October 30, 2009

Car-Free-to-Work Day #120

The streak continues, modified here and there by work-from-home days and one incident of car-pooling to date. But to the crux of the "goal", and for qualification, I'm certainly not "car-free" - but I am "car-free to work". This basically indicates that I have travelled to and from work without driving a car, and on work-from-home days, well, yeah - I'm not going anywhere. On the carpooling occasion, I woke up after being sick for several days and simply didn't "feel" it… so, with come creative planning I was dropped off at the office by the wife while she was in transit to her job… which, bless her, is in the opposite direction from our house. Not the most responsible choice, but at the time it seemed quite necessary. Needless to say, however, that won't be happening too often. If I run into a day like that again, the bus will take on that duty. The work-from-home days are really handy and, assuming I don't blow too many of them, will come to my rescue on a few nasty winter weather days - which are sure to come eventually.

Speaking of nasty weather, I'm ready now, also, to continue the streak into the winter - really prepared, for once. I have a dedicated bad-weather bike again, a modified mountain bike, and I have invested in studded snow tires. I'm told that this may be largely overkill - but it's something that I'll have to determine on my own. With the huge swaths of ice I saw last year that continued for dozens of yards in the shady areas of the bike trail, I don't think I'm totally unfounded. The streets, once plowed, will largely be passable - as I've managed every season to date on "normal" tires. It's those few nasty days that always seemed to force me into the car that I'm trying to get around. As long as I can get to a bus stop, and limp my way home on the iced over trails in the afternoon, I should be able to stay car-free until Spring. It won't always be fast-going, but it will be fun.

To my surprise the streak has become easier to maintain if for no other reason that its become absolute habit. With my mother-in-law having possession of my car since the 2nd week of June, there simply hasn't been a temptation to drive. There's no car in the driveway, and that - more than anything - has been a motivator. Now, this solution is potentially impractical for a lot of folks, so I will say a few things: be ready, but don't OVER commit. If you're considering commuting a good deal, you should allow yourself a reasonable back-up strategy. That may-well involve having a car in the driveway just in case. Until you have performed the necessary experimentation with time management, route planning, and having reliable equipment on hand, don't go nuts and sell the car. Give it time. That almost goes without saying, because we definitely live in a society where a car is a requisite, and commuting to work by bike or not - may would never consider selling off the car, even if it sits for a few months at a time. Having said that, NOT having that car staring at me (in my head) while I sleep through a thunderstorm-rich night, knowing I'll be very wet and quite chilly the next morning helps keep the streak alive. My stress levels have dropped, I feel good, and I've been able to maintain a healthy weight. Life, it seems, is good.

On the other hand, since I simply don't have the option of a car a lot of my activities have been tapered WAY back. I don't "go on drives" anymore. I've said "no" to countless after-work activities. I still try to stay active in the bicycle route-planning realm, but I don't have a way to "pre-drive" a route anymore - so I haven't designed many new routes in the last six months - sure, I could just pre-RIDE them, but at the 200K level and with my schedule, that becomes problematic. Also adrift is my old knowledge of where certain things are, what is located next to what, things like that. I haven't been to Microcenter, for example, since May. I haven't been to Acme Bicycle Company since probably before then, even. These things have become too far outside my radius of activity! Things like that have been hard to jostle with at times. I know my route to and from work, and every inch of the surroundings: but little else. There is construction happening, old stores close, new ones open - and I have no idea about any of it. So, one might ask - am I punishing myself? Olathe is a nice town, otherwise I wouldn't raise my kids here --- but there is SO little to DO, unless you have a car to get to it. Everything else of worth is downtown, midtown, and I simply haven't been doing much of anything since this streak started. I'm actually surprised I was able to make it to a couple bikes rides here and there, like in Merriam (the Dark Side Cave Ride) and one in Peculiar (the MS Ride), but other than that I've been hanging it up on the weekends. So, there is potentially an all-or-nothing kind of thing happening here. I think it's an "I know better" problem - i.e., the tribal hunter in the rainforest doesn't know it's 2009 in America and he could be kicking back at a bar Twittering his friends, and therefore, his existence is completely satisfactory. For me, being car-free in such a sprawled-out town was almost exactly like self-inflicted punishment.

Thankfully, our family does have one car - and even though I don't use it to get to and from work, I have used it for other things here and there. The Completely-Car-Free streak broke along with my son's arm in early September when I drove to the hospital - no regrets there. But, trying to restart a car-free streak? In Johnson County, KS?… the notion is becoming quite a stretch, but "car-free-to-work" is entirely possible so far. What's been SUPER nice is one car payment, one oil change, and one trip to the gas pump. Looking forward to brevet season, things might be a little weird, and I see myself either getting the car back from my mother-in-law, or buying something like a cheap pickup truck to ferry me and my bike back and forth to remote start locations. Burnout becomes a question, also - but so far, so good: come next Spring, without the ability to "rest" by getting to work by car, can I keep it going? Can I really expect to ride to work the Monday after a 600K weekend? I know I probably could, sure… but should I? If Tejas in 2010 is the goal, is there a problem developing here? Should I go for the 365-day streak, one-year of not driving a car to work, and then taper WAY back? There is a lot to sort here. Can I be an ultra-distance racer, AND a full-time commuter? At the very least, I would like to get back to a situation where I can ride to work every day of a week, and still have the energy and motivation to rise early on a Saturday or Sunday and ride with some good friends again. I've missed that immensely.

For now, it's been neat to see the changes in the seasons up close, back on the bike trail with nature (ok, Johnson County's business-park version of nature, true.) to watch the deer clustering, the squirrels gathering, the leaves change and fall, the birds becoming a little hectic, and the birds of prey beginning to be especially watchful. This is a great time of year.

Stay tuned...

1 comment:

James said...

Congrats on your milestone! I can say from experience that studded tires are NOT overkill. And, they are much less expensive than a trip to the ER for a broken ankle.

Winter commuting brings its challenges but slow can be very fun, and snowy mornings can be very peaceful.