15/car-free-recreation/.

Cars are necessary, I never say get rid of them. I just say ‘drive less’, and be aware that our addiction to cars and oil has a large impact. I am no20150703_114422t doing ‘Car-Free Rehab’ for my recent hip scope. A friend let me borrow her car for errands and going to physical therapy until I could ride my bike again.

But the point of Car-Free Recreation is that when you’re going to play outside, stay outside, and get there on a bike. Save the car trips for the rare, or bad weather, adventures.  And then never idle at a trail head and ask anyone who does, not to. 

This is especially for very fit and active people, who are capable of modifying workouts, runs and rides to using a bike instead of a car. Compromise, innovate and be creative. Just leave it parked when when going outside to play. Stay a little closer, buy more touring gear, and build up to longer trips. Why put your bike on your car to go for a ride when you can start your ride from your doorstep?

Look at what Goran Kropp did in the 90’s for the purpose of a Car-Free goran-kropp-660Adventure. He rode to Mt. Everest from Sweden, reached the summit without help or extra oxygen, then rode back to Sweden.

And last week, the women who won the Great Divide Race rode 2,000 miles from her home in Anchorage to the start of the race in Banff. Then she raced the Great Divide Race and won, crushing the previous record.

In Fort Collins there are so many amazing places to play within a an hour round-trip ride, including: Horsetooth Reservoir (and a Cycletote trailer could easily carry a Stand Up Paddleboard or two!), Coyote Ridge, Maxwell and Reservoir Ridge Natural Areas, multiple climbing areas, the soccer complex and so much more!

Then, within a days ride to and a days ride from, we have: The Pawnee Grasslands, Soapstone and Bobcat Ridge Natural Areas (both can be done as one-day, to and from adventures, just pack food and rain gear), Poudre Canyon, Pingree Park and nearby wilderness areas, and Rocky Mountain National Park.

So for the people using the outdoors to recreate and exercise, it’s our responsibility to protect our air quality as much as we can.

I know that Car-Free Recreation can be done at all levels and is so worth it.

Thanks for reading my blog!