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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To Protest All Pipelines Boycott Oil Companies at the Gas Pump!

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The success so far, and support of The Sacred Stone Protest Camp has been amazing and awesome! The wisdom, authority (in so many ways), and organization of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and others, has led to a halt in construction of the Dakota Access pipeline for now, which sets a precedent. JUDGE DENIES PRELIMINARY INJUNCTION, BUT OBAMA ADMINISTRATION HALTS CONSTRUCTION AT MISSOURI RIVER CROSSING.

The general premise for this protest is that all pipelines leak and pollute water supplies, and that the Dakota Access Pipeline is going right through their only water supply, so they they don’t want it. Seems reasonable. Dakota Access is planning on running the pipeline under the Missouri River.

This happened in 2011 when the pipeline ruptured under the Yellowstone River, Ruptured Pipeline Spills Oil Into Yellowstone River.

NY Times article “Ruptured Pipeline Spills Oil into Yellowstone River” and photo

In my opinion, because of the times where people are more and more empowered to stand up for what is right, enabled by social media and other movements, and because of so many past wrongs, The Sacred Stone Protest Camp has been successful. So let’s build on that, continue to support those tribes, and reduce our consumption of oil.

For decades major oil companies have been destroying water supplies of indigenous people around the globe, like in The Niger Delta. There are unprecedented rates of cancer among the indigenous tribes in that region from all of the oil development. Here is a NY Times article and quote on what the major oil companies have done to the Niger Delta, Far From Gulf, a Spill Scourge 5 Decades Old, “The Niger Delta, where the wealth underground is out of all proportion with the poverty on the surface, has endured the equivalent of the Exxon Valdez spill every year for 50 years by some estimates.”

There were similar, successful protests recently in the Amazon, http://amazonwatch.org/news/2016/0324-indigenous-women-unite-to-defend-the-amazon-mother-earth-and-climate-justice.

There is water contamination, habitat destruction, old growth forest removal, and more happening all over the globe for oil. We can’t burn oil to go to every protest, but we can stop using their product. We can stop giving them our money to continue this shit. Boycott as a form of protest! Ride your bike, use the bus. Don’t give those oil companies your money. Every time we go to the pump we’re supporting what the oil companies are doing.

We can also support politicians like John Kefalis, who proposes bills for a Front Range commuter rail, and is up for re-election in the fall.

It’s easy for me to use a bike for transportation as a life-long cyclist, fit dude with no kids, and my cross-country bike tour hardened me a little. I know cars are necessary for most. But we’ve been duped, tricked and fooled by the oil and auto industry for a century. See my post about the Great American Streetcar Scandal, What do Roger Ratrailer and gas pricebbit, George Bush Sr and Cuba have in common?, or just google it.

We have to treat oil like the precious resource that it is, and conserve it as much as possible. Just because it’s cheap for us, doesn’t mean we should burn it carelessly. And really, it’s not cheap when you consider all of the subsidies it gets and how much our military protects the transport of oil around the world! (see this post, So many reasons for Conserving Fossil Fuels other than Climate Change)

 

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!

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.

crunchy ice
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.
snowbike
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!

So many reasons for Conserving Fossil Fuels other than Climate Change

Time story on California’s oil spill..

An oil slick is seen along the coast of Refugio State Beach in Goleta, Calif. on May 19, 2015.
http://time.com/3891739/california-oil-spill-jerry-brown-state-of-emergency/?xid=newsletter-brief

For decades, savvy marketing and advertising has been telling us that we need a chainsaw to cut butter. Because we bought it and continue to spend so much money at the pump, we’ve made some big messes that are going to be hard to clean up.

As long as we keep buying so much gas and consuming so much with heavy transportation costs, things will continue the status quo.

trailer and gas price
Just because we can afford it, doesn’t mean we should burn it!

If someone is a climate denier, one who doesn’t believe climate change is caused by humans, there are still so many reasons to conserve, especially oil. That’s the new term right, climate deniers? I like ‘flat-earthers’. Yeah, people used to think the earth was flat also.

So let’s just say that pulling all of this ancient carbon out of the ground, burning it and putting it into the atmosphere, of a closed system, isn’t affecting extreme weather. Let’s say that the extreme weather and earth events are not caused by us and are out of our control.

Here are some other reasons for conserving fossil fuel energy:

Fracking and oil drilling are linked to the unprecedented number of earthquakes in Oklahoma and other states.

 We poison ourselves, our air and water to kill mosquitoes when there are about 20 cases of West Nile virus and one death. But why don’t we have the same attitude toward cars. How many deaths per year are caused by car wrecks? Air pollution? Oil well leaks and explosions? Wars? It’s unnatural what car wrecks do to the human body.  I wish we attacked cars like we did mosquitoes.

Those are reasons for conserving fossil fuel energy other than climate change. But NASA studies climate change. Industry is being affected by it and believes climate change is real. Nike and Coca-cola recently spearheaded a global conference on how climate change is affecting global production. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/24/science/earth/threat-to-bottom-line-spurs-action-on-climate.html and http://www.environmentalleader.com/2014/01/27/coke-nike-call-climate-change-commercial-threat/

bike tour windmills

There are so many ways to conserve oil and other fossil fuels, here are my thoughts:

  • Drive less! – Ride your bike instead when you can, or carpool, combine trips, call ahead, and stay closer. Ride a bike for recreation. If you’re going to play outside, stay outside and get there on a bike! see Car-free Rec blog.
  • Don’t Idle your car! – drive slow and gently to warm it up in the winter, use a blanket or tarp (or garage) to keep it from frosting outside, and wear a coat in the winter. They say turn it off after 30 seconds.  blog coming.
  • Use a reel-push mower for cutting you lawn instead of gas or electric. Blog coming.
  • Buy Local! Cut down on transportation costs and support your local economy. Blog coming.
  • Use a clothes line and hang your clothes to dry – especially in Colorado where it’s so dry with so much sun. Dryers consume the second most energy in homes after refrigerators. Blog coming.LR-11

Thanks for reading!

Rob