Self-Propelled

Chicks CornerI have a confession to make to all you North Americans reading this. I say that this is a confession to the North Americans in the audience because, in Europe, it might hardly be surprising to get to the age of 35 and to have never owned a car. Yes, believe it or not, I have legally been able to drive for around 18 years and yet I have never once contemplated buying a car and it’s not something that I can see changing anytime soon. I’m a passionate believer in being self-propelled. That is, I get as many places as possible on foot or on bike, and otherwise I use public transit or the occasional ride from a friend. Once one adapts to this mindset, it is surprisingly possible to get around, even in car-addicted North America, without a vehicle.

There are many reasons why I’ve stuck to living a self-propelled lifestyle. It’s cheaper for one–no gas costs, no car-repair bills, no insurance fees, just an occasional visit to the bike shop for a tune up on my two wheeler. It’s also hands down better for the environment and I truly believe it’s each and every one of our responsibilities to live an as environmentally conscious as possible lifestyle, so for me it’s 1,000 miles on a thimble full of oil rather than regular visits to fill up the tank at a gas station. Being self-propelled is also better for our communities. Who needs traffic-choked streets and busy roads dividing our towns when instead we can all chill out and create less impact by cycling, running, and walking in order to get from points A to B? And if this is all sounding a little righteous and socially responsible, then the selfish aspect is that cycling or run commuting is way better for your own health and well being than sitting on your backside in a car. :)

Being self-propelled definitely requires some determination, planning, and adaptation, but for me the benefits more than outweigh any of the inconveniences. Just this summer I decided to head up to Whistler, British Columbia for the day to run some different trails. Given this is some 120k each way, even for me cycling this would have been a little hard core, so instead I cycled to the bus depot, carried a slightly larger pack than I would normally for running, and then cycled home from the bus depot at the end of the day. Given that it was a warm, summer day, I could get away with needing only a light change of clothes for after my run. The only hiccup was not being able to find a bike locker and so although I’d securely locked my bike, I was concerned that my bike helmet would get stolen if I left it attached to my bike. My solution? Okay, I did get some odd looks running with a bike helmet attached to my hydration pack on the alpine trails in Whistler, but hey, a bike helmet is so light that I really didn’t notice that I was running with it!

Being self-propelled also involves being a bit better planned than if you drive a car everywhere. I’m a pretty hardy cyclist and no Vancouver, British Columbia torrential downpour has stopped me yet, but I do call it quits with the bike in the snow. I can clearly recall one snowy day in Vancouver when I was the only one who didn’t drive or take the bus to the office and I was the only one who arrived at work on time. Why? Well, I keep good tabs on the weather so knew that it may snow the next day so I’d set my alarm early in order to give myself time for the 50-minute walk to work if snow prevented me from cycling. All my coworkers simply woke up at their usual hour, saw the snow, and then took longer to drive to work than usual due to the conditions. Given we didn’t have a shower at our offices, run commuting was not an option but cycle commuting at a leisurely pace certainly was, with my office clothes neatly stowed in my panniers.

Run commuting forces you to be extremely efficient with what gear you will need. After all, any gear isn’t thrown into the trunk of a car but instead it is thrown onto your back in a lightweight running pack (with everything inside in plastic bags to counter that all-too-common Vancouver rain). I routinely run commute the seven miles or so to see my massage therapist; in my small hydration pack I can stuff a small towel, a light change of clothes, a post-run snack, and a transit ticket for my bus ride home after the massage. While there is no shower at my massage-therapist’s clinic, there is a rec center nearby where I grab a shower and have a drink (no room to carry a water bottle) before walking the final short distance to the clinic. If I want to head directly to somewhere else after my massage and it is somewhere that requires smarter clothes than what I can stuff into my running pack, then I’ll cycle instead of run as it’s easier to carry a little more volume on a bike.

I often cycle commute to get to a trailhead to go for a run. On these occasions, I tend to keep the commute distance reasonably short as I know I want to get the most out of my run rather than the cycle commute taking over as the main workout. When I do this, I usually aim not to run with all my post-run clothes on my back but instead load up one of my panniers with warm clothes for the cycle ride home. These are never my nicest or newest clothes as anything I leave in my panniers I like to think are items that I’d not be overly concerned about if someone decided to steal them, and the older the clothes are the less likely someone is to steal them anyway. I’ll leave an extra water bottle on my bike for post-run hydration and instead of bringing a post-run snack with me I’ll stop off at a store on my cycle ride home to buy something. When I was training for a mountain race and wanted to practice using trekking poles, I even managed to strap them to the frame of my bike for my commute to and from the trail.

Being such a cycle commuter, it is often when traveling to new destinations for races that I begin to miss my bike and feel that the world really is designed for cars. But once you start investigating, it is amazing that public transit does exist in a lot of North American cities. In Sacramento, California, for example, it’s just $2 on the bus (which runs frequently and reliably) from the airport into the city. When I was staying in Sacramento one year for the American River 50 Mile, I took light rail out to the running store on the edge of the city for packet pick up and another year my friend, Sean, was kind enough to give me a ride out to the start of the race. After the race, a very kind fellow runner was more than happy to have company for the drive back to the city. Sharing gas costs, buying thank-you coffees, beers, and lunches–it’s all better in my eyes than renting a car.

All too often it can be the easy option for many of us to hop in a car that will take us directly from points A to B quickly and exactly when we want. You won’t get rained on unlike if you run commute, you won’t have to wait for a bus to show up unlike if you take transit, and you won’t have to pare down how much gear you take with you unlike if you cycle. But you also won’t get the satisfaction of being self-propelled or of getting around the world as much as possible under the power of your own two feet. You’ll miss out on the rewards of keeping fit just in the course of your day-to-day living and you’ll be missing out on seeing things at a slower pace of life as you whiz past them unconsciously in a car, rather than slowly moving by on a bike or running. Whilst many North American cities are undoubtedly designed on the basis of the car being king, it can be very rewarding to try and challenge that set up for the benefit of yourself, your community, and the environment.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • Do you live a car-little life? If so, what motivates you to do so? The fitness aspect? The environmental-ethic aspect? The independence aspect? Something different?
  • Do you run commute or bike commute? If so, do you have any additional suggestions for managing the logistics of carrying gear and the weather?