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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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

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!

Car-Free Recreation

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In 2008 Wolverine Farm Publishing put out a local, grassroots sustainability guide called the GER (Great Ecstatic Reporter). They let me do a piece on Car-Free Recreation that went in the Transportation section. I used to ride to soccer games I played in and refereed, I rode to trail run and boulder in the foothills, and I rode to the gym regularly, so I always felt that it just made sense.

I say tfall mtn bikinghat as fit as we’ve become, with ultra-marathons and Ironman distance triathlons, and as extreme as we can be, we have no excuse. It can’t be as hard. Especially trail runs or mountain bike rides can be done without getting in a car. There are so many bike-hikes close to Fort Collins that it should be more of a trend.

I had a housemate in the early 90’s who left a big impression on me. He was a climber and telemark skier. He also had just spent five years in Mali, Africa with the Peace Corp. I remember once someone was trying to one-up Jack. They told this elaborate story about Macgyvering a broken down, motor-powered surf board two miles out with sharks circling.  After explaining how he did it mechanically, he asked Jack, “what would you have done?” Jack says, “I don’t know because I don’t rely on fossil fuels when I recreate.”

But Jack did use a car and fossil fuels to get to the back country for skiing and climbing. So I say let’s go a step further. When going to play outside, let’s stay outside and get there on a bike. Yes, you can’t get as far, but the trade-offs are worth it, like enjoying and getting something out of the whole trip. In Fort Collins there are so many recreation opportunities within biking distance. Then the more you do it the further you can get. You can build up to bigger trips. But for everyday and weekly recreation, from bouldering, going to the gym, to soccer and all other team sports, they are all accessible by bike in Fort Collins.

I feel that biking to the soccer complex north of Budweiser is only 8-15 miles from almost anywhere in town, and makes for a great warm-up and cool-down before and after playing a game. Just be prepared. Have plenty of food and water, appropriate gear for weather, and a flat repair kit and pump. Also, make sure tires are aired up properly.

bike and golf clubsThe gym and other in-town sports are obviously more feasible by bicycle. Going to the gym by bicycle makes for less time at a cardio station, or else gets you more ready for that ultra-whatever you’re training for. Even golf is something we can do by bike. 

Another outdoor activity that’s more fun by bike is taking the dog to the dog park or for a close hike. It might take some work training a dog to ride in a bike trailer, but I’ve seen many dogs riding happily in bike trailers. Cycletote, based here in Ft Collins, makes a large and small bike trailer specifically for dogs, https://cycletote.com/shop/large-dog-or-pet-trailer/.

Here is a sample of what’s in The Car-Free Recreation Guide to Northern Colorado;

  • In-town Opportunities (Ft Collins) – The city bike map is available at bike shops, city services and http://www.fcgov.com/bicycling/bike-maps.php. Our bike system accesses everything from gyms to disc golf, and team sport facilities to real golf.
  • Edge of town
    • Bouldering –Rotary park – County fee area, Day passes $7, four bikes per pass or one car. On Centennial Drive by road bike, right above the ‘A’; top of Maxwell trail by mountain bike.
      The Piano Boulders – City non-fee area, bikes can be locked to fence, located two miles south of Rotary Park on Centennial Drive.
    • Trail Running and Bike-Hikes – All four city Natural Areas on the first foothill, Reservoir Ridge, Maxwell, Pineridge and Coyote Ridge are less than 10 miles from anywhere in town and all have a place to lock your bike. Bobcat Ridge and Soapstone Natural Areas are both city owned, within cycling distance for a strong rider, and both have wonderful hiking. http://www.fcgov.com/naturalareas/
    • Wildlife Viewing – The city’s many great Natural Areas are accessible by bike and you can see everything from Pelicans and Bald Eagles to beavers, deer and other wildlife. Also, the Rocky Mountain Raptor Program at The ELC has large birds of prey that were injured in the wild and are on display for educational purposes, while being nursed back to health. Donations accepted.
  • Bike camping This guide highlights two different 2-3 Day Adventures from the Fort, The Comanche Peak Summit and The Pawnee Grasslands Camp
  • Cultural Opportunities Bingham Hill Cemetery is an early pioneer cemetery with graves from the 1800’s, and only 1/2 mile from the bike trail and Overland Trail road.

Click on this Copy of carfree for your own printable version of The Car-Free Recreation Guide to Northern ColoradoThanks to Desmond Yap and Susan Hazel-Rich for laying it out, to Jason Shelman for writing the Pawnee Grasslands Camp, Todd Reinert for photo. Also thanks to WFP for including it in the GER!

 

Bike Touring                                 bike tour with friendly cows

From weekend getaways to summer-long rides, bike touring is a great way to have a car-free vacation. There are so many benefits, from not spending money on gas to being outside more. It also makes you a stronger year-around bike commuter, and provides gear for commuting by bike.

Here are some great resources to help you get started:

  • Adventure Cycling Association – This non-profit has mapped out bicycle friendly routes across the country, up and down the country, and all around the country. The maps are so helpful that I felt like I was cheating when using them. They let you know about all amenities along the way, so you can know your options throughout the trip. They also offer much more, like guided tours where you are self-supported.  http://www.adventurecycling.org/rails to trails bridge
  • Rails to Trails – These are old railroads turned into long trails. If you live close to one you can ride to it, then out and back, without getting in a car. What’s really nice about being on one of these is that there are no cars on these trails.  http://www.railstotrails.org/
  • RAGBRAI – Started in the 70’s, Iowa’s cross-state bike ride is run by The Des Moines Register newspaper, which is where the acronym comes from, Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa. This was a very fun way for me to be introduced to bike touriRagbrai breakfastng. I rode it in ’93, along with 10,000 other people. We did it officially so we were supported. That means our gear rode in the trucks and we were able to camp at the official sites.  http://ragbrai.com/ The photo is of Todd and friends’ self-contained bikes while at breakfast. 
  • Supported tour companies – Experience Plus is a company based here in Fort Collins that offers all level, supported bike tours in Europe and South America. These are great ways to see other parts of the world, by bike, with guides and supported. It is also a great way to get familiar with bike touring and learn about it.  http://www.experienceplus.com/

goran-kropp-660

This is Goran Kropp in front of Mount Everest. He rode from Sweden to Everest in 1995-96, where he reached the summit by himself, without extra oxygen, then rode back to Sweden. Extreme Car-Free Recreation!

You don’t need to rely on a car and fossil fuels to have a great vacation or to go outside and play! Hope this helps.

Thanks for reading my blog!

Rob