(Photo: Allison Sliter)
[This story was submitted by BikePortland reader Allison Sliter.]
A couple years back I lost some weight. A lot of weight, actually. I lost about 1500 lbs when my 1980 Honda Accord was donated to NPR.
I had been dabbling in the carfree lifestyle for years. Leaving my car to sit on the curb for days, even weeks at a time. I paid to park it in front of my own house. I paid to insure it against crashes I couldn’t have while it sat there. My husband has never even had a driver’s license and although he appreciated having a driver in the house, he wanted me to be carfree, too. So, I knew I’d eventually get rid of it, but I kept putting it off. Then, during a Fall pledge drive on OPB (Portland’s NPR affiliate station), I just did it. It was October. I hadn’t been on my bike for more than 10 miles in the last month. If I had done it in June, my zealotry would have faded by the time the fall rain set in.
By starting in October, it may have been cold and wet and rainy, but I had fresh self-righteousness to keep me warm.
Cutting off my access to a personal vehicle was not easy at first. The first time I felt the phantom pain of my lost car was when my winter cold turned into a sinus infection — my pharmacy was three miles away through driving rain. There were things I did that I just couldn’t do anymore: An impulse trip to Ikea, buying 24 packs of Coca-Cola.
“Cutting off my access to a personal vehicle was not easy at first… If I wanted a Big Mac and fries, I had to spend calories to get there.”
Right away, though, I started making choices that I could have made before I got rid of the car, but didn’t. Every grocery trip was a bike grocery trip. I’d walk to get my hair cut at the salon. I’d take the bus to the mall. If I wanted a Big Mac and fries, I had to spend calories to get there. When my husband and I went on dates, we took the tandem.
Those under two-mile trips that we hear are perfect for cycling suddenly were always cycling trips. Laziness had no effect on whether or not I took the car; because I couldn’t take the car! Like losing one sense and having the others compensate, I suddenly learned how much I could do with out it.
For example: Last summer, I took my bike trailer and ten gallon-sized plastic storage containers and I rode 15 miles out-and-back to a farm to get u-pick blueberries; last week I took about six cubic feet of stuff to Goodwill. I even go garage sale-ing by bike. We’re moving in a couple weeks and I’ve collected every cardboard box we’re going to need and brought them home on my bike.
The key for people who are unsure is good gear. Doesn’t have to be fancy gear. Doesn’t have to be the latest, greatest cargo bike (although those are nice). For every day stuff, a bike with a rear rack and a pair of panniers will be sufficient. The kind with a flap that straps down have the most space and keep your stuff nice and dry. For bigger jobs, we have a Burley cargo trailer — just two tires and a cargo bed. But we go camping — with a tent, two sleeping bags, two mattresses, food, clothes, stove, and a couple paperbacks — with two pairs of panniers and a rack to lash the tent to. We toured Tuscany with a single pannier, a seat bag, and a handlebar bag.
It’s now been more than 18 months since my car was amputated. I no longer walk with a limp. I lost about 5% of my body weight without a deliberate change in diet or exercise. And I lead a richer, fuller life than I did before. I’ve found that my car was a vestigial appendage. I didn’t really need it. Maybe you don’t either. If you’re toying with the idea of amputating you car, I say go for it!