Am I addicted to the combustion engine?

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It is funny how much driving I do for someone who does not own a car.

I am just coming down off a stint of having access to a Ford Mustang followed by a short getaway weekend with a Hyundai Accent.  ( I mean in a Hyundai Accent.)

I am not sure if it is a product of the time and culture in which I grew up or the fact that my father is a “car boy”, but I have to admit something. I really love cars.

Now before you get your tie dye hemp shorts in a twist, I don’t mean that I wouldn’t rather drive some super clean futuristic zero emissions perfect car. I don’t think those exist, yet. But there is something beautiful about a well designed car, a powerful engine, steering that handles well and the connectedness of a manual transmission. Cue great music pumping out of the [insert the car of your dreams]. Isn’t it the quintessential American symbol of freedom and independence? Interesting.

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So, yeah, I think I might be addicted. When people ask me how the “car-free” thing is going, I sometimes have to feign excitement. Or if I am feeling particularly desperate, I give them puppy dog eyes and sigh. “It’s okay. Hard, sometimes.” Secretly hoping that they will say, ‘Can I park my car in your driveway while I am traveling? And be sure to drive my car as much as you want while I am gone.’ (This actually is how it went down with the Mustang.)

The more time without a car, the more okay I am with not having one. But once I sip a taste of that quick movement with minimal physical effort, I am hooked.

I liken it to my challenge with sugar consumption. The polite term is – I have a sweet tooth. A more accurate account would be that I am a strung out sugar junkie.  For example, I decided to give up sweets for 21 days or the month of September ( which ever came first). You can see that we are already dealing with the illogical mind of addiction. So on day 20, I had a concert at my house and prepared some desserts for my guests. I caved that night and enjoyed a taste of each of the two desserts. It was a huge accomplishment for me to get that far. And I haven’t totally binged out, but I have noticed an incremental creep of sugar back into my diet. Perhaps, I need to go to a SA ( sugaraholics anonymous) meeting.

Back to the question about car addiction.

I just dropped off the Hyundai with Zach at the car rental place. I felt a little twinge in my heart as I parked in the lot. Scanning my brain, is there anything else I need to do with a car before I let you go? Grocery store? Heavy items to buy?  The withdrawal symptoms set in  as I tightened the laces on my running shoes to run home.

A little panic followed by wondering when I might get another hit.

‘No car, today.’ I sigh to myself. There is no option to go the lazy route and skip biking my kid to her dance class. No leisurely drives to run errands I could totally do on my bike. Or longer trips that I definitely couldn’t do on my bike now out of reach. Back to local living.

Look, I want to be the bike mom hero. I totally do. Going cold turkey again today. Deep breath… I am thinking maybe I should start a chapter of CA ( car-aholics anonymous).

Yelling and Yielding

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Sharing the road isn’t always easy.

On occasion while riding my bicycle,  I am yelled at by a person driving by in a passing car who seem to be angry at my mere presence. I have been told to “get on the sidewalk!” or “get off the road” and it made me so mad that I wanted to spit. I yell back with all my asthmatic might, ” I am a vehicle, this where I belong.”

I like to be informative.

It is true, though. Bicycles are considered vehicles on the road.  And yes, people riding on bicycles are expected to follow the same laws of the road as those traveling in motorized vehicles. I know, I know, a lot of cyclists don’t. It is maddening and I curse under my breath every time I see a cyclist blow through a red light.

On the other side of it, adults on bicycles have no business riding on sidewalks. The thing is lots of people do not know this either. And faced with being on the road with cars going 10 mph over the posted speed limit, I understand why folks make this choice.

When I have followed all the rules, planned my actions carefully and someone decides to slow down in the middle of an intersection, risk the lives of everyone around, to express their displeasure with my existence on the road, I feel defeated.

I wonder if this person assumes that all people on bicycles are riding for fun. For many cyclists on the road, their bicycle is their only vehicle.

I think it would help if we all do a couple of things.

1) Remember that inside the vehicles are human beings. You know, people, just like the ones you know and love.

This is a daily exercise for me and I often fail miserably.The road is such a tangle of movements and decisions by so many players, it is easy to witness someone doing something completely ridiculous or dangerous or just plain stupid and then react and comment.

So when I make commentary on other people’s driving, whether from the seat of a bicycle or behind the wheel of a sweet Mustang borrowed from an incredibly trusting friend, I try to remind myself to be kind and think of the person inside/ on the vehicle.

And then someone cuts me off and I am back to vocabulary like  “idiot” or “dumb-ass”.

I am a work in progress. As is the whole system.

2) Acceptance of what is.

Look, if cyclists are constantly annoying to you, I understand. But here is the thing, they are here to stay. In many places, like Arlington and DC, riding a bike makes sense on every level – economic, health, time, environment  So, it makes sense for us all to learn how to drive around cyclists and cycle around cars and pedestrians. As well as,  learn the rules/ laws and follow them.

Learning to get along with a little more yielding and a little less yelling matters. In fact it is a matter of life and death.

Lets think of it the 3 components like rock, paper, scissors.

car = rock

bike= scissors

pedestrian = paper

Except in this scenario paper never wins.

Car vs. Bike- Car wins

Car vs. Pedestrian- Car wins

Bike vs. Pedestrian- Bike wins ( seriously you can kill a person with your bike)

So pedestrians always lose in the collision department. They deserve extra care. Is it really so bad to wait for them when they have the right of way?

Some great resources for learning the laws and good habits on the road are:

http://www.bikearlington.com

http://www.waba.org

http://www.bikeleague.org

Learning to Ride a Bike

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On September 1st,  my daughter learned to ride her pedal bike ( as she calls it). Naturally, as parents, we are incredibly proud. She will be 4 in October.  This seems quite early to me and had I not seen other 3-year-olds riding two wheelers confidently, I would not have imagined it possible.

Balance Bike

We WERE aiming for an early start. Once we learned about the Skuut balance bike and saw a 2-year-old in action on one, the plan was in motion. We would start her on a balance bike and bypass training wheels.  In case you are unfamiliar, the balance bike is wooden and has no pedals. The movement is Flintstone style.  Once a kid gets the hang of it, they can push-off, lift their feet and glide down small inclines. Or go flying down big hills – mountain biking style – if their father happens to be my husband.

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I am another story, I didn’t learn until I was 10 years old. And based on that sentence alone, you can probably tell I felt that  I was “over-the-hill”. From my perspective as a kid, EVERYONE else had learned how to ride a bike without training wheels WAY before I had.

Perhaps, it was because I was a generally fearful kid who hated being embarrassed and was reluctant to ask for help. Or maybe it was my love affair with riding my Big Wheel. Much to the chagrin of those adults who might have had a little too much fun on Friday nights, my friends and I would ride the network of concrete sidewalks in Fairlington early on Saturday mornings. We would get out our plastic low-riding machines and make those hollow plastic wheels rip up a gravely sound as we raced each other. It was the coolest and I did not readily give up the experience.  When my knees started hitting my elbows as I rode, I should have probably taken the hint that it was time to move on.

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But NO, I had to wait for an awkward and embarrassing situation to get a clue. It was the day that Clayton traded up to a bike with a banana seat and when he offered to let me try it, I looked up from the comfortable plastic seat of my Big Wheel and said, ” No, I am okay. Oh, I know how to ride a bike, I just don’t feel like it.” Yeah, that taste of humble pie was my motivation.

 It was an eight year old boy named Ralph Ford who taught me to ride a bike. I have NO idea why Ralph took it upon himself to teach me to ride a bicycle. Maybe I begged him to teach me. I do remember that he was patient and kind and effective. I am forever grateful to him. After all, a great many wonderful adventures followed for me because I learned to ride a bike.

So, I am curious. How old were you when you learned to ride a bicycle?

It’s Like Riding a Bike

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Transport by bicycle is both harder and easier than I thought it would be. Somehow, simultaneously.

At times, the weight, wind and topography make it seem like mission impossible to get across town.  The weight of the trailer carrying my 35 pound daughter, the lock, the snacks, and whatever it is I feel the need to drag along with me, tends to make me feel like an underappreciated pack mule.

We considered another option for carting around the offspring. It was the holy grail of cycling for transport for us for many months. We fantasized about how we might import one from Denmark, how we might build one ourselves and then finally we found a bike shop in DC that owns one and rents it out.

The Christiania Bike!LIGHT3115

It seemed like the answer to our prayers. The kiddo is in the front where she can easily be seen and monitored. Theoretically, what one can push might be more than what one can pull?   So, we metro-ed into DC and gave it a whirl. Our facial expressions in the photo below tell it all. We hated it! And I could not imagine maneuvering that thing on the hilly rides around Arlington. My thought was, this bike would be perfect for some place really flat with a well established bicycling infrastructure,someplace like, um…Denmark.image

Once the fantasy bike faded, I embraced my trailer set up more and more and now I feel naked without it, albeit slightly liberated and faster. This might also have something to do with being alone.

The easy part,  you ask? For many of the short trips around Arlington, I can get there in about the same amount of time as I do driving. Especially, if you include finding a parking spot. Also, it is possible to go places you can’t go in a car.  I have been discovering  nooks and crannies and bike trails of Arlington that I didn’t know existed.  Furthermore, arriving somewhere by my own effort gives me such a sense of accomplishment.  When I arrive at my destination,no matter how the ride itself went, there is always that “I did it” moment.

I can see this in the expression of my daughter when she first started pedaling on her bike solo. She couldn’t stop smiling as she propelled herself across the church parking lot. I am pretty sure that most of the time I am riding my bike, I wear the same perma- grin  across my face. I am giddy and proud.

Other People’s Cars

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I have been reluctant to post recently because, well, I feel like a hypocrite writing about my “car-free” diet. The reason being, in the last two months, we have spent a lot of time in cars.While on vacation, we rode in taxis and the cars of family members. After 3 weeks of riding in cars, I started to get used to it.

When we returned home from our travels, we rented a car for the weekend to ease the transition and stock up on supplies. Then, due to the travel of family members here, we have had access to a car on and off during the last month.

Don’t worry, this isn’t the end of this blog. We still use public transport and ride our bikes. We still don’t own a car and have no intention of buying one.

I would like to tell you that I was guilt ridden for enjoying so much car time. But it’s not true. I have been grateful for having access to a car. I could give you all the reasons cars are convenient and comfortable but, you already know this.

If you are considering going “car-free” but are worried about being trapped,stranded or hindered, don’t be. There are so many ways to access a car to drive without owning one.

Here are the 3 main ways we get our mitts on cars:
Car Sharing– Great for short-term use, easy to check in and out.
Rental Cars– If you are going to use a car from more than a couple of hours, the daily rate of a regular rental is likely more affordable than car sharing.
Borrowing Cars from family & friends – This is a nice option, if it is available to you.

According to the US Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration’s Office of Highway Policy Information in 2010 there were 6,222,928 registered vehicles in the state of Virginia representing 2.4 % of the national total. According to my calculations, that would mean that there are approximately 261,362,976 vehicles registered in the US.

I like numbers but what I am really saying is that Holy Crap there are a lot of cars out there. Not everyone needs to own one. If you get rid of yours, you aren’t stuck in some pedestrian wasteland of inconvenience. You’ve got options. You may even grow to love the non-car options of biking, walking and public transport. On the other hand, some days, you might want to drive other people’s cars.

What to Wear?

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Getting dressed to go out  into the world is so different without my climate-controlled,  Swedish chariot awaiting my every travel whim. Weather becomes a contact sport. With my new level of exposure to the elements, recent local weather patterns seem  rather moody perhaps even vindictive at times.

A few examples:

The  late March snowstorm in which my daughter and I got completely soaked just walking to the bus stop to go pick up a zip car.

The day in mid April when it was 91 degrees for my  first trip taking my daughter to her swim lesson via our bike trailer at noon!

The mid May unexpectedly frosty 42 degree temperature for my 4:45 am ride to the gym that made me wish I was wearing full fingered gloves.

My interest in weather apps went through the roof once I began to rely on my bicycle as my principal mode of transport. My awareness of temperature, wind speed and direction, hourly changes in the air temperature, humidity and precipitation have skyrocketed. Basically, I use all of this data to decide what to wear.

My other wardrobe consideration?  How can I be seen so that the drivers who are mesmerized by their own favorite apps on their devices might look up at the road for a moment to swerve out of the bike lane and avoid hitting me? This season’s must have fashion item? See the photo below in which I am wearing my bright yellow safety vest with reflective tape. It is not terribly attractive but it has become my safety blanket. My husband wears a matching one, so yeah, we are THAT couple.

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I thought we were trend setters, maybe future millionaires after introducing our  new line of brightly colored safety wear. As it turns out, these fashion statements already exist in droves. On the trails and in the bike lanes of Arlington, one can see a wide range of highly technical cycling and fitness wear in colors such as, ” Please Don’t Kill Me Pink”, ” Yes, I am on a Bicycle Yellow” and ” Out of My Way Orange”.  Although, I can’t say I have ever been a big fan of colors that are an assault to the retina, they are much better than ” I have a death wish black or brown” which are both so last season!

Kicking and Screaming

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I did not embark on this “car-free diet” skipping and humming for joy. I was reluctant, skeptical and a complete whiny baby about the whole thing.

I had an excuse for everything:

Him – We have lived without a car before.

Me – But that was overseas, not here… in America.

Him – You bicycled across the United States.

Me – That’s different, I was 21 and now I am not AND I have a 3-year-old to get around.

Him – You can do this.

Me – But, how am I going to get to the gym in the morning?

Really?

Yes, my principal concern was how I would keep up my hard-earned habit of going to the gym at 5 am. Somehow, I could not fathom traversing the entire 1.5 miles between our house and the gym. A bit absurd, since I would happily push myself physically for an hour AT the gym. But, it IS cold and dark at that time of day. I was barely able to get myself to the gym WITH a car.  It was a worrisome prospect.

What finally pushed me over the edge to give up my beloved Volvo?

Was it that I realized I DID have experience being car free? Was it that I remembered we had chosen our location FOR its proximity to bike trails and public transit?

NO and NOPE.

It was the inkling that I was single handily paying for the college tuition of our Volvo mechanic’s children. A car that rarely leaves the boundaries of Arlington County and for which, a big day of driving is 20 miles, has no business needing THAT much mechanical attention! Yup, it was the money ($$$) that made the final sway.

I cried a little when I posted an AD on Craigslist to sell the car. I behaved poorly throughout the process. I had a serious buyer immediately and that freaked me out. I swooned about how much I loved the car as their family test drove it. I dragged my feet with vague contingencies on the sale and was extremely stubborn about terms.

For the final dramatics? My 3-year-old channeled my emotions and threw an impressive tantrum that included the kind of crying, screaming and kicking that I could only do in my mind. (Thanks, sweetie.)

When I finally signed away the title, accepted the CASH, cancelled the insurance, notified the DMV and declared our household car-free, to my surprise, the relief was immediate.

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My black beauty galloped down the road and our “car-free diet” began.